Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is one of the most abundant circulating steroids found in humans. 75–90% of DHEA is synthesized in the adrenal gland (the zona reticularis to be specific) with the remainder being produced by the testes, skin and brain. DHEA is made from cholesterol and its production is stimulated by ACTH and cAMP, both of which can promote the production of cortisol as well.
When the body is not under stress most of the DHEA is converted to other androgens and its sulfated form, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), but when the body is stressed, it’s converted to estrogens.
We as humans produce about 6-8mg daily. We produce maximal values between the age of 20 and 30 years and thereafter it declines steadily and at the age of 70–80 years, peak concentrations are only 10–20 % of those in young adults. Btw, although tests say this is normal, it’s not and should not decline with age. The half-life of DHEA and DHEA-S are 1-3 hours and 10-20 hours respectively.
DHEA provides ≥30% of total androgens in men, but less than 5% of the total circulating testosterone (T) levels are from the conversion of DHEA.
DHEA is a really important protective hormone and is touted as the “fountain of youth”, “the anti-ageing hormone”, to name a few, and should be kept at the high range of normal.
DHEA is reduced in various diseases, such as lupus, arthritis, IBD, Addison’s disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, asthma, allergic rhinitis, urticaria, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
DHEA supplementation may protect against the above mentioned diseases as well as against cancer, diabetes, ageing, obesity, immune function, bone density, depression, adrenal insufficiency, inflammatory bowel disease, diminished sexual function/libido, AIDS/HIV, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary artery disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and metabolic syndrome.
DHEA is involved in the:
- Immune system – DHEA boosts the immunity (opposes the immunosuppressive effect of cortisol), reduces reactive oxygen species as well as lowers inflammation. DHEA:
- Reduces IL-1β, IL-5, IL-6, IL-10, IL-12, TNF-α, IFN-γ and NF-κB, and increases IL-2, IL-4, thus reducing inflammation (R)
- Elevates natural killer cell cytotoxicity and natural killer cell number, and increases B- and T-cell mitogenic responses
- Inhibits glucose 6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), leading to a decrease in both NADPH levels for reduction reactions and ribose phosphate levels for nucleotide synthesis, which is protective against cancer.
- Helps against infection diseases (R).
- Is protective in asthma and allergy. It attenuates T helper 2 allergic inflammation and reduces eosinophilia and airway hyperreactivity.
- Skin – DHEA:
- Improves collagen turnover, which helps to reduce wrinkles.
- Increases skin thickness, suppleness, hydration, sebum production in dry skin and increases skin brightness and reduces the papery look (R).
- Brain – DHEA:
- Lowers neuroinflammation by lowering IL-1β (which is linked to impaired memory formation and long term potentiation), IL-6 and TNFα.
- Is a GABA-A antagonist, which prevents fatigue and helps with focus.
- Activates the NMDA receptor, which is involved in learning and memory.
- Presynaptic actions include stimulation of glutamate, acetylcholine and norepinephrine release and postsynaptic actions include sigma 1 receptor agonism, which helps with focus as well as relaxation and feeling euphoric (due to β-endorphins release).
- Reduces distraction – higher baseline cortisol/DHEA ratio was related to higher distraction
- Increases allopregnanolone.
- Reduces fear.
- Increases BDNF and the formation of new neurons.
- Has anti-depressant properties.
- Lowers anxiety.
- Reduces addictive behaviour and addictive substance seeking.
- Inhibits 5-HT induced glutamate release and also 5-HT3 (R), thus reducing overstimulation and anxiety.
- Muscle and fat mass – DHEA:
- Improves muscle mass by activating the PI3/Akt/mTOR pathway as well as increasing IGF-1 and androgen receptors.
- Is anti-catabolic as it interferes with the cortisol receptor as well as inhibits the enzyme 11β-HSD1 that converts cortisone into cortisol and increases 11β-HSD2, which deactivates cortisol (R).
- Speeds up the resting metabolic rate (RMR), increases fat oxidation and lipolysis (by increasing β3-adrenoceptors thus enhancing catecholamine sensitivity) and reduces lipoprotein lipase (the enzyme that increases fat uptake in the fat cells) and lipogenesis (enzymes that create new fat), all which will aid in fat loss.
- On its own doesn’t have as great an effect on muscle or fat mass, but DHEA amplifies the effect of weight training (R).
- Supplementation prior to HIIT can elevate free testosterone levels and prevent it from dropping due to the training. Thus, DHEA supplementation may have significant benefits related to HIIT adaptation (R)
- Bone mineral density (BMD) – lumbar spine BMD is related to DHEA-S but not to estradiol plasma levels.
- Insulin sensitivity – DHEA:
- Increases GLUT4 due to conversion to DHT (R).
- Improves mitochondrial function and stimulates oxidative energy metabolism.
- Inhibits excess catecholamine release from the adrenal medulla. Catecholamines stimulate lipolysis which will release too much free fatty acids and promote insulin resistance.
- Improves oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) values, but only in patients with abnormal glucose tolerance.
- Lowers fasting insulin and glucose.
- Cardiovascular – low levels of DHEA correlates with increased cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. DHEA:
- Is anti-inflammatory.
- Promotes vasorelaxant.
- Is anti-remodelling.
- Rapidly increases nitric oxide synthesis.
- And DHEA-S are inversely correlated with fibrosis.
- DHEA-S increases the enzyme CYP11A1 which speeds up the conversion of cholesterol to pregnenolone (R).
- DHEA improves REM sleep – memory storage takes place during REM sleep so DHEA improves memory storage during sleep (R). Sleep quality due to DHEA supplementation was enhanced by increments in testosterone and dampened by increments in estradiol levels (R).
24 Ways to Increase DHEA levels
2) MR-10 – MR-10 is an extract of rooibos and Korean dandelion. 400mg MR-10 taken daily for 4 weeks increased DHEA by 32% (R). MR-10 protects the Leydig cells from age-related stress via the ERK and Akt pathways and enhances endogenous male sex hormone synthesis in vivo.
3) Vitamin D (R) – Vitamin D promotes almost all enzymes involved in steroidogenesis and high vitamin D levels will help to keep DHEA high.
4) Japanese cedar wood essential oil (R) – Inhalation of this essential oil has been shown to have an anti-stress effect that increases DHEA-S.
5) Forskolin, coffee & caffeine – These compounds stimulate cAMP which increases the production of DHEA. More of coffee here.
6) Liquorice (R) – The glycyrrhetinic acid in liquorice root increases DHEA by inhibiting its conjugation and detoxification.
8) Tribulus Terrestris (TT) (R) – TT effectively increases DHEA and DHT levels. It’s also effective at increasing dopamine and lowering prolactin and estrogen.
9) Proper sleep (R) – Proper sleep is essential to restore all good and anabolic hormones.
11) Weight loss if obese or having hyperinsulinemia (R) – excess insulin increases the clearance of DHEA and adipose tissue contains a lot of aromatase that will convert DHEA to estrogens. Insulin administration increase DHEA clearance by 2 to 5 fold. Also, supplements or substances that improve insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin levels will positively influence DHEA and reduce its clearance. Learn how to get lean easy, safely and effective from my Eat and Grow Lean eBook.
12) Vitamin B2 – The enzyme that creates pregnenolone from cholesterol requires FAD of which vitamin B2 is a precursor. Most diets are might meet the RDA for vitamin B2, but the RDA is several fold too low and we need about 6-8mg daily especially if we’re active as well. More on vitamin B2 here.
13) Saturated fat (R) – Saturated fat such as palmitic acid and stearic acid can potentiate DHEA release. Animal fat, such as beef, bison, dairy fat and also coconut oil and cocoa butter are great sources of saturated fat.
15) Prolactin – Prolactin synergistically boosts DHEA and DHEA-S production with ACTH and also inhibits the enzyme 3β-HSD which converts DHEA to androstenedione (R). Bromocriptine, which lowers prolactin also lower DHEA and DHEA-S but not to the same extent (R). However, dopamine boosting and prolactin lowering drugs doesn’t have this effect if prolactin is already normal. But, by all means, don’t try to increase your prolactin as it’s best kept low and dopamine high for general health and well-being. More on lowering prolactin here.
16) Red ginseng (R)
17) Royal jelly (R) – 3g daily increased DHEA-S and testosterone.
18) Oxidative stress – Oxidative stress caused by too much iron increases DHEA production in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s disease (R). This is more of an interesting fact rather than a way to increase DHEA. Excess iron is very harmful.
19) Shilajit – Taking 250mg twice daily for 90 days increased total and free testosterone as well as dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEAS) by 35% (R).
20) Zinc – Zinc increases the enzyme 17β-HSD, which synthesizes DHEA. More on zinc here. The best sources of zinc are oysters and red meat.
21) Taurine – Taurine, a rather rare amino acid in the diet, increases 17β-HSD mRNA expression levels. More on taurine here.
22) Magnesium – Magnesium is a cofactor in many steroidogenic enzymes and pathways, such as cAMP, StAR, CYP450scc, 3β-HSD and 17β-HSD. Magnesium is also essential for ATP production, and ATP is the most important factor for steroidogenic. More on magnesium here.
23) Tongkat Ali – The glycoprotein components (bioactive complex polypeptides (“eurypeptides” with 36 amino acids)) of Tongkat Ali activates the CYP17 enzyme (17 alpha-hydroxylase and 17,20 lyase) to enhance the metabolism of pregnenolone and progesterone to yield more DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) and androstenedione, respectively.
24) Avoid cortisol promotors – Dexamethasone, prednisone and other cortisol type medication reduce DHEA production due to the negative feedback loop. DHEA itself doesn’t lower CRH and ACTH, but cortisol does. Rather take DHEA for inflammatory conditions rather than cortisol agonists. Other cortisol lowering substance and methods might also have a positive effect on DHEA levels. More on lowering cortisol here.
- DHEA – (Amazon)(iHerb)
- Pansterone – 5mg DHEA & Pregnenolone per serving, 90 servings. Topical product.
25) Vitamin B3 – Vitamin B3 is crucial to proper energy production in the mitochondria where DHEA is synthesized. Having a high NAD:NADH (NAD is produced from vitamin B3) ratio is very beneficial to steroidogenesis and DHEA production.
26) Vitamin B5 (R) – Vitamin B5 increases the adrenal sensitivity to ACTH, which will increase DHEA production.
27) PGC-1α (R) – Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ coactivator (PGC)-1α is a key regulator of mitochondria energy production and mitochondrial biogenesis. It’s been shown to boost DHEA production.
28) Vitamin C – Vitamin C, needed for steroid biosynthesis, is depleted from the adrenal cortex upon high cortisol secretion. The adrenal gland is surrounded by high levels of vitamin C, so vitamin C is crucial for proper adrenal function. Vitamin C also helps to lower cortisol, that will increase the DHEA:cortisol ratio.
29) Weight training
A proper weight training program can help to increase DHEA levels as well as your other androgens. For a properly designed training program contact me and I’ll be sure to make one for you, or check out my available eBooks on the subject as well as The Ultimate Strength, Size and Skill Program.