Are Hormone Supplements Safe?
Hormones are an essential part of your good health. These chemical messengers travel in the bloodstream, regulating bodily function. 1 Hormones regulate metabolism, sexual function, growth, development, mood and ability to reproduce. 1 There are now many over-the-counter hormone supplements available such as: DHEA, pregnenolone and estrogen. However, the question is: are over-the-counter hormone supplements safe to use for hormone balancing? This is your guide to over-the-counter hormone supplement safely.
An overview of hormones
Hormones are manufactured by your endocrine glands. The major endocrine glands include: the adrenal glands, pituitary, pineal, thymus, thyroid and pancreas. 1 Men also produce hormones in the testes, and women produce hormones in the ovaries.
Hormones basically regulate your bodily functions. 2 For example, insulin secreted by the pancreas helps to control blood sugar. Testosterone, secreted by the testes, creates male sex characteristics such as a beard and a deep voice. 3 Examples of hormones include cortisol, erythropoietin, aldosterone, antidiuretic hormone (ADH), estrogen, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), testosterone, parathormone and progesterone.
Hormone supplements and your health
Today hormone supplements are available over-the-counter to help balance out hormone levels. For example, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) supplements can be purchased to help increase testosterone levels. However, can a person trying to balance their hormones take too much DHEA? Let’s take a closer look at these questions and come up with some answers.
We know that hormones are produced by the endocrine glands, but how are hormone levels regulated in the body? It turns out that hormone levels are regulated by a complex set of feedback loops within the body. 4 A simple example of a feedback loop would be a heating/air conditioning system. For example, when it is cold in the winter, the heat comes on when the temperature drops below the set temperature. In other words, your body has systems in place to regulate the levels of many different hormones.
It turns out that the hormone DHEA does not appear to have a feedback loop within the body. 5 However, taking too much DHEA over prolonged periods of time may cause symptoms such as: heart palpitations, acne, itchy scalp, hair loss and prostate problems. Perhaps this is partly because DHEA is a precursor for testosterone, and too much testosterone can cause problems.
Dr. Ray Sahelian recommends a dosage of no more than 5 mg per day of DHEA, while other doctors recommend higher doses. 5 6 7 If you are not under the close supervision of a doctor, 5 mg of DHEA per day may be a good way to go. Click here for more information about DHEA supplementation.
Possible side effects of taking DHEA:
- Itchy scalp
- Increased body odor
- Menstrual irregularities
- Hair loss
- Heart irregularities
Pregnenolone is a natural hormone and a precursor to many of the steroid hormones as well as DHEA. Since pregnenolone actually converts into DHEA, individuals taking both pregnenolone and DHEA may need to pay more attention to their dosages. Pregnenolone has been known to help with: energy, memory, vision, clarity of thinking, well-being and libido. 8
Again, health professionals seem to have differing opinions on what is considered a “safe” pregnenolone dosage. Dr. Sahelian points out that pregnenolone is converted into many other hormones; and many of these hormones have delicate feedback loops. 8 Therefore, it may be best to start out with a low dose of pregnenolone and monitor any changes. Dr. Sahelian recommends a relatively low dose of 1-3 mgs of pregnenolone for prolonged periods of use. Click here for more information about pregnenolone supplementation.
Possible side effects of taking pregnenolone:
- Insomnia due to over stimulation
- Hair loss on the head
- Irregular heartbeat
If you are supplementing over-the-counter hormones, it may be a good idea to take periodic breaks from your hormone supplements. These breaks have been called hormone holidays. Taking hormone holidays does two things:
- Since we do not have a complete understanding of how hormones interact inside the body, taking hormone holidays will reduce the risk of complications from a long-term hormone overdose. 8
- Taking hormone holidays makes it easier for you to take notice of any changes (good or bad) brought about by hormone supplementation.
The bottom line
Hormones are vital to your good health. However, for hormones to work properly within your body there must be a balance. Your body has delicate feeback loops to control the amounts of hormones secreted by the endocrine glands. Scientists do not completely understand these mechanisms at the present time. Most over-the-counter hormone supplements contain high doses of hormones, which may actually disrupt the hormone balance and make a person worse instead of better. Perhaps very low doses of over-the-counter hormones coupled with hormone holidays is a safe program. Remember that each person has their own unique set of needs.
- Hormones. MedlinePlus. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/hormones.html
- Definition of Hormone. MedicineNet.com. http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=3783
- Definition of Testosterone. MedicineNet.com. http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=5747
- Hudson’s FTP Resource Guide. Hormones and the Body: A Brief Overview. http://www.ftmguide.org/hormonebasics.html
- Honest DHEA Information. Ray Sahelian, M.D. http://www.raysahelian.com/dhea.html
- DHEA. Michael Lam, M.D. http://www.drlam.com/opinion/dhea.asp
- DHEA Alert. Mira Mesa Chiropractic. http://www.drharvey.com/articles_dhea.htm
- Pregnenolone hormone supplement - honest info. Ray Sahelian, M.D. http://www.raysahelian.com/pregnenolone.html