Many aspects of our modern lives put us under a lot of stress — and that can tax the capacity of our adrenal glands. These walnut-sized glands sit on top of our kidneys, and produce hormones such as cortisol and DHEA to help us deal with stressors. As stress becomes prolonged, our adrenals can become fatigued, leading to lower levels of these hormones. That’s why I often recommend testing of these hormones when it’s necessary for the individual patient. Along with healthy lifestyle changes, supplementation with adaptogenic herbs and nutrients can help support normal adrenal function. If DHEA (dehydroepiadrosterone) is low, supplementing with low-dose DHEA can help to support that pathway in the body.
A recent preliminary study found that low-dose DHEA is also helpful in relieving the physical symptoms of menopause. With concerns about some of the dangers of synthetic hormone replacement therapy (HRT), this could be a good alternative for many women, along with other supportive therapies. It’s important to keep in mind that monitoring DHEA levels is a good idea during supplementation, since this is a hormone.
Also, using low doses (in the range of 5-15 mg per day) is the approach I recommend. Many supplements available at stores or online contain much higher doses, ranging from 25-100 mg per capsule. While there are specific health conditions that may benefit from the short-term use of such high doses of DHEA, it disturbs me that this is available over the counter. When we start taking large amounts of hormones willy-nilly, whether synthetic or “natural,” we’re really messing with our endocrine system — possibly with unintended consequences.