Potential Therapeutic Value of DHEA
by Michael B. Schachter, M.D., F.A.C.A.M.
DHEA, which stands for dehydroepiandrosterone, is an amazing
natural hormone produced by the adrenal glands with numerous potential benefits.
Although this hormone is the most abundant hormone produced by the adrenals,
conventional medicine has paid little attention to it. Recently, research in
animals and humans suggest that a deficiency in the body of DHEA may contribute
to a variety of medical problems. Conversely, the supplementation of DHEA when
it is low seems to help many medical problems.
Like cortisone, testosterone and estrogen, DHEA is a steroid
hormone. The original precursor of all steroid hormones in the body is
cholesterol. We sometimes think of cholesterol and hormones as being bad; but,
they are absolutely essential for life and health. The key point is that the
hormones need to be in balance. Hormonal imbalances may be caused by genetic or
inherited tendencies, nutritional deficiencies, toxic exposures, infections,
aging and stress of all kinds.
DHEA or DHEA Sulfate blood levels can be measured easily to
determine if there is a deficiency of this hormone. Frequently, this hormone is
low in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, ulcerative colitis,
allergies, chronic fatigue, multiple sclerosis, lupus erythematosus and AIDS.
When levels are below optimal levels, DHEA may be prescribed by a physician. At
the present time, DHEA is not available commercially in most pharmacies, but is
available from compounding pharmacies, which compound or make up and then fill
prescriptions that are written by doctors.
What is the evidence for the value of DHEA in various
conditions? In one study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, men
with apparently healthy hearts and low DHEA levels had a 3.3 times greater
chance of dying of heart disease during the next 12 years when compared to men
with normal DHEA levels.
Both animal and human studies indicate that low DHEA levels
predispose to breast cancer. DHEA may be of value in preventing and even
treating cancer--especially breast cancer. Dr. Hans Nieper in Germany has used
DHEA in many of his cancer patients for years.
Autoimmune diseases are a result of the body's immune system
attacking itself. Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, ulcerative colitis, diabetes
mellitus, multiple sclerosis and many other diseases involve autoimmune
problems. Animal and human studies indicate that DHEA can be very helpful in all
of these conditions.
Many of our multiple sclerosis patients with fatigue and
patients with chronic fatigue and allergies frequently show significant
improvement when given DHEA. DHEA generally goes down as a person ages.
Supplementation with DHEA may retard the aging process. In addition to its own
activity, DHEA can be converted to both testosterone and estrogen. It appears to
have bone strengthening qualities by retarding bone resorption and stimulating
In summary, natural DHEA appears to be potentially valuable as a therapeutic