DHEA Overview And Possible Thyroid Connection

An Overview Of DHEA And How This Hormone Is Connected To Thyroid Function

There are 50 different hormones1 produced and secreted by various glands in the endocrine system, each contributing specific functions that ensure organs are able to operate, the digestive system is able to process food, and more.

Some hormones have direct effects on the body, such as testosterone and estrogen, which are both sex hormones contributing to libido and fertility, as well as bone health, muscle strength and cognitive function.

There are also certain hormones that act as triggers for the production of other hormones.

An excellent example is Thyroid Stimulating Hormone2, a type of hormone that is produced within the pituitary gland, and then secreted into the blood circulatory system.

This hormone then stimulates the Thyroid gland, which causes the production of Thyroid hormones.

The Thyroid gland primarily produces a hormone known as thyroxine, which is then converted into another Thyroid hormone, known as triiodothyronine, according to the requirements of the body. Triiodothyronine is a more potent type of Thyroid hormone than thyroxine.

These two hormones play a significant part in maintaining a healthy, functioning body. When levels of thyroxine or triiodothyronine drop too low or, in some cases, elevates too high, then a person can experience a variety of disrupting symptoms.

Numerous studies have been conducted to provide an overview of how Thyroid health can be maintained, and how the effects of certain Thyroid disorders can be better managed.

In this article, we want to focus on DHEA, also known as Dehydroepiandrosterone, a naturally-occurring hormone in the body that can also be supplemented through the use of pills, food and other particular sources.

Some studies have suggested that, due to the impact of DHEA on certain hormones within the human body, additional supplementation of this hormone might assist with improving overall Thyroid health.

Let’s dig deeper into this topic and see whether or not you should consider using DHEA supplements if you are suffering from a Thyroid disorder.

What Is DHEA And How Does It Work

Most people learn about DHEA from advertisements that promote these supplements, promising that a pill a day will lead to higher levels of energy, and many other advantages. While DHEA is a substance commonly used in supplements, it is important to realize that this substance is also present naturally in the human body. DHEA, or scientifically known as Dehydroepiandrosterone, is a hormone that the adrenal glands in the human body produce.

In fact, DHEA is considered to be one of the most commonly found steroid hormones in the blood circulatory system of the human body.

A primary function of DHEA is to serve as a pre-hormone to the main sex hormones found in both male and female body. This means that the body is able to convert circulating DHEA into either testosterone or estrogen, according to the requirements and, of course, based on the level of bioavailable DHEA.

Testosterone is the main sex hormone in men, while estrogen is the main sex hormone in women. An insignificant concentration of testosterone is also present in the female body, and there is also some estrogen in the male body. Both hormones play a crucial part in the maintenance of the body.

Even though classified as a sex hormone, testosterone also plays crucial roles in libido regulation, mood regulation, bone health, muscle growth and muscle strength, erectile function and even in brain health3.

A deficiency of testosterone causes men to experience complications with their muscle strength and grown, poor sexual performance, lethargy, impaired memory function, problems with their overall mental performance and, in some cases, also depression4.

Amongst women, estrogen does not only play a key role in sexual function, but also contributes to the metabolism of muscles, as well as in bone health, cognitive function, mental wellbeing and more5.

Women naturally experience a significant decline in estrogen production when they enter their menopausal state, causing a reduced libido, the development of joint pain, problems with their sleeping patterns, constant flare-ups of fatigue, and more6.

The Possible Benefits Of Taking DHEA Supplements

Since DHEA is a pre-hormone to testosterone in the male body and estrogen in the female body, the primary idea behind supplementing the body with DHEA would be to possibly increase the circulating serum concentrations of these hormones.

At the moment, there is little evidence available to provide support for the claims that supplementing the body with additional DHEA could provide an increase in the bioavailability of either testosterone and estrogen. Some studies have offered data regarding these topics, but further research still needs to be conducted.

One study, conducted by the University of California San Diego, found that the supplementation of 100mg DHEA daily over a period of six months has some beneficial roles to play in the body. An interesting finding of the study is that it seems like DHEA supplementation has different roles to play in men and women, as similar advantages compared to a control group were not observed in both genders.

Amongst women, improvements in androgen production, including serum estrogen levels, were observed, but significant improvements in testosterone production amongst the male group of participants were not observed. The male group did, however, produce improvements in their muscle strength, where the female group did not produce similar effects.

Many other studies have provided evidence of benefits and possible complications of DHEA supplements amongst men and women. A lot of the results are often mixed – while some provide benefits, others rather report possible hazards associated with the use of these supplements.

A review paper7 produced by the Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust offers an overview of the current evidence that supports potential benefits associated with DHEA, but also notes that further research still needs to be conducted to produce more data regarding how and when these benefits are to be expected.

Some of the possible advantages to the utilization of DHEA supplements listed in this review paper include:

  • A reduction in total cholesterol levels.
  • Enhancement in sexual satisfaction.
  • Improvements in insulin sensitivity.
  • The prevention of reduced bone mineral density.
  • Better muscle strength and possibly faster muscle growth.
  • Reductions in total body fat percentages.
  • Improvements in symptoms associated with allergy and asthma.
  • Possible improvements in fertility, especially amongst women.

The benefits that DHEA may contribute to might depend on several factors. For example, a person with an existing DHEA deficiency in their body may achieve enhanced benefits when using such supplements as opposed to a person who already has normal levels of this hormone in their body.

Additionally, people who are suffering from a particular condition or health ailment that could be improved through the elevation of DHEA levels might also better benefit from the use of such supplements.

Potential Side-Effects And Interactions Of DHEA Supplements

The use of DHEA supplements over a short period of time is generally considered safe and potentially beneficial. There is, however, not enough data to provide more details on whether the long-term use of these supplements is safe.

Additional data is also still required to provide more information regarding the safety of DHEA supplementation during pregnancy and while a woman is breastfeeding.

Some side-effects have been associated with the use of DHEA, but the majority of these side-effects and potential risk factors are mild in most cases. Most side-effects are the result of elevated hormone levels in the body, primarily being causes by excess testosterone or estrogen. Possible side-effects that some people have experienced while using DHEA supplements include8:

  • An increase in their blood pressure.
  • Increased oil production in the skin, leading to oily skin and possibly acne outbreaks.
  • Fatigue may develop, along with feelings of lethargy and tiredness.
  • Nasal congestion.
  • A rapid heartbeat or an irregular heartbeat is also a possible complication of DHEA supplements.
  • Gastrointestinal side-effects may also develop, such as an upset stomach.
  • Sleep disturbances and insomnia may also develop with the long-term use of DHEA.
  • Hair loss is a relatively uncommon, but still possible complication.
  • Amongst women, facial hair may develop, menstruation cycles may change and a deepening of the voice may also occur.

Thyroid Function And DHEA – Is There A Connection

DHEA supplements have recently become a topic amongst healthcare publications that describe Thyroid disorders. Common Thyroid disorders include hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. When a person is diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, it means there are too much Thyroid hormones in their body.

Hypothyroidism means there are too little Thyroid hormones in a person’s body. There are different conditions and problems that can contribute to the overproduction of hormones by the Thyroid gland, and there are also numerous issues that can cause an impairment in Thyroid function.

Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can be effectively managed through the use of medications that either increases levels of Thyroid hormones in the body or suppresses Thyroid function, depending on the diagnosed condition.

Additionally, numerous studies have provided evidence that taking certain supplements along with medication to treat Thyroid disorders can be beneficial.

A study9 conducted by the Kobe Pharmaceutical University in Japan observed the effect of hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism on levels of DHEA amongst a group of patients who suffered from these conditions. The study tested for the following substances:

  • DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone)
  • DHEA-S (Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate)
  • PREG-S (Pregnenolone sulfate)

The outcome of the study offered evidence that both conditions affecting the Thyroid gland cause an impact on total serum concentrations of DHEA and related substances in the body. Patients with hyperthyroidism had elevated levels of DHEA-S and PREG-S in their blood circulatory system.

Patients who were diagnosed with hypothyroidism had reduced levels of DHEA, DHEA-S and PREG-S in their blood.

By considering the data released by this study, we come to the conclusion that DHEA supplementation might be helpful in some patients with a Thyroid disorder.

When the thyroid is overactive; thus producing too many hormones, then DHEA supplements should not be considered as elevated levels of this hormone may already be present in the patient’s body. Patients diagnosed with hypothyroidism, where Thyroid hormones are insufficient in the body, may benefit from the use of DHEA supplements.

It should be noted that the utilization of DHEA supplements might not have a direct impact on Thyroid function in patients with an underactive Thyroid. The fact that DHEA levels seem to decline when Thyroid hormones decline, however, makes the use of these supplements important to restore optimal levels of DHEA in the body.

Although we do not currently see any thyroid supplements with DHEA, this may change in the near future as new thyroid supplements are added.

Conclusion

Thyroid disorders can cause changes in weight and appetite, as well as lead to digestive problems, constipation, fatigue and, in some people, even contribute to the development of depression and anxiety.

Treating these disorders can be done through the use of certain pharmaceutical drugs. Scientific evidence also supports the fact that adding some types of supplements to a treatment plan for Thyroid disorders can assist with further improving symptoms, while also addressing the particular issues that are causing the Thyroid to malfunction.

DHEA is a relatively popular supplement amongst bodybuilders, but scientific studies have presented data that suggests individuals with Thyroid problems – hypothyroidism in particular – may be able to benefit from the addition of DHEA supplements to their treatment plan.

Improvements in Thyroid hormone secretion, as well as overall Thyroid function, was observed amongst hypothyroidism patients who were provided a daily DHEA supplement.

DHEA deficiency in the body can cause extreme fatigue, overall weakness, lethargy, changes in mood, a loss of muscle mass, low bone mineral density, painful joints and symptoms of depression. Many of these symptoms are also associated with hypothyroidism.

Thus, when both conditions are present, symptoms experienced may be much more severe than with only one condition.

Restoring optimal DHEA levels while addressing the low levels of Thyroid hormones at the same time can provide a better approach to treating the symptoms a patient is experiencing.

References

1 Complete Guide to Boosting Thyroid Hormones and Function Naturally
Thyroid Advisor. https://thyroidadvisor.com/complete-guide-to-boosting-thyroid-hormone-function-naturally/

2 Thyroid stimulating hormone. You and your Hormones. https://medlineplus.gov/labtests/tshthyroidstimulatinghormonetest.html

3 Jerald Bain. The many faces of testosterone. Dovepress. 2 December 2007. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2686330/

4 Multiple Authors. Review of health risks of low testosterone and testosterone administration. World Journal of Clinical Cases. 16 April 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4391003/

5 Multiple Authors. The Role of Androgens and Estrogens on Healthy Aging and Longevity. Oxford Journals. 26 March 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3636678/

6 Nanette Santoro, C. Neill Epperson, Sarah B. Mathews. Menopausal Symptoms and Their Management. HHS Public Access. 2 June 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4890704/

7 Multiple Authors. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA): hypes and hopes. U.S. National Library of Medicine. July 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25022952

8 DHEA Supplements. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/dhea-supplements#2-6

9 Multiple Authors. Serum dehydroepiandrosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, and pregnenolone sulfate concentrations in patients with hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. U.S. National Library of Medicine. April 2000. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10759476

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