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DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. DHEA is sometimes referred to as the "mother hormone" because the body converts it into two other well-known steroid hormones, oestrogen and testosterone.

Every year past the age of 30, the body produces less and less DHEA. Because DHEA is used to produce male and female sex hormones, it has developed a reputation as a veritable fountain of youth. DHEA supplements are said to help make muscles bigger, speed up the metabolism, increase libido, and to prevent a variety of conditions associated with aging, including osteoporosis, arthritis, hardening of the arteries, and cancer. DHEA is also currently being studied for its possible use as a treatment for autoimmune diseases, such as chronic fatigue syndrome and lupus. Preliminary studies seem to support the belief that DHEA can significantly strengthen the immune system.

DHEA levels are lower than normal in people with kidney disease, type 2 diabetes, anorexia, Addison's disease, and AIDS. It is thought that certain prescription medications used to treat these disorders, such as insulin, corticosteroids, opiates and danazol may suppress the production of DHEA in the body. Preliminary research suggests that DHEA may indeed help treat or prevent these diseases. People currently taking these medications may want to supplement DHEA, but not without first consulting their doctor.

DHEA may indeed one day be proven to be a wonder drug. There have been several small studies performed that indicate DHEA may help treat numerous other disorders as well, including Crohn's disease, depression, menopause, myotonic dystrophy, irregular menstrual cycle, schizophrenia and erectile dysfunction.

DHEA supplements are available in tablets, capsules, and topical cream. It is also added to many combination supplements that claim to increase muscle mass, longevity, libido etc. If you think you have low DHEA levels, a simple blood or saliva test is the best way to confirm this. While there have been no reports of toxic side-effects from DHEA, there is some evidence that DHEA could feed tumours that are stimulated by oestrogen and testosterone.

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