Bioidentical Hormones

DHEA: What is it & Why Should You Care?

by Magnolia on July 9, 2014

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If you’re anything like me, prior to perimenopause the only thing you knew about hormones was that you had them, and that about every 28 days or so, you had a deep and passionate longing for a luscious piece of chocolate and a high powered firearm with bulls-eye accuracy.

In prior generations there wasn’t much talk about such things either. Our mothers and grandmothers knew they would one day become menopausal and that’s just the way things were. There was no need to talk about it or try to understand it. But, that was then and this is now.

Today’s generation of perimenopausal women sees things differently. We want to be active participants in our health and wellness, and we also want accurate information to aid in asking the right questions.

But, having access to all that information sometimes comes with a price, especially when you hear words like DHEA,also called, dehydroepiandrosterone.  Not only can you not pronounce it, but you probably don’t know what it is either. But should you?  And if you do, will it help you feel better and cope with those nasty symptoms of perimenopause?

As with everything that has to do with your hormone health, the answers may not be completely clear cut.  But, without question, the more you know the easier it is to make informed choices.

What is DHEA?

In basic terms, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a steroid secreted by the adrenal glands. One of the primary functions of DHEA is that it has to be present for both androgen (male hormones) and estrogen synthesis to occur in your body. In other words, it helps your body produce androgen and estrogen, both which are necessary for you to have hormone balance. It also plays an important role during times of chronic stress.

The Role of DHEA in Perimenopause and Adrenal Fatigue

One of the more difficult symptoms that women experience during perimenopause is what is often called crashing fatigue, an overwhelming tiredness that makes you feel as if you have cinder blocks chained to your ankles.

If the crashing fatigue in perimenopause was simply the result of not sleeping enough, the answer would be simple – get more sleep.

But, that is the not the entire picture. Crashing fatigue and exhaustion during perimenopause is often the result of adrenal fatigue.

Adrenal fatigue results when your adrenal glands become depleted and unable to function normally as a result of chronic stress, such as the stress that results from hormone imbalance.

If you are experiencing adrenal fatigue, chances are you have too much of the stress hormones cortisol and norephinephrine in your body and not enough DHEA.

DHEA – The Great Equalizer

During times of stress, your adrenal glands release both cortisol and norepinephrine to enable you to adapt and withstand the stress. Too much cortisol, which can result during times of chronic stress, has a detrimental effect on your body, such as, breaking down muscle tissue, thinning of the skin, erratic blood sugar levels, weight gain and a weakened immune system.

To help your body maintain balance and to counteract the negative effects of too much cortisol and norepinephrine, the body releases DHEA. In addition to acting as the great equalizer, DHEA also acts in other positive ways. It increases bone density. It guards against heart disease by keeping bad cholesterol (LDL) in check.

It sharpens the mind (brain fog, anyone?), improves sleep patterns and generally increases vitality and energy. In other words, ladies, DHEA is your friend.

Should You Supplement DHEA Levels During Perimenopause?

With the advent of anti-aging medicine and the increased focus on health and wellness issues, women are inundated with suggestions for supplements to add to their bodies. DHEA, because of its health promoting, anti-aging properties, is often called the fountain of youth and is highly recommended as a supplement.

But, should you? Is it safe? Because DHEA is instrumental in metabolizing into hormones, many physicians feel it is not safe to experiment with DHEA as a supplement. In addition, because DHEA basically functions as a steroid in the body, there is the potential for negative side effects if large doses are consumed.

If you are in perimenopause and are suffering with adrenal fatigue and are considering supplementing with DHEA, be sure and seek the advice of a trusted physician or health care provider first. While there are certainly health benefits in supplementing with DHEA, the potential risks can be harmful. While seeking to restore hormone balance during perimenopause is always a good thing, caution when introducing supplements and hormones into your body is always the wiser course of action.

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