Cortisol & DHEA: The Major Hormone Balance

The cortisol to DHEA ratio is believed to be so important to your health, that numerous functions in the body are deficient without it. Cortisol and DHEA are both powerful adrenal hormones that have a variety of physiological functions. Cortisol and DHEA are steroid hormones, both synthesized from pregnenelone, the master steroid hormone, which is derived from cholesterol. In many ways, the Cortisol to DHEA ratio modulates biological energy output, and their effects are felt at the cellular level all over the body.

Functions of Cortisol & DHEA

Cortisol is a primary stress hormone produced by the adrenals, and is also a potent anti-inflammatory hormone. Cortisol's action can suppress immune function. Another of its primary functions is to raise blood sugar through gluconeogenesis. High amounts of glucocorticoids can suppress thyroid function, chiefly the inhibition of the conversion of T4 into the active T3. CRH (cortico-tropin releasing hormone), which is a hypothalamus precursor to cortisol can inhibit thyroid function as well, suppressing TSH.

DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is called an androgenic hormone. It is a precursor for testosterone and the estrogens. DHEA antagonizes the effects of cortisol. DHEA is a very powerful anti-aging hormone. Low levels of DHEA are found among those with Cancer, CVD, Alzheimer's, Diabetes, Depression, Hypothyroidism and Adrenal Fatigue.

Since cortisol and DHEA have opposing effects, they should be viewed together as a ratio. Like with every major control system in the body, cortisol and DHEA work through their alternating, dualistic balance.

The ratio between cortisol and DHEA has numerous effects in the body. When cortisol is elevated disproportionately to DHEA, the ratio is higher. When the cortisol to DHEA ratio is elevated, the numerous biological effects that this ratio has in the body is augmented. Here are some of the major effects of the Cortisol to DHEA ratio:

  • The balance of pro/anti-inflammatory stasis
  • Immune Regulation. Remeber that cortisol suppresses immune function
  • Protein, Fat and Glucose metabolism. Evidence suggests that hyperglycemia, which can result in diabetes, in many cases can be caused specifically from imbalanced cortisol and DHEA levels
  • Thyroid, Pancreas and ovarian function
  • Detoxification capacity. Since the body needs energy to properly deal with toxic metals, the hormones produced by the adrenal glands are considered to be the cornerstone to heavy metal and xenobiotic elimination.
  • Skeletal health. High levels of cortisol can cause breakdown of bone as well as the collagen matrix that holds bone together.
  • Memory. DHEA is a critical component for brain function and cognition.
  • Cortisol and DHEA have intrinsic relationships with numerous other steroidal hormones such as progesterone and aldosterone. If adrenal function is compromised, the body may bypass the pregnenelone > progesterone > cortisol pathway and "steal" pregnenelone. This can cause numerous complications including the transference of progesterone into androgenic testosterone.

Testing for Cortisol & DHEA

The best way to test cortisol and DHEA is through the saliva. Blood levels of steroidal hormones are less accurate because very often these hormones are bound to proteins in the blood, preventing them from attaching to cell receptors. The saliva is prefered over blood and urine because saliva hormone values are more "bio-available" than the other biopsies.

It is possible to restore the function of depleted adrenal function. Typcially an excellent starting point is to eat according to your type of metabolism. Often times people with adrenal fatigue also have erratic blood sugar. Eating according to your type of metabolism is one of the best ways to maintain adequate blood sugar levels.

In some chronic cases, very high levels of cortisol and adrenaline will continuously cause hyperglycemia. This is due to the fact that adrenaline and cortisol both raise blood glucose levels. Always dig for the underlying causes of your health issues. The adrenal function control can be both a cause of dis-ease and a result of it.