Graceful aging

“We may not be taking DHEA much longer!”

I was a little shocked to see this comment on the HSI Forum last week, because, coincidentally, that very day a close friend of mine named Courtney told me that her osteopath had advised her to begin taking a DHEA supplement.

The Forum posting, from an HSI member named Jim, went on to say, “There has been a so-called “Anti-Andro Bill” introduced in congress to make all of these types of supplements a controlled substance. It is called H.R. 207, Introduced by Reps Sweeny and Osborne – I don’t know what states they are from. Is this Democracy in action? Why have I not heard of this before? Does any one here know what is going on?”

The short answer to Jim’s question: Once again we have lawmakers busy driving in a tack with a battering ram when a tack hammer would do just fine.

The hormone king

We’ve written many times about DHEA in e-Alerts and HSI Members Alerts – especially in regards to its anti-aging effects. But for those of you who may not have yet heard about the benefits of DHEA, here’s a little background.

DHEA is an acronym for the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone, which is secreted by the adrenal glands. Your own natural production of DHEA peaks in your twenties during your prime reproductive years. After that, it gradually declines. On average, DHEA levels in 40-year-olds are half what they are in 20-year-olds. By the time you reach your 70s or 80s, DHEA levels have declined considerably to about 10 percent of what they were at their peak.

Scientists have not clearly established whether declining DHEA production is a cause or a result of the aging process, but research has shown that raising low levels with supplemental DHEA can have dramatic anti-aging effects. In addition, giving a boost to DHEA levels may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, help control diabetes, increase energy levels, improve memory, strengthen the immune system, and alleviate depression.

Dr. Norman Shealy, Founder of American Holistic Medical Association and an expert on DHEA research, calls DHEA, “a measure of life forcethe single most important hormone in the body.”

Low end level

So imagine how Courtney felt when her osteopath informed her that her DEHA level would be considered low for a 90-year-old woman! (Suffice it to say that she is still several decades shy of her 90th birthday). A normal DHEA level would be in the range of 45-270. So she was shocked to find that her level was 37. Much too low.

Therefore, Courtney is a prime candidate for DHEA supplements, which she’s already started taking. Nevertheless, I’m not suggesting that you start taking DHEA to reverse the aging process and reap all of the other wonderful benefits, because this is one supplement that must be monitored by a medical professional. As HSI panelist Martin Milner, N.D., explains, “Even at small doses, it’s relatively easy to overdose on DHEA if you don’t actually have a deficiency.”

DHEA normally exists in a balance with other corticosteroid hormones like cortisol. If your cortisol levels are already low (often the result of constant or long-term stress), DHEA supplementation can drive them even lower, leading to increased inflammation, light-headiness, and fatigue. Another problem is that, because DHEA can be converted into estrogen and testosterone, over-supplementation with DHEA can lead to unpredictable imbalances in sex hormone profiles. For men, this can increase the risk of prostate cancer. For women, it can lead to a deepened voice, excessive hair growth, and other androgenic (masculinizing) effects.

Levels of DHEA, along with cortisol and sex hormones, can be measured with a simple saliva test to determine whether or not you would benefit from DHEA supplementation, and to monitor its effects on an ongoing basis. Dr. Milner recommends that anyone using DHEA ask their doctor to monitor salivary hormone levels at least once every six months.

It’s criminal 

And of course, whenever lawmakers or regulators spot the smallest need of caution in the use of a supplement, they come riding over the hill to “protect” us with legislation.

This past January, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. John E. Sweeney (R-N.Y.) and Rep. Tom Osborne (R-Neb.) that would amend the Controlled Substance Act to include steroid precursors. The act is aimed at supplements that metabolize into anabolic steroids, commonly used by young athletes to promote muscle growth and enhance performance. DHEA has little or nothing to do with muscle growth, but because it qualifies as a steroid precursor, it’s included in the bill.

This is a typical example of legislative overkill that would criminalize a wide range of useful supplements in order to protect those who would misuse a few of them. And of course, those who are determined to use steroid precursors will always find a way to obtain them, law or no law. The House Bill is now being shuttled around from committees to subcommittees, and where it will end up, or when, is anybody’s guess.

In the meantime, ask your doctor to test your DHEA level. If you’re like Courtney, you may find an uncomplicated way to address a number of critical health issues associated with aging.

To Your Good Health,

Jenny Thompson
Health Sciences Institute

“To Amend the Controlled Substances Act with Respect to the Placing of Certain Substances on the Schedules of Controlled substances, and for Other Purposes” Bill #H.R. 207,
“Sweeney – Osborne Introduce Bill Aimed at Curbing Steroid ‘Precursors'” Press Release,, 10/9/02
“This Bill Poses a Grave Threat Not Only to the Prohormone Industry, But Also to the Nutritional Supplement Industry As a Whole”
“DHEA and Anti-Aging Medicine” Life Extension Magazine, June 2002