Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a steroid hormone naturally produced in our bodies. Essentially, DHEA is the precursor of more powerful androgens such as testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and that's why bodybuilding enthusiasts love it so much.
However, don’t be too hasty to assume that you can effortlessly increase your testosterone levels by loading yourself with DHEA bodybuilding supplements. To determine if this perspective has any ground, we must first learn about the intricacies of DHEA supplementation.
How to Increase DHEA
Increasing DHEA levels can be done in two ways: indirectly through nutrition or directly through exogenous DHEA. When it comes to the former, boosting your consumption of foods rich in vitamin D and healthy fatty acids (Omega 3 and 6) will help improve your overall hormone production.
Of course, there are other important factors as well.
In fact, foregoing any of these can be detrimental to your quest for optimal hormone levels. Particularly DHEA and testosterone, so yes, it's quite the challenge.
Luckily, you can increase DHEA directly by supplementing with ready-made DHEA products like oral tablets of micronized DHEA. There are also several topical DHEA creams available.
Positive Effects of DHEA Supplementation
Improve Cortisol/ DHEA Ratio
DHEA and cortisol counter the effects of each other. The cortisol/DHEA ratio is the result of this relationship between the two adrenal hormones.
A high cortisol/DHEA ratio (cortisol exceeds DHEA) is severely detrimental to different organs and systems in your body. In fact, an elevated ratio has been observed in people with major depressive illness, immune system deficiencies, and diabetes mellitus.
Studies indicate that DHEA supplementation was able to improve hormone levels together with the illnesses associated with a high cortisol/DHEA ratio. DHEA has even been proven to be beneficial in slowing down aging in the different organs and glands concerned with hormonal balance.
Maintain Hormonal Balance
Middle-aged men start experiencing an evident decrease in their total and free testosterone levels. Some even get diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency, a condition that affects the levels of other adrenal hormones as well.
Well, research has found that DHEA improves testosterone levels and in turn provides protection from heart disease. Moreover, exogenous DHEA supplementation managed to maintain the total and free testosterone levels of hormonally imbalanced individuals who underwent aerobic or cardiovascular training.
Protect DNA From Aging
All of us will naturally grow old but cellular aging is an entirely different matter. Cellular senescence or cellular aging is the gradual degradation of cells in our body after we reach maturation.
For human beings, it's a normal process that basically determines their lifespan. However, this can be brought on at a faster rate due to inflammation, oxidative stress, and inadequate stress response caused by one’s lifestyle and diet, among other factors.
DHEA supplementation is able to counter the effects of the mentioned causes for premature aging and reverse cellular damage. It reduces the risk of cancer and improves the cellular health of individuals aged 20 to 80 years.
Improves Insulin Sensitivity
Preliminary research studies suggest that DHEA reduces abdominal and visceral fat accumulation and decreases the incidence of insulin resistance. In addition, DHEA has confirmed potential in preventing the hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), which is considered to be an indirect effect of insulin resistance.
Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1), or somatomedin C, is a protein that facilitates the effect of the Growth Hormone (GH). With GH, it stimulates the growth of cells and strengthens the tissues of the body.
From a bodybuilding perspective, IGF-1 plays a crucial role in strengthening the muscles and increasing bone mineral density. DHEA supplementation of 100 milligrams per day increases IGF-1 levels and muscle strength while also decreasing body fat mass.
However, be aware that short-term supplementation has shown to have no effect on the total body fat and muscle mass of athletes.
Drawbacks of DHEA Supplementation
Can Increase Estrogen Production
DHEA supplementation may lead to an increase in estrogen levels. This isn’t surprising at all, given that the hormone serves as a precursor to both male and female sex hormones (testosterone and estrogen).
What you need to keep in mind though, is that this increase in estrogen is more likely to occur in men with unnaturally high levels of an enzyme known as aromatase.
This substance is produced in the adipose tissue (body fat) and has one pesky effect: it irreversibly transforms testosterone into estrogen. That's why it's so important to shred excess weight if you're determined to achieve optimal male hormone levels!
Increases Risk for Cancer
Individuals who have taken at least 25 milligrams of DHEA per day for three months have an increased risks of developing cancer (including prostate cancer). This is partly why DHEA isn’t available as an over-the-counter drug in many places.
Exogenous DHEA is listed as an anabolic agent by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). It’s prohibited from use at all times by athletes regulated by the said institution.
So, Can DHEA Help Build Your Muscles?
Granted, there are huge merits to increasing your DHEA levels. Even when done indirectly, it can provide you with a variety of benefits such as boosting your general health, establishing hormonal balance, and preventing different diseases.
As for the exogenous supplement route preferred by bodybuilders and athletes, it can directly boost muscle growth and physical performance. It also influences such factors as cortisol synthesis and fat metabolism. Long story short, it can help to enhance muscle growth and improve body composition.
However, the DHEA dosage that provides muscle gain is considered rather high, so it may increase cancer risk. This is why it's recommended by medical practitioners to determine the need for DHEA before supplementing with it.
If you have elevated cortisol and/or decreased DHEA production, supplementing with DHEA can help you in achieving hormonal balance – as well as give you a boost in your quest for a leaner physique. Still, it’s important to practice moderation as you continue with supplementation.
That said, we recommend topical creams as a means of direct DHEA bodybuilding supplementation. They have lesser dosages than oral supplements despite having a more direct means of getting into your bloodstream (through skin absorption).
Also make sure you do a blood test for DHEA while you supplement to make sure you are not overdosing and causing more harm than good.