DEAR DR. BLONZ: Could you give me some information, and your opinion, on DHEA being promoted as an anti-aging hormone? I'm a nurse of 26 years and a nutritionist, and have heard very little information on this. -- S.T., Phoenix
DEAR S.T.: DHEA is the abbreviation for a hormone with the tongue-twisting name dehydroepiandrosterone. It is made by the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys. DHEA, while a hormone itself, serves in the formation of a number of other hormones, including estrogen, testosterone and adrenaline.
Popular interest in DHEA stems from some recent research that has connected higher levels of DHEA with a lower risk of some age-related problems. There was encouraging research in experimental animals, but research using people is limited and inconsistent at best. Despite this, the idea took shape that DHEA might be a miraculous fountain-of-youth "drug." Before you knew it, DHEA supplements began to appear in health food stores and as a keystone product in some multilevel marketing enterprises.
Anyone who is considering DHEA should speak with their physician. It is important to appreciate that DHEA is not a vitamin or a mineral; it is a powerful medicine -- a hormone that can bring forth undesirable as well as desirable effects. This is especially true if the levels used in the animal studies were to be scaled up for our larger bodies. For example, those at risk for prostate cancer could, by taking DHEA, be increasing the amount of testosterone in the body -- the very hormone associated with the spread of prostate cancer.
Our level of naturally produced DHEA decreases as we age, but that does not mean that providing more will reverse the effects of aging. Let's face it: We currently know very little of what DHEA can do, whom it may help and whom it may harm. Until more research is done, taking DHEA is nothing more than a risky roll of one's hormonal dice.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: There are definite concerns about heart disease in our house. Please settle a dispute: Does removing the skin from chicken before you eat it get rid of the cholesterol? -- F.F., San Jose, California
DEAR F.F.: No. Although there is a small amount of cholesterol in the skin and fat of a chicken, most is found in the light and dark meat. This holds true for beef, pork and lamb, as well. And buying leaner cuts does little to reduce the cholesterol.
I would not be that concerned, as research indicates that our intake of dietary cholesterol is not as much an influence on blood cholesterol as is the overall quality of the diet. Keeping your intake of fat to less than 30 percent of your calories, and making sure your diet is balanced with a good proportion of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, are the best dietary ways to move toward preventing heart disease.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.