Good news: There’s a simple secret to sailing through each day looking and feeling your best. The key? Optimizing your levels of DHEA, also known as the “fountain of youth” hormone. This crucial hormone, which wanes as we age, replaces fat with calorie-torching muscle, revives a stalled libido, boosts bone strength, and keeps skin supple. That’s why we’ve rounded up the best DHEA supplements for women. Plus, we reveal more easy tricks to give your levels a boost so you can age in reverse.
Why DHEA is so important for women
Dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, is a hormone made by the adrenal glands. These two triangular-shaped glands on top of your kidneys play a key role in regulating your metabolism, immune system, blood pressure, and even your response to stress. Your body also uses DHEA to manufacture the hormones estrogen and testosterone.
DHEA production peaks at about age 25, then steadily dips as we get older. In fact, women naturally experience up to a 60% drop in DHEA by age 50 in part because the adrenals simply wear out — especially if you’ve been under excessive stress. This can leave you feeling sluggish and worn out while setting the stage for rapid weight gain. (Click through to discover how an adrenal cocktail can heal tired adrenals.)
And since your body needs DHEA to produce estrogen, the effects of a hormone shortfall can be amplified when estrogen levels plunge during menopause. “Estrogen is integral to so many processes for women,” says Kavita Desai, PharmD, author of Lady Parts: Putting Women’s Health Back Into Women’s Hands and founder of the women’s health company Revivele. “When estrogen goes down, we start to experience a lot of side effects including brain fog, mood swings, blood sugar spikes, and hot flashes.”
A dip in DHEA means a drop in testosterone production, too. While we might not automatically link testosterone with women’s health, lower levels of testosterone can leave their mark in the form of lost muscle mass. This slows your metabolism and makes it easier for your body to store fat. Your sex drive might start to zap out too, Dr. Desai adds.
5 benefits of DHEA for women
Considering just how much DHEA does in the body, it’s no wonder that getting more of the hormone can have a dramatic effect on your mood, energy levels, and overall health as you age. “It’s truly an anti-aging hormone,” says Jolene Brighten, NMD, a board-certified naturopathic endocrinologist and author of Is This Normal? Judgement-Free Straight Talk About Your Body. Here are some of the benefits of boosting DHEA for women:
1. DHEA speeds weight loss
Jeans feeling a little snugger than usual these days? It’s not your imagination. Low levels of DHEA are linked to higher levels of body fat in postmenopausal women, according to research in the Journal of Molecular Medicine. But research shows increasing your levels of DHEA increases muscle mass, which speeds up your metabolism, and decreases in fat tissue. DHEA can also fight fat storage by steadying blood sugar levels too, research the journal Vitamins and Hormones shows.
2. DHEA can boost your libido
Low testosterone can dampen your interest in sex, while low estrogen can cause vaginal dryness that makes intercourse painful. But DHEA increases your production of both hormones, Dr. Brighten notes, thereby increasing your desire and lubricating vaginal tissues. The result? A more satisfying sex life, suggests research in the journal Endocrine. When women with low levels of DHEA took a DHEA supplement daily for 8 weeks, they experienced a 40% increase in desire, 46% increase in arousal, 33% more vaginal lubrication and a 54% improvement in orgasms. (Click through for more natural remedies for low libido.)
3. DHEA wards off the blues
The causes of mood disorders like depression can be complex. But British researchers have found that people with low levels of DHEA are significantly more likely to be depressed. Fortunately, correcting a DHEA shortfall can make a big difference. In fact, research in JAMA Psychiatry suggests taking the hormone daily for 6 weeks relieves symptoms of mild to moderate depression in middle-aged adults.
4. DHEA protects your bones
You already know that your bones get more brittle with age, which increases the risk of fractures and osteoporosis. But calcium-rich milk isn’t the only way to give your bones a boost. DHEA can help, too. Scientists at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital found that DHEA makes bones more dense by boosting the production of osteoblasts, or cells the form new bones, and insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), growth hormones the speed fracture healing. (Click through for the best foods and exercise to prevent osteoporosis and the side effects of Fosamax.)
5. DHEA makes skin radiant
If your complexion seems a little lackluster than it used to, a topical application of DHEA can help. Research suggests applying a cream containing 1% DHEA daily smooths and brightens dry, sallow skin. Tanking levels of the hormone contribute to dryness and dullness, Dr. Brighten explains. But swiping DHEA onto your skin, where it can be directly absorbed where it’s needed most, increases your skin’s natural oil production. This helps it appear more plump, hydrated and radiant. One to try: Supplement Spot Elite DHEA Cream (Buy from SupplementSpot.com, $29.99).
Women who should avoid DHEA supplements
Ready to reap the rewards of increasing your DHEA levels? Before supplementing, talk to your doctor to confirm you have a DHEA deficit — it’s usually diagnosed via a simple blood test. While DHEA supplements can be an incredibly useful tool for women whose numbers are low, taking DHEA when your levels are normal can cause unwanted side effects. According to Dr. Desai and Dr. Brighten, too much DHEA can lead to:
- Oily skin
- Facial hair growth
- Hair loss on your head
- Irritability or impulsiveness
- Lower levels of “good” HDL cholesterol
- Liver problems
You should also avoid taking DHEA supplements if you’re at higher risk for hormone-sensitive cancers such as breast cancer or gynecologic cancers, since DHEA can increase levels of estrogen in the body, Dr. Desai warns.
Best DHEA supplements for weight loss for women
For women with a shortfall of the hormone, an over-the-counter supplement can give low DHEA levels a boost. Dr. Brighten recommends seeking out a brand that’s been GMP certified. That means the supplement is high quality and contains the amount of DHEA listed on the label.
Start with the lowest possible dose: 5 mg. of DHEA is plenty, Dr. Desai says. After several weeks, you and your doctor can see if that amount is making a difference or if you need to increase the dose a little more. “You might start to notice that your skin is looking brighter and you have more energy,” Dr. Brighten says. “Those are good signs. But if your skin is starting to get noticeably oily, your dose may be too high,” and you’ll need to scale back. A few smart picks:
Best on-the-go DHEA for women: Douglas Laboratories DHEA Dissolvable Tablets (Buy from DouglasLabs.com, $15.20). Often have go-go-go days? These dissolvable tablets melt in your mouth, so they’re easy to take even when you don’t have a glass of water nearby. Plus they contain micronized DHEA, which means it’s easier for your body to absorb.
Best allergy-free DHEA for women: Pure Encapsulations DHEA capsules (Buy from Amazon.com, $34.40). These hypoallergenic, micronized DHEA capsules are a top pick for those with food allergies or sensitivities. They’re free of all the major allergens, including gluten, soy, dairy, eggs and nuts.
Best budget-friendly DHEA for women: Nature’s Way DHEA (Buy from Amazon.com, $8.79). You don’t need to break the bank to boost your DHEA levels. These capsules cost a fraction of the price of many other DHEA supplements, making them a great value.
More natural ways women can boost DHEA production
Supplements aren’t the only way to give your DHEA levels a lift. These simple, natural strategies boost your body’s DHEA production, helping to make you feel years younger.
1. Savor a big breakfast
“Aim to have 30 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber at breakfast,” Dr. Brighten recommends. This combination will help stabilize your blood sugar, which takes stress off of your adrenal glands so they can produce DHEA more easily. A tasty way to hit that goal: Spoon up 1 cup of plain, nonfat Greek yogurt topped with a medium diced apple and 2 Tbs. chopped almonds.
2. Take a breath break
Stress can dampen DHEA production, but taking a short break to close your eyes and focus on breathing deeply can short-circuit tension. In fact, research in Sleep Science shows regularly meditating significantly increases DHEA levels. Not a fan of meditating? Any activity that helps you chill out supports healthier DHEA, Dr. Brighten says. Take a little mid-morning stretch break, go for a stroll after dinner, or carve out some time for a relaxing bubble bath. (Click through to discover the power of cyclic sighing.)
3. Tune into a tale
Next time you’re doing a mindless task, like washing dishes or folding laundry, cue up an audiobook. Hearing a story spoken aloud creates a bond with the narrator that transports you away from DHEA-depleting stress. In fact, a study in Mindfulness found folks who listened to audiobooks for 20 minutes daily upped their DHEA levels by 62% in 8 weeks. You can access audiobooks at subscription sites such as Audible.com, which offers a free trial. Even better: At Archive.org, you can listen to thousands of classic titles at no cost.
4. Soak up the sun
Vitamin D activates enzymes that are needed to make DHEA. That’s the reason a study in the journal Nutrition & Food Science found that lifting levels of the vitamin increased DHEA by 53% in two months. And while those in study the took 2,000 IUs of D in pill form daily, basking in the sun provides bigger benefits (and doesn’t cost a penny!). The vitamin’s produced naturally by the body when sunlight strikes skin, and you’ll bank up to 20,000 IUs of vitamin D by exposing your skin to direct sunlight for 30 minutes daily. (Click through to discover the link between vitamin D and fatigue.)
5. Pretty up your porch
Love perching potted plants on your steps or hanging a colorful wreath on your door? Good for you. University of Birmingham research reveals that women who engage in a mere 10 minutes of physical activity each day harbor 81% more DHEA than their less-active counterparts. Moving your muscles enhances enhances the adrenal glands’ ability to produce DHEA.
6. Sip some cabernet
Or savor pinot noir. Research in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics found that women who drank a glass of red wine daily had DHEA levels that were up to 87% higher than those who abstained. Credit goes to compounds called flavonoids that abound in the beverage, which tame the cellular damage that can lower DHEA.
7. Try an ancient herb
The dried root of the Panax ginseng plant has been used as a “revitalizer” in Asian medicine for thousands of years. And for good reason: A study in Nutrients found supplementing with panax ginseng extract daily increased women’s DHEA by 78% in just 7 days. Credit goes to compounds called ginsenosides found in the herb, which enhance the adrenal glands’ ability to produce DHEA. One to try: Natural Factors Panax Ginseng Extract 100 mg. (Buy from iHerb.com, $9.77).
8. Count your blessings
Focusing on three good things that warm your heart daily (like your huggable grandkids or a caring friend) reduces the stress that can deplete DHEA. Proof: A study conducted at the HeartMath Institute found that people who adopted a daily positivity practice lowered their stress levels by 28% in one week. As a result, their DHEA level doubled. To set yourself up for more positive thoughts, check out the quick HeartMath video below.
9. Indulge in dark chocolate
Great news for women who can’t resist dark chocolate: It brims with magnesium. In fact, 1 oz. contains more of the mineral than a cup of raw spinach. That’s key, since magnesium optimizes DHEA production. And a study in Biological Trace Elements Research found that women who upped their magnesium intake boosted their DHEA by 27% in 8 weeks.
Tip: For a sweet treat that optimizes DHEA production, try the simple recipe below.
DHEA-rich food: Nutty chocolate-peanut butter bark
This DHEA-rich chocolate bark is a cinch to whip up. The dark chocolate optimizes DHEA production, while the peanut butter and nuts pack a payload of protein and fiber to support steady blood sugar levels and ease adrenal stress that can hamper production of the hormone.
- 1 (4 oz.) bar semisweet chocolate
- 2 Tbs. peanut butter
- ½ tsp. vanilla extract
- ¾ cup assorted chopped nuts, such as almonds, pecans, walnuts and pistachios
- ½ cup popped popcorn (optional)
- Line baking sheet with wax paper, coat with cooking spray
- Melt chocolate, peanut butter, and vanilla in double-boiler over medium heat
- Pour over wax paper on baking sheet, spread evenly in a 9″ square
- Top with nuts and popcorn, if desired
- Refrigerate until solid, about 30 minutes
- Cut into pieces and enjoy!
For more ways to boost your DHEA:
For more ways to fix hormone glitches and boost your health:
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
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