Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is an endogenous prohormone secreted by the adrenal glands and only 10% by the genitals, both ovaries and testicles.
It is a precursor of androgens and estrogens. DHEA is also a neurotransmitter steroid, also known as a neuromediator, it is a chemical whose main function is the transmission of information from one neuron to another through the space called synaptic that separates two consecutive neurons.
As a neuroactive steroid, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), activates the receptor, sigma1, which has a neuroprotective action, eliminating free radicals, as well as modulating other neurotransmitters such as GABA and glutamate.
Recently, biological effects of DHEA in the brain on mood and cognition have been demonstrated (Pluchino et al. 2015).
It also has properties, on oxidative stress, has anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic properties and is one of the most abundant steroids in the circulation.
Similarly, it increases fatty acid metabolism (through PPAR) and drug detoxification, leading to the beneficial effects of DHEA observed in some obesity and cancer models.
It is a source of androgen to rapidly produce sex-related hormones during adrenarche,happens before puberty, usually between the ages of 6 and 8 years, in both sexes and later in childbirth.
Although it functions as an endogenous precursor to more potent androgens such as testosterone and DHT, DHEA has been found to possess some degree of androgenic activity by itself, acting as a weak partial agonist of the androgenic receptor (AR).
It should be noted that it is also an agonist of one of the estrogenic receptors and would also have antiglucocorticoid activity.
In the circulation, DHEA is mainly bound to albumin, with a small amount bound to sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). The small amount of DHEA not associated with albumin or SHBG is unbound and free in the circulation.
DHEA easily crosses the blood-brain barrier into the central nervous system.
Since almost all DHEA is derived from the adrenal glands, blood measurements of DHEA-S/DHEA are useful in detecting excess adrenal activity as seen in cancer or adrenal hyperplasia.
This includes certain forms of congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome tend to have elevated levels of DHEA-S
DHEA is transformed into DHEA-sulfate (DHEA-S) by sulfation, this occurs naturally in the adrenal cortex and during first-step metabolism in the liver and intestine when exogenous DHEA is administered orally.
Circulating DHEA-S levels are approximately 250-300 times those of DHEA and its half-life is much longer. DHEA-S can in turn convert back to DHEA in the peripheral tissues.
The production of DHEA increases gradually from the age of 10, peaks during the age of 20 and slowly decreases with age.
Therefore, it should be considered in the treatment of adrenal insufficiency (Addison’s disease), depression, obesity, infertility and problems related to menopause and osteoporosis.
As the hormonal precursor responsible for producing both testosterone and estrogen, DHEA has significant potential benefits, but at the right dose and not more than 25 mg daily.