The adrenal glands, also known as the suprarenal glands, are located on top of both kidneys and are responsible for producing a number of different hormones that regulate the immune system, metabolism, blood pressure, stress responses, sexual development, and much more.
When the adrenal glands are working properly, the body is able to function correctly in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the adrenal glands produce too much of a certain hormone, while other times they don’t produce enough of a certain hormone.
A hormone imbalance in any way can throw off the body’s ability to function normally. This is the case with DHEA levels in the body, which are produced in the zona reticularis of the adrenal cortex. Don’t worry, we’ll explain everything you need to know about high levels of DHEA.
So, what are DHEA and DHEA-S?
DHEA, also known as dehydroepiandrosterone, is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. DHEA-S, also known as dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate, is the active metabolite form of DHEA with sulfate attached. Together, they play a number of roles in the human body.
Also produced by the testes in men and ovaries in women, DHEA and DHEA-S play a role in the production of sex hormones — the male sex hormone testosterone and the female sex hormone estrogen. For this reason, DHEA and DHEA-S are linked to sexual development.
They also play a role in the production of insulin growth factor-1, which controls and regulates muscle growth and insulin sensitivity. High levels of DHEA or DHEA-S could be a cause for concern — including adrenal cancer, adrenal tumors, PCOS, adrenal hyperplasia, and more.
Symptoms of High Levels of DHEA
The good news is you can measure the amount of DHEA and DHEA-S in your blood with a DHEA-S test. Ideally, your blood levels of DHEA would be higher than 100 ug/dl and lower than 200 ug/dl. Anything too high — or too low — will require medical attention and proper treatment.
Some of the most common symptoms and risk factors of high blood levels of DHEA-S include:
- Known history of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Dealing with large amounts of stress
- Frequent fatigue or low energy levels
- Excessive weight gain
- Hair loss or Hirsutism
- Acne or oily skin
- Irritability, anger, depression, or mood changes
- Voice changes
- Muscle structure changes
- Reduction of breast size
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s not uncommon for your doctor or medical professional to order a blood test to measure the amount of DHEA-S in your blood. In the event you have high levels of DHEA, they’ll put together a treatment plan to lower the DHEA levels.
Causes of High DHEA Levels in Females
In order to ensure you receive the right treatment plan when recovering from high levels of DHEA, your healthcare professional needs to determine the cause of elevated levels. This is an extremely important part of the process and one that takes a world of understanding to get right.
Below, we’re going to detail six of the most common causes of high DHEA levels in females and how your doctor might go about treating it. Once a treatment plan is set, you should follow your doctor’s directions very carefully to ensure it doesn’t get any worse or levels rise any higher.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
PCOS, also known as polycystic ovarian syndrome, is one of the most common causes of high DHEA levels in women. It’s a hormone imbalance that’s characterized by high estrogen levels, low progesterone levels, high insulin levels, high testosterone levels, and high DHEA levels.
PCOS can often be treated very successfully with functional medicine. With Functional medicine we want to focus on the root cause. This means implementing dietary strategies, nutritional supplementation aimed at supporting the adrenal glands and the stress response, diet, and an exercise program.
We have found that a combination of supplementation is needed to successfully get a handle on PCOS and high DHEA levels.
Herbs known as adrenal adaptogens can help promote hormone balance and protect the body from the effects of cortisol caused by chronic stress. Ashwaganda, holy basil, rhodiola and maca root are some of the most valuable herbs at balancing these hormones.
Another very powerful herb is Licorice. Licorice can lower testosterone levels in woman with PCOS. Studies have also shown that drinking several cups of spearmint tea can lower excess androgen levels.
Inositol is another commonly used supplement to improve symptoms associated with PCOS due to insulin resistance. There are two types of inositol: myo-inositol and D-chiro-inositol and doses somewhere between 1,200-2,400 milligrams per day can help with follicular maturation, weight loss, reducing leptin levels, lowering insulin levels, lowering triglyceride levels and improving HDL levels.
D-Chiro Inositol is what is known as a secondary messenger in the insulin signaling process and is considered an insulin sensitizer. When you eat food, sugar is released and enters the blood stream. In response to the sugar, your pancreas releases insulin. The insulin tells the cells of your body to either burn the sugar for energy or to store it as fat for later. As the sugar level goes down, the insulin level goes down as well. Insulin doesn’t communicate directly with the cells, however… It communicates through a secondary messenger made out of D-Chiro Inositol. Because high insulin is a trigger for PCOS, addressing insulin resistance is key to your success. Order your D-Chiro Inositol today.
Lastly, omega- 3 supplementation can affect gene expression that is involved in insulin and lipid signaling pathways.
If you suspect your high DHEA levels are caused by PCOS. Here is video series I did on everything you want to know about PCOS.
Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia, also known as nonclassical adrenal hyperplasia, is characterized by an overproduction of adrenal hormones and enzymes. This increases the production of androgens, which can show symptoms of acne, Hirsutism, alopecia (hair loss), and menstrual issues.
Hypersensitivity to DHEA
While a hypersensitivity to DHEA won’t cause abnormal or high levels of DHEA, it does cause your cells to be more sensitive to normal levels of DHEA. This causes an exaggerated response to DHEA and could result in excessive hair growth. It’s generally treated by targeting immune issues and underlying hormonal imbalances. Diet plays a huge role as does exercise. Getting regular movement is part of any treatment plan for patients with adrenal gland imbalances.
Chronic stress can stimulate a string of reactions in the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA), which increases the production of stress-related hormones — such as cortisol and DHEA. By eliminating stress and taking adaptogenic herbs(Ashwagandha), DHEA supplements when needed, you can lower cortisol and DHEA levels. One word of advice, don’t try to to this without working with a doctor who is certified in functional medicine and has experience in working with adrenal gland hormone imbalances.
High Levels of Prolactin
High levels of prolactin aren’t as common as other causes on this list, but it’s worth noting. Prolactin is a hormone that stimulates milk production in females and should only increase after pregnancy, while the female is breastfeeding. When prolactin increases, so can DHEA-S levels.
Treatment generally includes taking certain medications to lower prolactin levels.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD, can result in changes to hormone systems, HPA, and immune function. It’s generally characterized by high levels of DHEA, but low levels of cortisol. Treatment generally includes therapy to help the patient better deal with their PTSD symptoms.
How Can a DHEA Test Help?
If you’re experiencing symptoms of high DHEA-S levels, a blood test or saliva test can help confirm whether or not levels are above the normal range. This should be one of the first things your doctor will do if they suspect high levels of DHEA. Once confirmed, they will determine the cause of these high levels.
The treatment plan is largely dependent on the cause of your high DHEA levels, which is why this is such an important part of the process — especially when trying to avoid levels continuing to rise. Treatment might include medication (at times), personalized nutritional supplementation, and certain lifestyle changes.
Contact Dr. Hagmeyer Today!
It’s not uncommon for women to experience high levels of DHEA or DHEA-S in the blood. If this sounds like you or you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, contact me today. I’ll help you determine the root of the problem and find a way to treat that problem short- and long-term.