You probably don’t hear much from your doctor about DHEA. Since it’s a naturally occurring hormone and not patentable, its become a nutritional supplement in the US (though a drug in the EU). And doctors don’t get educated about nutritional supplements, at least not much (not yet). But I’ve been paying attention to DHEA for about 15 years, and have often included it in programs for people who need to build back lost bone. The only people who shouldn’t use it are those who have or have had hormone related cancers such as estrogen receptor positive breast cancer, or prostate cancer. In this study, reported on at Science Daily, they gave both men and women between the ages of 65 and 75, 50 mg of DHEA.
Taking a DHEA supplement combined with vitamin D and calcium can significantly improve spinal bone density in older women, according to a new study from a Saint Louis University scientist and his colleagues at Washington University.
In my experience that dose is a bit high for women, about right for most men, though some need up to 100 mg to normalize their blood level. Its really best to ask your doctor to test your blood levels of both “free” (unbound) DHEA, and DHEA sulfate (its storage form). If either one is low, you’re a good candidate for supplementing this “supplement”. Your body can turn DHEA into any adrenal or sex hormone that it decides it needs—DHEA is a so-called “precursor” hormone.
They also went a little bit light on the vitamin D in this study (700 IU). Most adults who work indoors need 1000 IU of vitamin D for every 30 pounds of body weight, and 50% more than that if they are dark skinned, overweight, or obese. Again, after you’ve supplemented vitamin D for 3 or 4 months, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor to measure your blood level of 25 hydroxy vitamin D. You want it to be between 50 and 100 ng/ml (be sure its in ng/ml units, not nmoles/L units, or it needs to be between 80 and 140).
These, along with good weight bearing exercise and resistance exercise, are BASIC things that should be done in everyone before considering drugs like Fosamax, Actonel, or Boniva. You can build a lot of your bone back, no matter what the reason that you lost it in the first place. And be sure your kids and grandkids are getting enough vitamin D, calcium, magnesium and trace minerals—they’re building the bone they’ll live off for a lifetime during their teens and early 20s.