Dehydroepiandroesterone, or DHEA, is one of two adrenal hormones involved in stress response and blood sugar control. Hypoglycemia and other blood sugar problems occur when DHEA and cortisol levels become unbalanced, resulting in unstable insulin levels. Since DHEA production gradually decreases after the age of 30, many adults turn to supplements to help sustain their DHEA levels.
According to the Mayo Clinic, sufficient evidence exists to support the use of DHEA in the treatment of conditions such as depression, adrenal insufficiency and systemic lupus erythematosus. Since DHEA affects the supply and moderation of insulin in the body, individuals with diabetes and hypoglycemia are often advised to monitor their blood sugar levels while taking DHEA supplements. Due to the depleting effect that drugs such as insulin and corticosteroids have on DHEA, hypoglycemia patients may have lower DHEA levels if they are taking these medications.
DHEA and Blood Sugar
Cortisol and DHEA are the two primary adrenal hormones involved in stress response and blood sugar control. Emotional stress and stimulants such as caffeine can elevate the level of stress hormones that your adrenal glands release in your body, including: adrenaline, cortisol, norepinephrine and DHEA. The presence of these stress hormones mimics a fight or flight response, causing your heart rate to increase and your liver to secrete extra glucose and blood sugar to provide energy to the muscles. According to The Environmental Illness Resource, constant stimulation of the adrenal glands can cause your DHEA levels become too low, or your cortisol levels too high, resulting in adrenal exhaustion that can lead to hypoglycemia and insulin resistance.
Hypoglycemia commonly occurs as a symptom of more serious illnesses. For example, conditions such as liver cirrhosis, kidney disease and Addison’s disease all have hypoglycemia as a potential side effect. Since DHEA plays a key role in glucose metabolism, a deficiency can often signal an inability of the body to process and store blood glucose from the liver and kidneys. Because of the relationship between DHEA and blood sugar, hypoglycemia may be linked to a general DHEA deficiency in the adrenal glands.
Talk to your doctor before adding DHEA supplements to your diet if you are currently suffering from diabetes or hypoglycemia. DHEA may have immediate effects on your insulin and blood sugar levels, and this should be monitored with care. Despite advertising to the contrary, wild yams and soybeans are not natural sources of DHEA, but contain chemicals that must be processed in a laboratory in order to become DHEA supplements.
- The Mayo Clinic: DHEA -- Background
- MedlinePlus; DHEA; July 8, 2011
- "The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism"; Hypoglycemia, But Not Insulin, Acutely Decreases LH and T Secretion in Men; Kirstin Oltmanns, et. al.; October 2001
- The Environmental Illness Resource; Hypoglycemia and Insulin Resistance; March 19, 2011