DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, is a steroid hormone produced in several areas of the body, including the adrenal glands, brain and reproductive organs. In the body, cholesterol is broken down to produce DHEA, which then gives rise to androgens, such as testosterone, and estrogens. It is found in abundant levels in the bloodstream of young adults, but the amount of DHEA that your body produces decreases significantly with age.
Research on the steroid suggests that DHEA may improve overall health and longevity, and low levels of DHEA are associated with accelerated aging and depressive disorders. A range of clinical studies has found that DHEA can be used to treat depression, obesity and systemic lupus. The jury is still out as to whether it has any significant impact on libido, memory, Alzheimerâ€™s disease, cardiovascular disorders, arthritis and cancer. The hormone may work by enhancing immune response and the bodyâ€™s ability to fight stress, although this has yet to be established.
Scientists have shown that DHEA can inhibit the enzyme that normally breaks down glucose. In humans, there are two major glucose-metabolizing pathways in the body. This is the first enzyme in the pathway synthesizing fatty acids and ribose (the sugar used in making deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA). In other words, this enzyme turns glucose into fat. DHEAâ€™s inhibition of this glucose metabolizing enzyme may redirect glucose from fat-production into energy metabolism, thus creating a leaner body. This could be beneficial to athletesâ€™ as they require the most efficient use of their energy.
It is well known to athletes as a nutritional supplement wonder drug, capable of building muscle, endurance and athletic performance. An added benefit is a psychological boost and sense of euphoria. However, although DHEA has been linked with an improvement in mood, there are very few studies that show any link between the hormone and muscle gain, growth hormone, or insulin production. A recent study of elderly men and women showed that DHEA alone had no effect. However, use of DHEA in combination with weight training increased muscle mass and strength. In addition, the testosterone levels in the female patients tripled after being given oral DHEA supplements. The extra body mass may be due to water retention, so the finding that body mass increases in response to the administration of DHEA is not necessarily an indication that the oral supplement leads to long term muscle gain.
DHEA is readily available at health food stores, where it is labeled a nutritional supplement by the FDA, and is available in pill form and as a topical lotion. Taking large doses of hormone supplements over long periods of time without medical supervision is risky. Please note that DHEA is considered a banned substance by many sports organizations and athletes should check into this before using it.
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