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DHEA: Can it Increase Muscle?
DHEA or dehydroepiandrosterone is one of the hormones that our adrenal glands make. As such, it is a naturally occurring substance, but in the bodybuilding world, DHEA usually comes from plants such as soy.
Its composition is of cholesterol which is due to the influence of adrenocorticotrophic hormone from the pituitary gland, DHEA is what's responsible for producing the majority of your hormones including estrogen and Testosterone.
DHEA is essential for your body's internal functions such as body cell reproduction and sex hormones.
If your body did not produce DHEA your cells would gradually become damaged causing you to be susceptible to certain kinds of disease.
What We Know about DHEA
We know that DHEA is a hormone that acts as a pre-step in the production of growth hormones. It is very popular in the bodybuilding world thanks to the role it plays in the production of lean muscle cells. As such, it acts as though it is an anabolic steroid, but it is not specifically such.
What that means is that while our bodies make DHEA and while it has a role in the production of lean muscle and fat burning it is not specifically an anabolic steroid.
It is more like a primordial soup mix that our body uses when it needs to create other hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, and even androstenedione. Androstenedione is produced as a means of helping our body produce more testosterone.
In terms of muscle building, testosterone is the God of all steroids, and DHEA plays a part both in helping your body create lean muscle and during the production of natural testosterone.
In short, DHEA helps bodybuilders grow lean muscle and produce natural testosterone.
Scientific Evidence of What DHEA is and Does
1. Effect of acute DHEA administration on free testosterone in middle-aged and young men following high-intensity interval training – European Journal of Applied Physiology
The study shows that oral DHEA supplements boost free-testosterone levels in middle-aged men. Why is this important? As our bodies age, the levels of testosterone in our blood drops and that decrease is thought to play a role in the loss of muscle and the storage of fat.
2. Effect of dehydroepiandrosterone supplementation on bone mineral density, bone markers, and body composition in older adults: the DAWN trial. Osteoporosis International – Journal.
The study looked at whether or not DHEA would help increase bone density. The concern, as pointed out in point #1 was that as we age our body begins to cut back on certain hormones. Menopause is an excellent example of how the female human body changes with age.
Interestingly enough this study showed that oral DHEA did, in fact, increase the levels of both DHEA and DHEA sulfate levels that were equal to those levels found in younger adults – Testosterone, estradiol, IGF (insulin growth factor) – in women. The study did not show an increase in these levels for men and DHEA did not have an apparent effect on bone density.
3. DHEA makes the fat go away – Harvard Health Publishing
The article is not a study, but it discusses the role the DHEA plays in our body. Some important take bits from the article is the age-related decline in DHEA production. It states that before birth, our body uses around 200 mg of DHEA per day and that in adults, 20-30 mg per day with a loss of 5 percent of production each year that we age.
Another important fact here is that DHEA has a very long history of being marketed as a wonder substance. The article is quick to point out that you should not pay much attention to all the hype and in the same breath points to several studies that show DHEA is promising in studies using animals for weight loss – specifically – fat control.
If you want a way to prime your body to the same hormonal levels that you had in your prime, then DHEA might be a fit. It is not specifically an anabolic steroid, though there is scientific evidence that the levels of DHEA in your body affect the natural production of sex hormones for men and women.
Also, from the above studies, DHEA might work better on women than on men, at least for the medically targeted questions asked by study #2.
In the bodybuilding world, people tend to reach for products that are firmly within the anabolic range and DHEA is just outside of that range. There are claims that DHEA might help build lean muscle but only if it is converted to testosterone.
There were other studies that suggested DHEA might help with cholesterol issues and you read that a lot online, but take those suggestions with a grain of salt. One study suggested that the only change in cholesterol was a decrease in good (HDL) cholesterol, which is not something most of us want.
Should you take DHEA as a supplement?
The answer to that question is very dependent upon your goals, hormone levels, and age. In short, there is no one-size-fits-all answer even though there is potential for help in producing native testosterone or estrogen.