DHEA is a hormone produced in our adrenal glands, which lay on top of our kidneys. Our adrenals consist of the outer cortex, and the inner medulla. DHEA is made in the adrenal cortex, as is cortisol. (There are also Mineralocorticoids and Glucocorticoids.) Adrenaline is made in the medulla.
DHEA metabolizes first into two androgens (androstenedione and androstenediol) and then further into both testosterone and the three different forms of estrogens (estradiol, estrone and estriol). DHEA therefore, in my opinion, is more involved with how our body functions (i.e. muscles, bones, lower-body endocrine system); our body being the section below the neck (our body - our athlete). Adrenaline and cortisol, on the other hand, are more involved in stress management; and are therefore working more on our brain function (above the neck: our brain - our coach). Adrenal glands, at best, can only produce 100% hormones, not 110%!
For the sake of what I’m trying to explain here let’s only focus on adrenaline, cortisol, and DHEA. In a perfect world there would be a perfect balance between these three hormones (3 x 33 1/3% = 100%). However, because most of us have a brain that doesn’t stop thinking or worrying, more energy is needed to produce adrenaline and cortisol (for example 40% and 45% each.) Because the adrenal glands can only make 100% hormones at any given time, that leaves only 15% for DHEA production, which I think is the reason most people feel so exhausted once the brain relaxes.
An interesting topic that is further explained by Michael Platt, MD, in his book Adrenaline Dominance: A Revolutionary Approach to Wellness (2014) (see also in my podcast series on this website)
As Cherniske explains, accelerated aging, as well as many age-related disorders, are all resulting from lowering levels of DHEA. DHEA production peaks around age 20-25, but levels off about 10% per decade until around age 70, when we produce just about 30%, and after which we naturally have very low production.
So, when you test your DHEA levels, your doctor may say that all is normal. But that may be normal for someone your age - NOT someone at about 30 years old!
Because of the importance of this hormone I will give both male and female numbers as published in Cherniske’s book.(5)
Men : 450 - 600
Women: 280 - 380
Men : 300 – 450
Women: 150 – 280
Men : 125 – 300
Women: 45 – 150
Men : Less than 125
Women: Less than 45