Your adrenal glands are small but important organs that sit atop your kidneys. They produce hormones your body needs to function properly, including dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, which is needed to produce male and female sex hormones. If your adrenal glands are under-functioning, they may not produce enough DHEA to meet your body's needs.
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Your adrenal glands have a lot of responsibility. Aside from producing sex hormones, they produce your body's primary stress hormone, known as cortisol, which helps buffer the everyday stress placed on your mind and body. They also produce mineralocorticoids, which are hormones that help your body regulate minerals and balance fluids. Proper fluid balance is important to your cardiovascular health.
Your body uses DHEA to produce androgens and estrogens, which are male and female primary sex hormones. Estrogens are important to the female reproductive system and androgens are responsible for male characteristics. Your DHEA levels peak around age 25 and naturally decline with age. By the time you reach age 70, your adrenal glands produce about 80 percent less DHEA than they did when you were young.
Your doctor can perform a DHEA sulfate test to determine your DHEA blood levels. This test is commonly used to determine your adrenal gland functioning. Normal DHEA levels range based on your age and sex. For example, 45 to 270 ug/dL is the normal range if you are a female age 30 to 39. Your doctor can confirm whether your levels are within normal range or not.
If your doctor confirms that your DHEA levels are too low for your age and sex range, he may perform additional tests to determine the cause. When your adrenal glands are not producing enough hormones, it is called adrenal insufficiency. If you have Addison's disease, your adrenal gland production drops to less than 20 percent of its full capacity. Adrenal insufficiency has several causes. An adrenal gland tumor can prevent it from functioning optimally. An autoimmune disease can cause the immune system to attack your adrenal gland, resulting in insufficiency. A pituitary tumor can cause low adrenal function. Your pituitary gland is a small, pea-sized gland at the base of your brain that controls how much hormone your adrenal gland produces.
Low DHEA Treatment
If your doctor determines that your low DHEA is adversely affecting your health, he may recommend treatment options. Treatment depends on the cause. If there are no obvious causes, you doctor may recommend that you take synthetic DHEA in pill or cream form. If there is an adrenal tumor, he may recommend surgery to remove it. If you are diagnosed with low DHEA, discuss your treatment options with your doctor.
Your body requires vitamins and nutrients to function and your adrenal glands are no exception. Your adrenal glands require vitamin B-6 and the minerals zinc and magnesium to function properly. It is helpful to ask your doctor to check your levels of these nutrients. If you are deficient in any or all of these nutrients, it can contribute to adrenal insufficiency.