It stands for Dehydroepiandrosterone and is a building block of steroid hormones that is produced predominantly in the adrenal glands. It serves as a precursor to the sex hormone testosterone and estrogen in both men and women. DHEA is also a building block of the stress hormone cortisol and supports immune system function. DHEA may also increase insulin sensitivity, enhance fat metabolism, and act as an antioxidant. There are two type of dehydroepiandrosterone: DHEA and its sulfate form, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS). Because DHEAS remains in the bloodstream longer than DHEA, doctors generally test DHEAS numbers when they suspect a problem with this hormone. Typically, DHEAS levels are high in newborns and drop significantly after birth. They increase during puberty, peak soon after, and decline with age.
Normal ranges are as follows:
18 to 19 -- 108 to 441 mcg/dL
20 to 29 -- 280 to 640 mcg/dL
30 to 39 -- 120 to 520 mcg/dL
40 to 49 -- 95 to 530 mcg/dL
50 to 59 -- 70 to 310 mcg/dL
60 to 69 -- 42 to 290 mcg/dL
69 and older -- 28 to 175 mcg/dL
18 to 19 -- 145 to 395 mcg/dL
20 to 29 -- 65 to 380 mcg/dL
30 to 39 -- 45 to 270 mcg/dL
40 to 49 -- 32 to 240 mcg/dL
50 to 59 -- 26 to 200 mcg/dL
60 to 69 -- 13 to 130 mcg/dL
69 and older -- 17 to 90 mcg/dL
Keep in mind that reference ranges can differ from lab to lab, so check the listing on your blood test for the range that applies to you.
Although DHEA levels declne naturally with age, they may also be lowered by conditions such as:
- Autoimmune disease such as Addision's disease, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Chronic stress
Unfortunately, some of the medications used to treat symptoms of these illnesses can also deplete DHEA in the body. Do not attempt to adjust the dosage of your medication on your own. If your DHEA is low, your doctor will sugget the best way to remedy the problem.
If chronic stress is behind decreased DHEA, do your best to eliminate the source of stress from your life. Getting at least eight hours of sleep every night can also help reduce strew, as can exercising aerobically for approximately thirty minutes a day, three to four times a week. As low DHEA levels may be associated with inflammation, it is wise to cut back on foods that can have an inflammatory reaction in your body.
DHEA levels are naturally higher during youth, but there are a few conditions that can cause this hormone to become elevated beyond the normal range, including:
- Adrenal tumors
- Hyperplasia (adrenal swelling)
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
DHEA levels can vary widely from person to peron. Your doctor will be able to verify whether or not the amount of this hormone in your blood is a problem.
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