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Fatigue and Low Libido? Doctor Says You May Have a DHEA Deficiency

Learn easy ways to lift your levels of the "master hormone."


During menopause, hormonal imbalances trigger symptoms ranging from irritability and hot flashes, to night sweats and skin dehydration. To be more specific, low levels of key hormones like dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) – which is produced in your adrenal glands and is necessary to make estrogen and androgen – are to blame. Decreases in DHEA levels impact nearly all women over 50. That’s because, starting in our mid-20’s, our bodies gradually reduce DHEA production as we age. In addition to menopause symptoms, DHEA deficiency can also lead to health hassles like fatigue, brain fog, and low libido.

Unfortunately, according to Fred Pescatore, MD, most physicians fail to recognize the problem and its energy-draining effects. “DHEA has been dubbed the ‘master hormone’ because it’s the most abundant hormone in the body, and it’s used to make other hormones that govern mood and metabolism,” he explains.

The good news is that shortfalls in DHEA can be corrected, and that doing so, could ease menopause symptoms. A 2011 study found that women who took 10 milligrams (mg) of DHEA daily for one year under a doctor’s supervision experienced symptom relief that was comparable to a second group who received hormone replacement therapy. There was an additional libido-lifting bonus: Women who increased their 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. Ultimately, maintaining healthy levels of DHEA could have prolific health benefits, from physical and mental, to sexual.

3 Ways To Naturally Increase DHEA Hormone Levels

Although menopause symptoms are signs of a DHEA deficiency, doctors can detect and diagnose deficits with blood tests. If testing reveals your levels are low, the steps below can help lift them:

Engage in happiness-inducing activities. Staying active can boost DHEA levels as 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 2009 survey-based study, postmenopausal women who reported engaging in light to moderate physical activity daily had higher levels of estrogen than sedentary women.

Supplementing with DHEA may help correct a deficiency. Dr. Pescatore typically advises taking 5 mg of DHEA in supplement form each day. DHEA supplements can increase estrogen. Speak with your doctor before supplementing, especially if you have a personal or family history of estrogen-sensitive cancers.

Diet changes can help. While there aren’t any food sources of DHEA, Dr. Pescatore advises eating lean meats, poultry, and fish as they’re rich in protein and zinc — which help the body produce DHEA. He also recommends eating plenty of magnesium-rich foods like leafy greens, beans, and nuts daily.

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

A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.

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