Monday, February 18, 2013

Can you feel better on a banned performance enhancer?

Me & OJ.  NBA player OJ Mayo served a ten-game suspension in 2011 after he tested positive for DHEA.  Stanley Kubrick loaned him that chair to sit in while he wasn't playing.

If you're anything like me, you spend your life careening from being severely bummed out, to optimism that borders on delusion, to periods of fear and loathing, and finally paranoid terror.  It's fun!

Eh, not really.

Recently, a naturopathic doctor recommended that I start taking a supplement called DHEA.  DHEA is short for Dehydroepiandrosterone.  Yeah, it's a mouthful, and with a name like that you know it's gotta be a steroid.  Which it is.  In fact, it's the most abundant steroid that the human body produces, and it appears to help the body manufacture both testosterone and estrogen.

Although DHEA is available over the counter in the United States, it's a prescription drug pretty much everywhere else.  It's also a banned substance in sports, policed by the World Anti-Doping Agency.  Several professional and amateur athletes have been temporarily suspended from competition for using it.  

I was reluctant to take it.  Long-term, nobody knows what this shit can do to you.  Some researchers believe that long-term use of DHEA can lead to prostate cancer in men, and breast cancer in women.  There's no hard and fast evidence that that's true.

Here's what is known to be true:

- Numerous studies have shown that low doses of DHEA (25 to 50 milligrams per day) for periods up to a year have few if any side effects.

- Levels of DHEA peak in your 20's and slowly fall as you age. By the time you reach 40 (as I have already done), your body makes about half as much DHEA as it used to. By 65, levels drop to 10 to 20 percent; by age 80, it plummets to less than 5 percent.

- Numerous studies, including large-scale studies, have shown that supplementation with DHEA alleviates depression, especially in middle-aged and elderly people.  Also, low levels of DHEA are associated with higher rates of depression.

My doctor thinks the mindless, random terror I experience, and my frequent bouts of health anxiety are actually symptoms of depression.

Okay.  So I started taking the stuff.  I mean, what the heck, right?

Sure, I'm only taking a tiny amount for starters (about 5 mg a day), and I have to constantly refrain from administering a prostate self-exam. 

But I'll tell you what.  I feel a little better.  I have more energy than before, and it's not frantic, panicked energy.  For example, I've gone skiing three times in the past two weeks.  That's a big deal.  Just a month ago, the mere thought of getting on a ski lift made me dizzy and afraid.  Now I'm ripping up the hillsides pretty good.

And I've just started working on a new book, after months of not doing anything constructive at all.

Could be DHEA is just what the doctor ordered.      

Then again, could be a lot of things.

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