Ok there has been a lot of talk about supplementing DHEA when levels are low so I wanted to address this issue. So although DHEA-S is great predictor of deficient adrenal glands, supplementing DHEA will not fix the issue because there are many more hormones produced by the adrenals that will not be optimized by DHEA supplementation. To understand this, lets look at how the adrenal glands function and what hormones DHEA can turn in to:
So your adrenal glands are 2 triangle shaped organs that sit on top of the kidney and are comprised of 2 different structures, the adrenal cortex, and the adrenal medulla. These are differentiated by the hormones they produce, the adrenal cortex produces hormones that are necessary for life, and the adrenal medulla produces hormones that are not necessary for life.
Adrenal cortex hormones are glucocorticoids, mineral-corticoids and sex hormones (IE: DHEA). The aforementioned is controlled by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, and the latter are mediated by the kidneys. Essential for life hormones are the hormones produced that perform vital functions in the body, but as you can see by the graph below, DHEA does not convert into either of the aforementioned corticosteroid hormones. You can see in the image below every pathway that DHEA can possibly take:
So as you can see, supplementing DHEA does nothing for you corticosteroid hormones.
The two main glucocorticoids (corticosteroid hormone) produced by the adrenal cortex are:
Hydrocortisone: Or cortisol, which regulates how the body converts fats, proteins and carbohydrates to energy.
Corticosterone: This hormone is very important in helping your body reduce inflammation and it also regulates your immune response.
The principal mineralocorticoid is aldosterone, which is what helps you maintain water retention.
Now on to the adrenal medulla hormones, which are not necessary for life, but are extremely important to mood and your response in fight or flight situations. The hormones produced by this part of your adrenal glands are secreted when the nervous system is stimulated, in other words, when you are going through something really stressful.
Epinephrine: This is actually adrenaline and this hormone responds to stress by increasing your heart rate and rushing blood to the brain and muscles. It also helps regulate your glucose by stimulating glycogen in the liver.
Norepinephrine: This hormone also responds to stress but it causes vasoconstriction of the blood vessels.
So Epinephrine is primarily a hormone and norepinephrine is primarily a neurotransmitter, they do not each have their own receptors.
These hormones are extremely important to things like social behavior and memory, they are also responsible for giving you energy in times of need.
So not to go into too much detail about these hormones, all we need to know is that although they are not essential for life, they are essential for lots of other things and without these hormones and neurotransmitters you are probably going to have a lack of energy and most likely be depressed.
So as you can see simply supplementing DHEA does very little to rectify adrenal insufficiency, it may make your DHEA levels go up but you are still missing the vital hormones that the adrenal glands usually produce. Thats why in the study I posted, even though some men and women lost fat due to DHEA supplementation, it had nothing to do with rectifying the adrenals, which is why DHEA was low to begin with.
If DHEA was the only hormone secreted by the adrenals, then it would make since to treat adrenal fatigue with DHEA supplementation, but that is not the case. This is also why the literature shows that DHEA supplementation in men with high basal testosterone levels had little to no effect. DHEA basically turns into sex hormones, so if your low in sex hormones DHEA will have an effect. But if your on TRT, DHEA won’t do anything for you on its own.
This is why adrenal insufficiency is not treated with DHEA. This is why HCG is so valuable, it stimulates the adrenal glands and makes them produce all of the core hormones.
Hope this makes sense please feel free to discuss.