Dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, is a hormone produced by the body. After age 30, levels of this hormone start to decrease. Many drugs and supplements also may decrease your DHEA levels, including fish oil, a popular supplement rich in omega-3 fatty acids that lowers triglycerides and reduces risk for heart disease. Check with your doctor before taking fish oil if you are concerned about your DHEA levels.
DHEA is a precursor to androgens and estrogens, or male and female sex hormones, respectively. It is secreted by your adrenal gland and also available as a supplement in tablet, capsule and injection forms. Supplemental DHEA appears useful for treating adrenal insufficiency, depression and systemic lupus erythematosus, according to MayoClinic.com. Your DHEA levels may be low if you have anorexia, Type 2 diabetes, adrenal insufficiency, end-stage kidney disease, AIDS or if you are critically ill. Drugs such as insulin, opiates, oral contraceptives, aromatase inhibitors and corticosteroids also can deplete your DHEA levels. Taking fish oil also appears to decrease DHEA levels, according to the “Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements,” by Paul M. Coates.
Not all scientific research points to a reduction in DHEA in every instance of fish oil use. For example, a 1991 “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” study notes that fish oil alone does not significantly change blood levels of DHEA. Fish oil plus vitamin E, however, did appear to decrease DHEA levels.
DHEA vs DHA
Do not confuse DHEA with DHA, which is one of the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil. DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid. The other omega-3 fatty acid in fish oil is eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA. DHA is found in cold water fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, shellfish, mackerel, sardines and herring. You can find it in supplement form – either extracted from algae or in fish oil capsules that also contain EPA.
The DHA Metabolite DHEA
The ethanolamide metabolite of DHA, called docosahexaenoylethanolamine, also is abbreviated as DHEA. This type of DHEA is a substance that’s produced as your body metabolizes, or breaks down, DHA. This type of DHEA appears to have anti-inflammatory effects in your body, according to a 2011 “British Journal of Nutrition” study. It may reduce inflammation by reducing production and expression of certain proteins as well as nitric oxide.
- “The British Journal of Nutrition”; The Ethanolamide Metabolite of DHA, Docosahexaenoylethanolamine, Shows immunomodulating Effects in Mouse Peritoneal and RAW264.7 Macrophages: Evidence for a New Link between Fish Oil and Inflammation; J. Meijerink, et al.; 2011
- “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition”; Effects of Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Vitamin E on Hormones Involved in Carbohydrate and Lipid Metabolism in Men; S.J. Bhathena, et al.; 1991
- MayoClinic.com: DHEA; July 2011
- MayoClinic.com: DHEA Dosing; July 2011
- University of Maryland Medical Clinic: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- “Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements”; Paul M. Coates; 2005