DHEA, or Dehydroepiandrosterone, is a natural steroid prohormone produced from cholesterol by the adrenal glands, the gonads, adipose tissue, brain and in the skin (by an autocrine mechanism). Precursor of androstenedione, testosterone and estrogen, it is the most abundant hormone in the human body.
DHEA is a prohormone for the sex steroids. Its production in the brain suggests that it also has a role as a neurosteroid. As most DHEA is produced by the zona reticularis of the adrenal, there seems to be a role in the immune and stress response. As almost all DHEA is derived from the adrenal glands, blood measurements are useful to detect excess adrenal activity as seen in adrenal cancer or hyperplasia, including certain forms of congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome tend to have normal or mildly elevated levels of DHEA.
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