Many older women and men experience a decline in testosterone production. This deficiency places them at risk for heart disease, according to a 2011 report in "Nephrology, Dialysis, Transplantation." Testosterone -- available only by prescription -- can help correct this situation. Yet, testosterone injections often cause allergic reactions. Dehydroepiandrosterone or pregnenolone -- available over the counter -- may provide a better alternative. Meet with your doctor before starting any type of hormone replacement therapy.
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DHEA and Men
Your body converts dietary cholesterol into dehydroepiandrosterone. This hormone is the most prevalent steroid circulating throughout the human body. According to a 1998 article in "Clinical Endocrinology," DHEA supplementation increases the muscular strength of men. Increases in testosterone likely mediate these anabolic effects. An experiment published in the 2009 volume of the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" looked at the impact of DHEA on testosterone in older men. The authors gave the participants either the supplement or a placebo for a year. The steroid treatment increased circulating testosterone relative to both baseline and placebo. Many of the patients experienced side effects, but adverse events were distributed equally between the two groups.
DHEA and Women
Testosterone is usually considered a male hormone, but a 2010 review in "Menopause International" describes the important role it plays in females. Disease and aging decrease circulating testosterone in older women, and that change has a negative impact on their sexual health. Postmenopausal females become particularly sensitive to the age-related decline in testosterone production. Taking DHEA supplements should reverse that decline. An investigation offered in the 2009 edition of "Menopause" tested this hypothesis. Patients received either DHEA or placebo each day for half a year. Relative to baseline, steroid intake enhanced circulating levels of testosterone and estrogen. Women given DHEA did not experience adverse events.
Pregnenolone and Men
Pregnenolone -- also synthesized from cholesterol -- provides a building block for many of the steroids present in your body. Athletes occasionally take this hormone to hide their use of anabolic steroids, according to a study published in the 2011 edition of "Drug Testing and Analysis." Pregnenolone itself, however, may also have anabolic effects. A 2005 report in "Steroids" tested the effects of this over-the-counter steroid on testosterone in healthy men. Male volunteers took the steroid before giving urine samples. Testing revealed large amounts of androsterone in the subjects' urine. This metabolite of testosterone has anabolic properties in animals, but its impact on humans remains unclear. The effect of pregnenolone on women also requires additional testing as no clear results have been established.
Dehydroepiandrosterone and pregnenolone have clinical applications in addition to their effects on testosterone. Infertile women can take DHEA to enhance their reproductive health, and schizophrenic patients can use pregnenolone to improve their mental health. Changes in testosterone may play a role in these clinical effects, according to a 2009 article in "Geriatrics and Gerontology International." A 2010 study published by that journal assessed the impact of DHEA on a minor form of dementia. Patients with mild and moderate cognitive impairment received the steroid or no treatment for half a year. Relative to controls, females given DHEA showed greater testosterone levels and higher memory scores.