Dehydroepiandrosterone, DHEA, plays an important role in the health of women. As the most prevalent steroid, DHEA affects a broad range of physiological and behavioral processes. Scientists consider DHEA a prohormone, a trigger for the production of fundamental substances like testosterone, progesterone and estrogen. It's important to maintain a healthy balance between DHEA and other hormones. Having excess levels of the prohormone may cause side effects. Patients should consult a doctor before taking DHEA supplements.
Androgens such as testosterone and DHEA facilitate tissue construction. Such growth requires hyperactivation of the endocrine system. This stimulation can cause unwanted reactions like oily skin. A report by M. J. Chen and co-workers presented in the November 2010 edition of "Human Reproduction" looked at DHEA levels in women with polycystic ovary syndrome, PCOS. These women often fail to ovulate due to excess androgen production. The Chen study showed that they also have oily skin and acne vulgaris. Other consequences of excess DHEA were more positive. The women, for example, had a lower incidence of obesity.
High androgen levels may also cause the appearance of male characteristics. Female bodybuilders, for example, often experience hair growth and voice deepening while executing exercise routines known to increase testosterone. Women with large amounts of circulating DHEA show similar effects. A study by A. Coskun and associates published in the Oct. 30, 2010 issue of "European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology" showed a positive correlation between DHEA levels and hirsutism scores. Interestingly, women with high DHEA exhibited five times as much hair growth as controls despite exhibiting only twice as much DHEA production.
The prohormone DHEA contributes to the body's defenses by producing cytokines. High levels of DHEA should, therefore, cause an overreaction of the immune system. An investigation by J. Gill and her co-workers at the National Institutes of Health tested this hypothesis in female patients with posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD. Such women typically have excess DHEA. The data, published in the December 2008 edition of "Journal of Traumatic Stress," revealed a direct relationship between DHEA level and cytokine production. Specifically, patients with PTSD had elevated amounts of both DHEA and Interleukin-6. The patients also had reduced amounts of cortisol. The latter result was surprising given that cortisol and DHEA usually co-vary, and it suggests that the enhanced DHEA caused a hormonal dysregulation and an immune hyperactivation.
Diabetes remains a pervasive health problem in modern society. Insulin resistance, the inability of insulin to properly break down dietary sugars, often precedes the development of this chronic disorder. High DHEA levels also serve as a warning sign. A study by D. Mino and associates described in the November 2002 issue of "Archives of Medical Research" looked at dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate levels in healthy volunteers. This metabolite of DHEA correlates well with endogenous steroid levels. Results indicated that DHEA sulfate and fasting glucose levels were directly related. These data suggest that high DHEA levels and poor sugar regulation correlate.
- "Human Reproduction"; High Serum Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate is Associated with Phenotypic Acne and a Reduced Risk of Abdominal Obesity in Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome; M. J. Chen et al.; Nov. 18. 2010
- "European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology"; Modified Ferriman-Gallwey Hirsutism Score and Androgen Levels in Turkish Women; A. Coskun et al.; Oct. 30, 2010
- "Journal of Traumatic Stress": Low Cortisol, High DHEA, and High Levels of Stimulated TNFα, and IL-6 in Women with PTSD
- "Archives of Medical Research"; Relationship of Insulin Resistance and Overweight with Cortisol and Dehydroepiandrosterone-Sulfate Levels; D. Mino et al.; November 2002