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Study: The Drugstore ‘Master Hormone’ That Works Better Than a Rx To End the Tiredness That Comes With Menopause

Just ask Nicole Dunn, who used over-the-counter DHEA to cure her severe brain fog and tiredness

Millions of women walking around feeling stressed, tired, foggy, blue and just plain blah could benefit from an increase in the hormone DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone. And while it may be difficult to pronounce, it’s surprisingly easy to restore levels, says Fred Pescatore, MD. That’s a good thing, as deficits in the hormone affect nearly 100% of women over 50.

DHEA is called the ‘master hormone,’ since the body uses it to make all other hormones, including estrogen and testosterone. But experts warn that DHEA levels decline by 50% from our 20s to our 50s, triggering fatigue, brain fog, low libido and more.

Nicole Dunn, 52, can attest to the draining impact of a DHEA deficiency. She experienced fatigue and brain fog that were so debilitating she had trouble carrying out normal activities. Then a simple test revealed that her hormones were out of whack. She started supplementing with DHEA, restored her vitality and now feels like a new woman.

Read on to learn about Nicole’s experience and compare it to your own to discover if you have the symptoms that indicate a DHEA shortfall. Then keep scrolling to discover the strategies doctors recommend to restore DHEA levels so you, too, can feel calm, clear energy all day — plus a boost in libido and relief from the side effects of menopause!

The chemical formula of DHEA written on a blackboard
Jurgis Mankauskas/Shutterstock

How Nicole knew something was wrong

Who was I emailing? Nicole thought as she stared at her computer screen, struggling to remember. “For months, I was filled with frustration because I lacked the focus and mental clarity to perform my job in public relations,” she recalls. “At first, I thought it was just the stress of caring for my mother in her final months of a battle with Alzheimer’s. But then I started worrying about my own brain health and became terrified I was following in my mother’s footsteps.

“As I cared for my mother, I was frequently panicked, asking myself, Am I losing my mind too? Could I be on the same path as my mom? I questioned my own brain health and its functionality. The moments of sitting in front of the computer to start an email, then not remembering who I wanted to send the email to, or talking to someone and forgetting who I was talking to or what she was talking about were frustrating and stressful. I feared my struggles made me look silly in business situations, which further scared me.

“I was also constantly exhausted, huffing and puffing every time I went up and down stairs and feeling wiped out from even a simple phone call. When the simplest task felt like the energy equivalent of hiking up a mountain, I asked myself, Why don’t I have energy to do anything? My gynecologist suggested that inadequate hormone levels, typical with women my age, might be the culprit, but the doctor had little advice to help me overcome the exhaustion and brain fog that plagued me.

“I decided to try taking dance cardio classes after reading that cardio exercise can improve cognitive function. However, that aggravated my right knee, as I couldn’t tolerate the up-and-down motion. I ended up going to an orthopedic surgeon for the injury, and the surgeon explained low estrogen was causing the knee pain after an MRI uncovered the problem was not something that could be fixed with surgery.

Let down by conventional medicine, Nicole took action

“Scared of suffering like my mother, I consulted Dr. Mindy Pelz, DC, a holistic health expert and author of Fast Like a Girl: A Woman’s Guide to Using the Healing Power of Fasting to Burn Fat, Boost Energy, and Balance Hormones. She suggested I take the DUTCH hormone test, which stands for Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones. The test involves collecting a small amount of urine on filtered paper four times a day.

Figuring I had nothing to lose, I decided to take the test, which measures several hormones, including cortisol, cortisone, DHEA and progesterone. When I got my results back, it indicated that my levels of estrogen and progesterone were off and that I was depleted of collagen. (Click through to learn more about collagen supplement benefits.)

“Next, I made an appointment with a nutritionist to get advice on how to correct my hormone levels naturally. She recommended that I supplement with amino acids, vitamin D and DHEA, a hormone naturally produced by the adrenal glands, to help balance my hormones, which I learned were causing the fatigue, brain fog and forgetfulness I was experiencing.

The cure that changed Nicole’s life

“To correct my hormone levels and reclaim my health, the nutritionist suggested I take a liquid form of DHEA-S in the morning since the body makes DHEA primarily in the morning. I opted for a liquid version of DHEA and took 5 mg. in the morning and 5 mg. in the afternoon so it wouldn’t upset my stomach. I also took one serving of Perfect Amino (buy on Amazon, $42 for 150 tablets) on an empty stomach since I learned that amino acids help promote proper hormone production and can help boost energy and clarity.

“Within a month of making these changes, I felt less foggy. Three months later, I was thinking more clearly than I had in years. I also had tremendous energy and was free of the knee pain.

“Today, I still take these supplements to ensure I keep feeling terrific, and it’s working! I’ve never felt better or more alive. I wish I discovered how easy it is to feel young and vital sooner, but I’m so glad to think clearly and feel so good now!”

Why so many women are lacking DHEA

Deficits in the hormone DHEA impact nearly all women over 50. But most mainstream physicians fail to recognize the problem and its energy-draining effects, says Fred Pescatore, MD, medical director of Medicine 369 in New York City. “DHEA is the most abundant hormone in the body, and it’s used to make other hormones that govern mood and metabolism,” he explains. But DHEA levels decline by 50% from our 20s to our 50s, triggering fatigue, brain fog, low libido and more. What’s more, chronic stress can lower the adrenals’ ability to produce DHEA, says Natasha Turner, ND, author of The Supercharged Hormone Diet, since it taxes the adrenal glands.

The at-home test that diagnoses a DHEA deficiency

Doctors can order blood tests to diagnose deficits, but you can also try at-home testing like the DUTCH test Nicole took.  If testing reveals your levels are low, the steps below can lift them.

Natural ways to restore DHEA levels

To turn around your health like Nicole did, try these simple strategies.

Take time to enjoy relaxing activities. Doing so can boost DHEA by 62% since it eases the stress that impedes DHEA production. Dr. Pescatore advises carving out time daily for enjoyable activities like reading, listening to music or crafting. Also smart: getting 10 to 20 minutes of exercise a day. In a University of Massachusetts study, folks who did so had DHEA levels 45% higher than their less-active peers.

Supplement with DHEA. Doing so can correct a shortfall in as little as 12 weeks. Dr. Pescatore typically recommends taking 5 mg. daily. Try: Pure Encapsulations DHEA 5 mg (buy on Amazon for $33 for 180 capsules). Note: DHEA supplements can increase estrogen, so ask your doctor before ­dosing if you have a personal or family history of estrogen-sensitive cancers.

Bonus: DHEA supplements can also ease menopause symptoms. A 2011 study found that women who took 10 mg of DHEA daily for one year under a doctor’s supervision experienced symptom relief that was comparable to those who received hormone replacement therapy. What’s more, those who increased DHEA reported significant improvements in sexual arousal and satisfaction. Researchers explain that DHEA delivers these benefits by lifting levels of sex hormones like progesterone, estrogen and androgens.

Diet changes can help. Dr. Pescatore advises eating lean meats, poultry and fish (protein and zinc help the body produce DHEA), as well as magnesium­-rich foods like leafy greens, beans and nuts daily. In one study, women who added more of the stress-easing mineral to their diets increased DHEA levels by 27% in eight weeks. Click through for a sweet treat that optimizes DHEA production.


For more must-read info on DHEA and the hormones it produces, keep reading:

It’s Not Just for the Boys — Raise Low Testosterone Naturally And Feel Your Best

Why Your Fatigue Might Be Hormonal — And How to Fix It

Expert: If You’re Over 50, You’re Riding a Cortisol Roller Coaster — And Those Ups & Downs Are Packing On The Fat

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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