Would you like to increase muscle mass, lose weight, build stronger bones, lower your risk for heart disease and diabetes, improve your immune system and preserve memory? Two adrenal hormones are able to do all of this, but with normal aging the production of these health-promoting powerhouses naturally declines.
I’m referring to pregnenolone and DHEA (de-hydro-epi-androsterone). Made directly from cholesterol these steroid hormones are primarily created by the adrenal glands. Reaching their peak levels about age 30 they then decline about 1-2% each year in men and women. Even under ideal conditions about half of people have levels below optimum by age 50 and by age 60 it is rare to find someone who has a healthy blood level of these hormones.
Pregnenolone is known for its role in mental processing and memory. It is also produced in the brain and has been shown to play a role in the creation of memory but also protecting the nerve circuits that preserve memory. Scientists believe that the hormone pregnenolone has vast potential for maintaining healthy cognitive function and may be “the most potent memory enhancer yet reported.”
Research shows that low pregnenolone correlates with increased risk of Alzheimer’s dementia. Pregnenolone stimulates the growth of new nerves in the brain and increases a memory enhancing neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. Further studies show that supplementing pregnenolone can reverse memory deficits. It also has the amazing ability to stimulate nerve transmission while some of its metabolites actually calm over-excited nerve tissue. This makes pregnenolone sharpen memory and cognition while helping conditions such as anxiety.
DHEA is made from pregnenolone and has a wealth of benefits including musculoskeletal support, promotion of mental health, immune system regulation and maintaining cardiovascular health.
Good for bones, muscle and metabolism, DHEA has been shown to increase bone mineral density, increase muscle mass and stimulate breakdown of fat leading to weight loss.
Improved mental function, memory and mood are also associated with DHEA. Healthy DHEA levels improve even sex drive. Like pregnenolone, DHEA is a potent neurosteroid hormone that has protective and stimulatory affects in the brain.
DHEA has incredible cardio-protective benefits. A 2009 study of 153 diabetic men with stable coronary heart disease (CHD) found that 77% were DHEA-S deficient, significantly more than in healthy peers. Over the next 19 months of follow-up, 43 of those men died of CHD; the data showed that low DHEA and low testosterone levels were two of the four most significant predictors of death.
Another 2009 study of 247 men with an average age of 76 years revealed that those with low DHEA had a 96% increased risk of diabetes and a 48% increased risk of heart disease.
The immune boosting effects of DHEA are well known. It boosts antibody production; enhances the activity of monocytes, immune cells that attack cancer cells and viruses; activates natural killer cells, immune cells that attack and destroy viruses and other foreign invaders; and maximizes the anti-cancer function of immune cells known as T lymphocytes
Even the skin benefits from DHEA. In 2008 Canadian scientists found more than 50 DHEA-responsive genes in the skin. DHEA “switched on” multiple collagen-producing genes and reduced expression of genes associated with production and cornification (hardening) of the tough keratinocytes that form calluses and rough skin. The researchers concluded,“DHEA could exert an anti-aging effect in the skin through stimulation of collagen biosynthesis, improved structural organization of the dermis while modulating keratinocyte metabolism.”
Whether or not adrenal hormones extend the life span, they clearly improve the quality of life. Studies show people who supplement pregnenolone and DHEA have more energy, sleep better, and handle stress better. They report an increased “well-being and overall vitality”.
Adrenal supplements are available over-the-counter, without a prescription. I strongly encourage obtaining blood levels of pregnenolone and DHEA-sulfate (the more stable form for measuring) prior to supplementing and then again to insure proper dosing. As with other steroid hormones there is no benefit, and usually harm, in taking too large a dose of hormone replacement. Optimal dosing of adrenal hormones is only obtained through testing.
The adrenal hormones do not cause cancer, but those with active hormone sensitive cancers should not take DHEA or pregnenolone due to concerns of stimulating the already existing cancer. Taking too much DHEA will usually cause excess hair growth, oily skin, acne, or lead to agitation. I’ve seen many men taking huge doses of DHEA thinking it would boost testosterone levels – not so – and in fact it leads to more estrogen, which is not healthy. Again, optimal dosing based on labs.
Seek brands that are “micronized” for better absorption and sustained blood levels. Usual DHEA doses are 10-25mg daily for women, and 25-50mg daily for men. Optimal blood levels are around 200-300 mcg/dL for women, and 300-400 mcg/dL for men. Usual doses of pregnenolone are 25-100mg daily for men and women with optimal blood levels around 300 ng/dL. I recommend brands from Life Extension or Douglas Labs.
With the wealth of science showing the powerful benefits of adrenal hormones in disease prevention and improved quality of life these safe and simple supplements should be part of every adult’s health maintenance plan.
Scott Rollins, MD, is Board Certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement for men and women, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call (970) 245-6911 for an appointment or more information.