To Your Health

Is 7-keto-DHEA any better or safer than DHEA?

Q. Is 7-keto-DHEA any better or safer than DHEA? Are supplements of both together better than just one of them?

A. Dehydroepiandrosterone is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands, the gonads (testes in men or ovaries in women), and the brain. Primates including us humans, especially when we are young, make a lot of it compared to other species, and along with the sulfated form, DHEAS, it is generally considered to be the most abundant steroid in our bodies. However, it declines rather sharply as we age. Men by age 40 years are making about 30% of what they made in their 20s and by age 85 years about 5%, so there is considerable speculation about the effect of DHEA on the aging process.

For about 25 years DHEA has been advertised as an anti-aging supplement that also has the ability to increase muscle mass, aid in weight loss, and boost the immune system. The true benefits and exact effects that DHEA has on the body's cells are still unclear but it is in the class of hormones known as "androgens," which we generally think of when "steroids" are mentioned in connection to sports figures.

Both the potential benefits and the potential hazards of DHEA are linked to its connection to testosterone. DHEA converts easily into a steroid called androstenedione (made famous by baseball star Mark McGwire) and from androstenedione into testosterone. DHEA, which leads to development of generally desirable masculine features in men appears to produce markedly different and mostly undesirable side effects in women.

A very close relative of DHEA, 7-keto-DHEA (also known as 7-oxo-DHEA), may resolve this problem. In contrast to the rapid conversion of DHEA to testosterone, 7-keto-DHEA is not converted into testosterone to any significant degree so it is promoted as a "nonandrogenic" DHEA. Although not a "muscle builder," many benefits that were once thought to result from DHEA, such as its support of immune function, may actually come from 7-keto-DHEA. Thus women who might experience loss of head hair or growth of facial hair when they take large amounts of DHEA (because of its conversion to testosterone) can use 7-keto-DHEA without this problem while still enjoying many of DHEA's benefits. For men, supplements of 7-keto-DHEA can at least reduce the amount of DHEA they need for the results they want in terms of muscle building.

In both men and women, one clinical use appears to be unique to 7-keto-DHEA. Raynaud's syndrome is a condition involving an abnormal constriction of blood vessels in fingers and toes in response to cold or emotional stress. It is a very painful condition and generally physicians can find no easy remedy for the problem. Medical researchers at Texas A&M University believe that Raynaud's attacks can be prevented with supplements of 7-keto-DHEA, which will increase the basal metabolic rate and relieve the spasms of the blood vessels that restrict blood supply.

With newly recognized benefits from 7-keto-DHEA, and without the conversion to estrogen and testosterone that worries many physicians, 7-keto-DHEA is likely to become more and more popular with older adults and with women of all ages.

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