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My DHEA Conundrum

Around 7 years ago I had a test done called the Adrenal Stress Index (ASI). This test measures levels of the adrenal hormones cortisol and DHEA in saliva samples taken at various points throughout the day. Multiple samples are needed to get an accurate picture of cortisol levels as they vary considerably during the day in everyone.

My ASI results indicated that my cortisol

level was low in the afternoon then climbed too high at night while my DHEA level was borderline low. I was seeing a chronic fatigue syndrome specialist at the time and she suggested my results warranted a trial of an oral DHEA supplement.


At the time I was extremely depressed and unmotivated (exactly what you'd expect with low DHEA!) and as a result of that, and the fact I didn't recognize the importance of adrenal hormones in CFS, I didn't take my doctor's advice.

Then, in 2004, when my mental outlook had improved somewhat through other means and I was feeling more motivated to take action, I decided it was time to give DHEA supplements a go. I had also read a lot more by then about the  adrenal connection to CFS and related conditions. My doctor had suggested a dose of 25mg daily so I ordered some online from the US (DHEA is not available over the counter in the UK).

After only a few days I started to feel that something good was happening, I felt happier and more relaxed. After a week or two I was totally amazed by the effect this one small capsule was having. The following symptoms/conditions were hugely improved:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS)

 In addition, I felt less fatigued, had more energy, and was far more able to cope with stress in a positive way.

The DHEA story is currently far from complete and there is much still to learn about its functions. It is known to be one of the most abundant hormones in the body and a great deal of research is currently underway into its use in specific diseases. The most positive results so far have been seen in adrenal insufficiency, depression, obesity, and systemic lupus. Further evidence has suggested benefits in chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease, and a long list of others (Source: The Mayo Clinic).

It seems I experienced all of the possible benefits. The news was not all good however, the DHEA ended up having a negative impact on my liver, causing toxic hepatitis. Any steroid such as DHEA and cortisol can be toxic to the liver in sufficiently high dosages as they require extensive metabolism. The dose of DHEA required to affect my liver function was very low as I had an existing problem. I had previously had the same problem when taking the antibiotic Ciprofloxacin for only one week. So most people will probably not have the same problem on sensible doses of DHEA, but the potential is there.

There are also other potential problems associated with taking DHEA. Most of these are due to DHEA being converted into the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. One of the most worrying symptoms is hair loss, particularly in women. Men have reported increased body hair and behavioural/mood changes such as feelings of aggression.

The problem is most likely that the dosages people are taking is way too high. It is hard to find DHEA in less than 10mg capsules/tablets and most products contain 25, 50, or 100mg. Contrast this with popular physician and author Dr. Ray Sahelian's recommendation of no more than 5mg per day! DHEA is a powerful steroid hormone that needs to be used very carefully, preferably under the supervision of a knowledgeable doctor.

My liver function has now recovered and I am about to try DHEA supplementation again. This time I will be using much lower dosages, starting at 2mg, which I intend to take every other day rather than every day. I previously found that this maintained the positive effects anyway and will give my liver twice as long to deal with things. I also suspect that the benefits will be seen at a much lower dose than the 25mg I took originally.

Since I took DHEA originally I have discovered a number of other supplements which have powerful protective effects on the liver so I will take these concurrently with the DHEA. These supplements include L-Carnitine and various hepatoprotective and bile stimulating herbs.

It is my hope that doing things this way will mean I will be able to enjoy DHEA's multiple benefits without any adverse effects. I certainly consider it worth trying as it has the potential to make me feel a lot better and allow me to be much more productive.

I will keep you updated with how I am getting on!





About: Matthew Hogg ("Maff")
Diagnosed with M.E./chronic fatigue syndrome aged only 11 years old and subsequently associated illnesses including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Despite his own struggles he has constantly sought to educate and support others suffering from such "invisible illnesses" through his website, The Environmental Illness Resource. He fully recovered from MCS using his own approach and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nutritional Health.