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High and Low DHEA Levels in Women (All You Need to Know)
DHEA is one of dozens of hormones in your body.
We have a few general ideas about how high levels of DHEA are correlated with certain diseases or disorders, and we also have some ideas about how low DHEA levels may contribute to a variety of symptoms.
However, DHEA is something of a mystery — science still fails to grasp clearly what it does.
What We Know About DHEA in Women
There are a handful of things we do know about this poorly understood hormone:
- DHEA is the most common hormone in the body
- DHEA is produced in the ovaries and the adrenal gland in females
- DHEA ranges between 13–380 ug/dL for women between the ages of 20–69
- DHEA is involved in sexual function for females, and supplementation of DHEA may help improve sexual function
- Low DHEA is associated with panic attacks
- High DHEA levels are associated with PTSD in women
- DHEA may help with both obesity and insulin resistance
Because DHEA seems to be involved in these bodily functions, and, because a few studies show that DHEA supplementation may help alleviate certain symptoms in women (see symptoms of low DHEA below), it’s reasonable to assume that having either low or high DHEA levels could cause some symptoms.
On the other hand, some studies indicate DHEA supplementation doesn’t necessarily do much.
That means we’re still uncertain whether DHEA alone could be the source of the problem — other hormones may be causing your symptoms.
Low or High DHEA: Possible Symptoms
The following symptoms that are possibly linked to low DHEA:
- Sexual dysfunction (including erectile dysfunction in men and low libido in women)
- Heart disease
- Low bone density
Many of these same symptoms occur from low testosterone or low estrogen — one reason the issue of low DHEA is so clouded.
Many of the symptoms of high levels of DHEA look very similar to high levels of testosterone in females, or even high levels of estrogen.
Here are some of the symptoms of high DHEA levels:
- Hirsutism (excess hair growth and male hair growth patterns)
- Hair loss
- Aggressive behavior
- Trouble sleeping
- Acne and/or oily skin
High DHEA levels can be a very serious indicator of deeper problems:
- High DHEA levels in females are often associated with PCOS
- High levels of DHEA are also associated with a higher risk for breast cancer (here’s a second article on DHEA and breast cancer)
- High DHEA levels in females also may indicate an adrenal gland tumor or overactive adrenal glands
- High DHEA levels in females also seem to be associated with Cushing’s syndrome
The question of whether DHEA levels are causing your symptoms is complicated because DHEA is a precursor hormone (or prohormone).
That means DHEA generally doesn’t stay as DHEA in your body, but rather transforms into other hormones — testosterone and estrogen.
In actuality, DHEA may be converting into imbalanced amounts of one of these sex hormones — too much or too little estrogen or testosterone could result in imbalances and symptoms.
In other words, the actual source of the problem likely is not too much or too little of the root hormone DHEA.
Increasing DHEA — Probably Not the Answer
Since testosterone and estrogen come from DHEA, it would seem logical on the surface that increasing DHEA might help restore hormone levels to those suffering from the symptoms of either low estrogen or low testosterone.
However, that solution is overly simplistic because of the way your body processes hormones.
Since DHEA can transform into both testosterone and estrogen, there’s no way to know or control what hormones your body will produce from it.
Therefore, adding DHEA into your body with unpredictable results could worsen the imbalance you currently have or throw your other hormones off balance, creating additional problems — we just don’t have enough conclusive information to know what this hormone does and does not do.
Many people seem to focus on these lesser-known hormones like DHEA, leaving the major sex hormones to take a backseat.
Instead, testosterone and estrogen should both be considered first.
Treating Hormone Imbalances (Including Low DHEA) by Restoring Balance
There’s really no need to rely on DHEA to treat your symptoms.
Testosterone or estrogen can be supplemented directly, producing better and faster relief from the symptoms that you’re feeling.
In some cases, this can be done by treating a medical cause of the hormone imbalance.
In other cases, there is no cure, and hormones need to be introduced from outside the body through Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) to bring hormone levels back to normal.
Generally, it’s not a single hormone that’s problematic — DHEA is no exception to this pattern.
If any of your hormone levels are too high or too low in relation to the others, you will likely experience symptoms.
The goal of any hormone replacement therapy should be to restore balance among all your hormones.
That’s why we want to look carefully at what your body is doing.
It’s important to determine as definitively as possible whether you’re experiencing low or high DHEA symptoms, or if your symptoms are caused by another hormone being out of balance.
Then, we can make suggestions for treatment based off of those initial tests.
Finally, we want to see how your body reacts, to monitor any changes in your health, and then to decide if more of one hormone or less of another is the direction to move.
A Word of Caution About Over-the-Counter DHEA Supplements
There are a lot of DHEA supplements out there being sold over the counter.
Supplements designed to increase your hormone levels, including DHEA, generally don’t work.
In fact, such supplements can actually be very bad for you, so even if you think that your DHEA levels are low, taking a DHEA supplement is probably not the best idea.
So start by looking at testosterone and estrogen levels. Have a complete test done of all your hormones, and let your medical provider determine what the appropriate treatment should be.
Finding the Source of Your Hormone Imbalance
DHEA is an interesting but poorly understood hormone, which is why information on the symptoms of high DHEA levels in females (or the effects of adding DHEA to, or subtracting DHEA from, your body) is hard to find.
The most important step is finding out conclusively what the source of your trouble is before beginning HRT of any kind.
Testosterone Centers of Texas (TCT) offers a free consult to help you understand the root causes of your symptoms and develop a treatment plan.
We strive for significant improvement of your quality of life through relief of your symptoms and careful maintenance of safety and overall health, all while making treatment as convenient as possible. Our commitment is to improve your level of health across the board.
Click to schedule your free initial consultation today.