Anti-Aging 6 The Anti-Stress Hormone

Health Alert 40

I call DHEA the “anti-stress hormone”. DHEA stands for dehydroepiandrosterone. Don’t let that tongue-twisting name bother you, everyone refers to it as DHEA. It is the most abundant product of the adrenal glands. DHEA is the precursor used by your body in producing sex hormones like testosterone, estrogen and progesterone. It is produced in large quantities in youth but it production dwindles with age.

Remember from Health Alert 39, most hormones decline with age but cortisol the stress hormone actually increases with age. Cortisol then plays havoc your body. Your body need not worry about long-term maintenance like building your immune system or laying down new bone or muscle when you are running from a lion.

When you are under stress cortisol tells your body “just get through the moment, damn tomorrow.” Since it inhibits maintenance and repair, cortisol accelerates aging. It’s like burning your candles at both ends. DHEA is the natural counter to cortisol.

You secrete DHEA when times are good – when you are well feed, secure and free of stressors. The more DHEA in your body, the less effect stress will have on you. The problem is your adrenal capacity to produce DHEA declines with age. Yet the modern environment stresses your body everyday. Cortisol is overproduced and aging is accelerated.

Levels of sex hormones decrease as you age. DHEA boosts the production of sex hormones and creates a slew of health benefits. It is a crucial part of being youthful. Like hormones, DHEA declines with age.

* Declining DHEA *

People with DHEA deficiency have been documented to experience:

• Shortened life spans

• Immune deficiencies

• Inflammatory diseases

• Cancer

• Heart disease

• Osteoporosis

• Depression

• Cognitive decline

• Aged appearance

A 1998 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society studied DHEA’s effects on aging. People between the ages of 60 and 80 were tested for DHEA levels. The participants also took cognitive and strength tests.

Researchers found that those with the highest levels of DHEA performed better on both the cognitive and physical assessments. Study authors admitted that those with higher levels of DHEA seemed younger.1

* DHEA and Youth *

As I said before, DHEA levels decline as you age. The rate of decline is surprising. By the time you are 65 years old, you’ll only have about 10% of the DHEA that you had when you were 20. 2

People with higher levels of DHEA experience:

• Less stress

• Enhanced energy

• A boost in immune system function

• Reduced body fat

• Increased libido

• Sharper memory

• Halt in wrinkles and signs of physical aging 3

You can raise you levels two ways: 1). by reducing levels of Cortisol, and 2). by DHEA supplementation.

You can lower your cortisol levels by reducing stress. For more information about reducing stress in your life, see Health Alert 39.

DHEA is becoming more popular as a supplement. I use DHEA at my Wellness Clinic regularly. DHEA therapy has successfully treated many of my patients who suffer from lack of energy, depression, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

It is important for you to get your DHEA levels checked. Your doctor can perform the simple test. Youthful levels of DHEA for men range from 400 to 560. For women, levels should range from 350 to 430.

After your levels have been checked, you can determine optimal dosing. A common starting dose that I use is 10 mg daily. DHEA is absorbed well and can be taken at any time but best mimics the natural daily fluctuation when taken first thing in the morning.

Al Sears, MD

Klatz, Hormones of Youth, Chicago 1999 p. 93

2 Ibid. p. 93

3 Adapted from Regelson W and Colman C, The Super-Hormone Promise, Pocket Books: New York 1996