DHEA -- dihydroepiandrosterone -- is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in women. It is a steroid hormone that acts on the androgen receptor and has influence on the production of testosterone and the estrogens. Because it is a cortisol antagonist, DHEA supplementation can reduce depression symptoms and might improve memory. DHEA supplements are sometimes used by athletes as a performance-enhancing or muscle-building drug.
DHEA levels in the body naturally peak when you are about age 20, and then begin a decline that results in about 90 percent reduction by age 90. Besides age, several elements can cause a reduction in production of DHEA. Low levels of DHEA have been associated with some cancers, type 2 diabetes, anorexia, end-stage kidney disease and AIDS.
Technically, foods do not contain DHEA. But certain foods such as wild yams and soybeans might cause the body to produce more DHEA, if needed. In fact, wild yams are used to produce synthetic DHEA supplements. If the body has enough DHEA, it will not produce any more, no matter what your diet. This is a safety mechanism controlled by the brain and the adrenal gland. Certain foods such as those high in omega-3 fatty acids such as flax seeds, salmon and olive oil might also help the body to better use its naturally produced DHEA.
Other methods to help your body produce more DHEA involve those that support adrenal health. Get enough sleep, because lack of sleep directly affects adrenal function and reduces DHEA levels. Work on reducing stress; a high-stress life also negatively affects the adrenals. An active lifestyle, including one that incorporates plenty of exercise, might help the body to naturally produce DHEA. Finally, a balanced, healthful diet will support your body systems and allow the DHEA to work properly.
No long-term studies show the effects of the use of synthetic DHEA. Nor have studies proven that synthetic DHEA supplementation provide the benefits of natural DHEA. But several studies have shown a positive correlation between DHEA supplementation and cancers of the prostate, ovaries and breast. Consult your doctor before supplementing with synthetic DHEA.
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.