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Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

Actions Of Dhea

The level of DHEA in the blood declines with age and also during times of stress or illness. Concentrations of this hormone in humans peak at about age 20, after which they steadily decline. By the time a person is 80 years old, their DHEA levels are only about 20% what they were at their peak. The level of DHEA also declines with age in the brain. It has been suggested that this decline may play a role in some age-related illnesses. DHEA has been shown to act as an antioxidant, to enhance memory, and also to serve as a neuroprotector. Certain age-related diseases of the central nervous system, such as Alzheimer disease, are thought to be a result of oxidative stress in the brain. Because DHEA has been shown to demonstrate antioxidant properties in the brain, it has been hypothesized that it can be used to treat these age-related disorders. Although its action in these cases is still unclear, it is thought that it acts by protecting regions of the hippocampus from oxidative stress. It may also work by affecting the production of interleukin-6 (IL-6), which is believed to play a role in the progression of these diseases.

DHEA and DHEAS have been found to be useful in the treatment of certain autoimmune diseases. In one study, when mice were treated with DHEA at a young age, the onset of autoimmune disease was delayed and the mice lived longer. Once the mice had already shown signs of the disease, however, the hormone had no effect on disease progression. Another study demonstrated that DHEA supplementation helped reduce some of the effects of a retrovirus infection that caused acquired immune-deficiency syndrome (AIDS) in mice, such as vitamin E loss and lipid oxidation. DHEA boosted immune function and increased vitamin E levels in healthy mice as well. DHEA and DHEAS were also found to boost immune function in humans afflicted with Cushing syndrome and to delay the onset of lupus in mice.

It has also been suggested that DHEA is involved in stimulating bone mineral content and density. In rats, DHEA supplementation increased both lumbar spine and total body bone mineral density. This implies DHEA could be used to treat bone loss in aging patients or those suffering from certain diseases. Patients suffering from anorexia nervosa demonstrate severe bone loss as a side effect of this disease. DHEA levels in these patients are much lower than normal. DHEA supplementation in anorexic patients not only increased their bone mineral density, but also resulted in the resumption of menstrual cycles in many cases. Systemic lupus erythematosus patients also demonstrate severe bone loss. Preliminary clinical trials of DHEA supplements in these patients have suggested that this hormone could be used to treat bone loss in lupus sufferers as well.

There have been countless other claims of the benefits of DHEA in the body. DHEA may lower serum cholesterol levels. It may also protect against bacterial infections. DHEA has been found to decrease allergic responses in mice. Research is being conducted regarding the role of DHEA as a possible treatment for tuberculosis. This hormone has also been found to decrease anxiety in rats. The list of theories and proposals for the actions of DHEA on the body and the brain goes on and on.

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