DHEA: The anti-stress, anti-aging, feel-good hormone!
DHEA is one of the most abundant hormones in the body. It’s produced by the adrenal glands and is a precursor to the hormones estrogen and testosterone. It plays many roles in the body including supporting the health of the immune system, in particular, autoimmune imbalances. It also aids in tissue repair, improves sleep, and counteracts the effects of cortisol (stress hormones). DHEA also influences the body’s ability to lose fat and gain muscle and is famous for boosting the libido. It’s also a hormone that contributes to us feeling motivated, youthful and energetic!
The body’s natural production of DHEA varies dramatically with each stage of life. Very low levels are produced before puberty, peaks in our late 20’s or early 30’s, followed by a steady decline with advancing age or during long periods of stress or illness.
Sub-optimal levels of DHEA have been associated with many age-related degenerative conditions including: chronic inflammation, immune dysfunction, cognitive decline, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis and an increased risk for certain cancers.
Symptoms of Low DHEA
• Poor ability to handle stress
• Difficulty staying asleep at night
• Excess fat over the triceps
• Loss of motivation
• Lost sense of well-being, depression
• Reduced underarm or pubic hair growth
• Lack of hair on lower legs
• Dry skin
• Extreme Fatigue
• Aching joints
• A decrease in muscle mass
• Decreased bone density
• Low sex drive
Causes of Depletion
• A major cause of dwindling DHEA is high sugar and refined carbohydrate consumption, which increases blood sugar and insulin levels resulting in decreased production of DHEA in the adrenal glands. Blood sugar imbalances also create vitamin and mineral imbalances which puts further stress the adrenals and reduces DHEA production.
• Vitamin deficiencies
• Chronic stress
• Anger and unresolved emotional issues
• Poor sleeping habits
• Uncontrolled blood sugar
• Excess alcohol and caffeine
• Use of corticosteroids
• A sedentary lifestyle
Ways to Boost DHEA Naturally
The body produces DHEA all the time and it is possible to boost your body’s own production of DHEA naturally. The best way to make more DHEA in the body is to cultivate joy. Studies have show that people with a positive outlook actually create a self-sustaining cycle of DHEA production, which affect serotonin levels (our happy neurotransmitter) and in turn increases DHEA. One proven way to boost levels of DHEA is to find ways to express and create joy in your life. This of course can mean different things to different people. Discover and pursue what makes you happy in life and share this joy with family and friends.
Make Meaningful Connections
Human beings are social creatures — we like companionship. Connecting with family and friends in a healthy and loving way is one of the best ways to cultivate joy and happiness. Make a list of social activities you have always wanted to do. Take a class or join a group that shares your interests. Spend quality time with friends and family and enjoy meeting new people and making new connections.
Regular exercise plays an important role in increasing DHEA production in the body. Moving the body, even through deep breathing and light stretching helps to reduce stress, sends oxygen to the cells and released mood-elevating endorphins though the bloodstream. If working out at the gym isn’t your thing, join martial arts, Tai Chi, go hiking, enjoy walks in nature or take a dance class.
Reduce Your Stress
Since stress lowers DHEA, it’s important to employ stress reducing practices like yoga, meditation or mindful reflection. Staying organized, writing to-do lists or journal writing are also ways to make life easier which can help ease stress caused by a busy and hectic lifestyle.
Don’t forget that laughing also helps lower stress and promotes the release of endorphins so have fun, which brings me to my next point…
It’s interesting that levels of DHEA decline as we grow older and enter the grown-up world of work and responsibility. Playtime shouldn’t be just for kids. Make time to spend with your partner,friends and your family. Hold pot lucks, sing karaoke, let loose and kick up your heels every once in a while! It’s good for your health!
While there are no direct food sources of DHEA, an anti-inflammatory diet is a critical aspect to alleviating stress in the body in order to naturally boost DHEA levels from the adrenal glands. An anti-inflammatory diet is one that is low in sugar, refined carbohydrates, rancid/heated oils and rich in phytonutrients and trace minerals from fresh, raw or lightly steamed vegetables. Anti-inflammatory herbs are also beneficial such as turmeric, ginger, rosemary, thyme, oregano and cinnamon. Try adding them to your meals on a daily basis. Healthy fats are also is needed to produce DHEA. Include coconut products, avocados, olives, flax, hemp, chia seeds and other raw nuts & seeds.
Increasing your levels of magnesium, a calming and relaxing mineral can also help manage stress levels.
Getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night will allow the adrenal glands to effectively heal and repair from lifestyle stress and regulates our natural biological circadian clock and reduces cortisol.
Many people opt to take DHEA supplements however, lifestyle factors that deplete DHEA levels should be addressed first. The most important factors include reducing/eliminating adrenal stressors such as chronic inflammation, physical & emotional stress, leaky gut syndrome, candida, infections, nutritional deficiencies, poor sleep and blood sugar imbalances.
While some natural health practitioners support the use of supplementing with DHEA supplements, I find it comes with too many risks and unwanted side effects.
An inappropriate amount of supplemental DHEA can trigger further hormonal imbalances which has been linked to wide range of health complications.