In small quantities the stress hormone cortisol is amazingly useful, but continuously raised levels of it are bad... for just about everything. We've been doing some digging around in old scientific journals, and fortunately there's an easy way to reduce the amount of cortisol in your body by thirty to forty percent. Take 25 mg DHEA daily, and Bob's your [anticatabolic] uncle.
25 mg DHEA/d
The cortisol-reducing aspect of DHEA supplementation is not our own discovery. A reader sent us the YouTube clip below, in which Jeff Anderson advises men who want to lose fat in the chest area to take 25 mg DHEA daily. Fat deposition in this area is partly due to cortisol, says Anderson, and you can reduce your cortisol level by taking a low dose of DHEA every day.
Whether men can actually lose pec fat by taking DHEA we don’t know, but the idea that DHEA supplementation reduces the cortisol level holds water. At least, we found a study done in 2003, in which researchers at the University of Pittsburgh got 69-year-old men and women to take 200 mg DHEA every day for 15 days. [J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2003 Feb;23(1):96-9.]
Supplementation started on day 8 and continued until day 22. The bars in the figures below show the amount of cortisol in the blood of the participants on each of those days.
The reduction in cortisol level as a result of the DHEA was greater in the women than in the men. Although the men's cortisol levels did go down, the reduction was not statistically significant on all days.
A daily dose of 200 mg DHEA is on the high side. Researchers use a dose of 50 mg DHEA per day in most studies. In 2006 Italian researchers published the results of a study on the effect of a considerably lower dose of DHEA on cortisol levels. [Gynecol Endocrinol. 2006 Nov;22(11):627-35.]
The Italians gave their test subjects – women aged between 50 and 55 [dark bars on the figure below] and between 60 and 65 [light coloured bars] – a daily 25 mg DHEA for a period of 12 months. 0 = cortisol level before DHEA supplementation started; 2 = after 3 months; 3 = after 6 months; 4 = after 12 months.
The figure above shows how DHEA supplementation may work. It shows the effect of the administration of 10 micrograms ACTH on the cortisol level, before administration, and after 3, 6 and 12 months. ACTH is the messenger hormone that stimulates the adrenals to release cortisol. ACTH secretion increases under stress. It seems that DHEA supplementation makes the adrenals less sensitive to ACTH.
If you're thinking of trying to lower your cortisol level by taking DHEA, you'll probably notice most effect if you take the prohormone before you go to sleep. During your sleep your DHEA level will peak. Your cortisol level will also peak while you’re asleep, so inhibiting the cortisol will be most effective at that moment. Sounds logical, doesn't it?