DHEA: A U.S. Government Health Measure? Understand the Science

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and it’s more abundant sulfated form, DHEA-S, and cortisol are hormones primarily produced in the adrenal glands. Both cortisol and DHEA can affect the immune system, resilience to stress, brain function, and behavior. As a result, there are now more and more medical research studies that have been done measuring and evaluating the ratio between cortisol and DHEA as an indicator of physiological and mental health, using DHEA to cortisol ratio as a measure for physical and psychological well-being assessments.

The DHEA-Cortisol Balance and Stress Response

The balance between these two hormones is being found to measure how well humans are able to function when under mental and/or physical stressors– a key factor in military fitness assessments. How well do people deal with difficult situations?  Do people that handle stress better have a genetic advantage that allows them to remain calmer and clearer minded even under extreme hardship? Well, turns out the medical research findings are showing us that the ratio between DHEA and cortisol makes a significant difference.

DHEA: The Precursor Hormone

As a precursor for all estrogenic and androgenic hormones, humans make DHEA naturally from birth. DHEA is a base precursor for more than 50 hormones that are smaller or more specific carbon chain molecules in human biochemistry.

DHEA vs. Cortisol: Balance is Crucial

As mentioned above, DHEA is the most abundant foundation or base from which the body makes hormones; but it has another crucially important function counterbalancing cortisol. DHEA and cortisol are both primarily produced by the adrenal glands. DHEA is produced and metabolized in the adrenal glands, gonads, and dermis. This is the building healing hormone that counterbalances cortisol, which is a catabolic hormone that causes tissue inflammation, when the system is in break down, stress mode.

Maintaining Optimal DHEA-Cortisol Balance

There is an optimal DHEA to cortisol balance we all maintain every hour of every day. Most people feel their best and function optimally when the DHEA: cortisol ratio is between 7 to 10 :1

DHEA levels over the human lifespan

From the moment we are born, our bodies begin producing DHEA which increases during our childhood and reaches its pinnacle during our early adulthood, specifically between the ages of 20 to 25. Post this age, there’s a downturn, a gradual reduction of DHEA production, decreasing by approximately 2% every year. This means that when you hit the age of 35, your body’s DHEA production has already reduced by a fifth compared to what it was at your prime when you were 25. By the time you reach the age of 50, this reduction is as much as 50% from what it was during your twenties and continues to reduce further as we age.

Human DHEA levels with age
DHEA levels over human lifespan compared to maintaining DHEA levels











Men and women produce more and more DHEA every year to about age 25 when levels are at their peak. After age 25, DHEA levels begin to decline at a rate of about two percent per year thereafter.

Cortisol is commonly known as the stress hormone. Cortisol levels gradually increase steadily from birth throughout our lives.

What does DHEA do?

As an essential building block of hormones, DHEA is key for fostering a robust immune system. It is directly linked to the increased activity and number of our natural defender cells, known as killer cells. The role of DHEA is essential in disease prevention and its deficiency is often associated with age-related conditions like heart disorders, osteoporosis, depression, cancer, and dementia.

Moreover, DHEA plays a pivotal role in restoring tissue after we exercise, counterbalancing the inflammation caused by muscle breakdown and the inflammatory response hormone, cortisol. Thus, DHEA aids in reducing post-workout soreness and encourages the rebuilding of bones, muscles, cartilage, and connective tissue. As a foundation for sebum or skin oil, DHEA also offers a protective shield for skin cells against UV rays and chemical carcinogens. Furthermore, DHEA helps the body build connective tissues and cartilage, and enhances bone strength.

Here is a list of benefits of DHEA:

  • It amps up your energy, attention and cognitive sharpness
  • Aids the Immune System
  • Boosts Muscular Definition
  • Strengthens Bones
  • Promote a healthy Heart
  • Enhances Libido and overall sexual performance
  • Improves the depth of REM Sleep
  • Promotes more hydrated, plumper skin

Similarly, DHEA helps in lessening:

  • Abdominal fat
  • Cancer risks
  • Heart ailments
  • Exhaustion
  • Depressive mood
  • Poor sleep
  • Stiff, aching joints
  • Post-exercise muscle soreness

Cortisol to DHEA ratio

Typically, after the age of 25, there is a gradual change in our hormone production. Stress hormone, cortisol, steadily increases while dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), gradually decreases.

Cortisol, which is produced when we face any stressful situations such as illness or injuries, is often called the “fight or flight” hormone. Its primary role is to deliver an  inflammatory response to protect the body from harm. However, if this inflammatory response becomes a constant recurring thing day after day due to chronic physical or mental stress, it can have damaging consequences on our health.

As discussed previously, the general gradual decline in DHEA production after age 25 happens to all of us. Unfortunately, at the same time there is a gradual increase in cortisol production as we age. We are in our prime health, have a reduced risk of diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, and cancer when we maintain a cortisol to DHEA ratio, ideally of one to ten (1:10), studied and suggested by Dr. John R. Woodward, M.D.

Everyday stressors, as mundane as dealing with traffic congestion to managing upset friends or colleagues, can trigger cortisol production. Too much cortisol over an extended period of time can lead to negative health outcomes such as decreased immune response, exhaustion, loss of mental focus, weight gain, and lack of energy.

Overproduction of cortisol can harm cardiovascular health, increase blood sugar levels, and weaken bones. Moreover, conditions like obesity, metabolic syndrome, elevated blood pressure are linked with high cortisol levels, as are heightened levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. DHEA serves as a counterbalance the adverse effects of cortisol.

DHEA, Stress Resilience, and Military Performance

One medical research study conducted by Dr. Charles Morgan III, et al, tested 41 male active duty personnel who were enrolled in Special Forces Underwater Warfare Operations Combat Diver Qualification Course (CDQC). Study participants’ “Baseline values of DHEA and DHEAS were significantly and positively predictive of superior performance in the underwater navigation exam; in addition, DHEA and DHEAS were significantly and negatively related to stress-induced symptoms of dissociation during performance of the task.

Similarly, participants who reported fewer symptoms of dissociation exhibited superior military performance and increased levels of DHEA after the test. These data provide prospective, empiric evidence that DHEA and DHEAS are associated with superior stress tolerance, fewer symptoms of dissociation, and superior, objectively assessed military performance.”

In an interesting article in Newsweek magazine entitled “The Ultimate Stress Test: Special Forces Training” the author, Ben Sherwood writes that Dr. Morgan, who conducted the research, found that “the best underwater navigators release a lot of a natural steroid called DHEA, which buffers the effects of the stress hormone cortisol and helps the brain’s hippocampus with spatial relationships and memory. Divers with the most neuro-peptide Y and DHEA graduated at the top of the class. Those with the lowest amounts did poorly.”

DHEA in Navy SEALS Training

In a medical research study performed by Navy SEALS candidates undergoing special operations training, the candidates were followed before, during and after going through the BUDs training.

For biological markers, there was a growth in DHEA and DHEA-to-cortisol ratio, which are thought to be a response to intense physical exercise and increased stress resilience.

DHEA is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands and is involved in a number of physiological processes, including immune function, metabolism, and stress response. Cortisol is another steroid hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands, and is commonly known as the “stress hormone” because it is released in response to stress.”

A high DHEA-to-cortisol ratio is generally considered to be a sign of good health. This is because DHEA is associated with positive effects such as improved mood, cognitive function, and immune function, while cortisol is associated with negative effects such as increased inflammation and immune suppression.

Interestingly, the physiological and psychological patterns displayed were asynchronous and did not form a cohesive explanation of how trainees responded to the stress of training. In other words, while resilience and hardiness dipped from their initial start points before later increasing, DHEA and DHEA-to-cortisol showed consistent positive growth all the way through training.

This study took intriguing steps to better understanding how the stress of being a Navy SEAL trainee could affect human beings both psychologically and physiologically.

The DHEA-Cortisol Ratio: A Key Health Indicator

It is important to realize that the DHEA to cortisol ratio is just one of many indicators of physiological and psychological health taken into consideration in the comprehensive evaluation of fitness utilized by the U.S. military to measure the health and well-being of military personnel.

DHEA’s Role in Stress Management

It is important that the research studies discussed in this article consistently show that the DHEA to cortisol ratio is a crucial indicator of how well humans are able to cope with physiological and/or psychological stress. Healthy human adults should have a DHEA to cortisol ratio of between 7 to 10.

Maintaining Optimal DHEA Levels

According to Dr. John R. Woodward, “People 35 and up should maintain a 10:1 ratio of DHEA to cortisol to feel and function at their best.” DHEA promotes tissue formation after exercise, and counterbalances the inflammatory effects of cortisol. So it helps reduce soreness after workouts and helps to rebuild muscle, cartilage and bone. DHEA also serves as a base for sebum (skin oil), and also protects skin cells from both UV and chemical carcinogens. In addition, DHEA stimulates the formation of connective tissue and cartilage and improves bone strength.

DHEA for Overall Health

So if you are 35 years old or older, and not playing professional sports and are not competing in the Olympics or NCAA sports, where DHEA is tested for as a performance enhancing substance, most of us want a health advantage to keep us feeling and looking our best. Health2Go, Inc. supports continuing research into DHEA and applications for which DHEA may help health and wellness.

A Commitment to Evidence-Based Wellness

Health2Go is committed to science and evidence based health and wellness solutions.  For more than 20 years, Health2Go, Inc. has worked to provide the safest most effective health and anti-aging supplements possible. Health2Go strives to educate people about available science regarding DHEA and maintaining optimal health. It is crucial to use DHEA the right way: as a properly made skin cream called Twist 25.

Please remember that maintaining good health is not just driven by DHEA. Health and well-being are multifaceted.  It’s all the little things we do each day like exercise, eating a healthy diet loaded with a variety of vegetables and fruits, drinking plenty of pure water, getting adequate sleep and sunshine that help us stay healthy.  When you take care of yourself, it shows. If you are 35 or older, Twist 25 DHEA cream is something to add to your healthy daily routine to help you feel your best and look your best.


Charles A Morgan III, Ann Rasmusson, Robert H. Pietrzak, Vladimir Coric, Steven M. Southwick. “Relationships Among Plasma Dehydroepiandrosterone and Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate, Cortisol, Symptoms of Dissociation, and Objective Performance in Humans Exposed to Underwater Navigation Stress”. Biological Psychiatry. 2009 Aug 15; Vol 66 Issue 4: pages 334-40. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2009.04.004. Epub 2009 Jun 5. Science Direct. PMID: 19500775. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19500775/


Military.com “What Makes Some Military Members More Mentally Tough”. Stew Smith, CSCS. Oct. 19, 2015. https://www.military.com/military-fitness/health/mental-toughness-art-or-science

“Ultimate Stress Test: Special Forces Training”. Ben Sherwood. Newsweek magazine. Mar 13 2010. https://www.newsweek.com/ultimate-stress-test-special-forces-training-82749

Andrew K. Ledford, Meaghan E. Beckner, William R. Conkright, Celeste Raver, Deirdre P. Dixon, Patti Miles, Brian Martin, Bradley C. Nindl, Scott M. Lynch. “Psychological and Physiological Changes During Basic, Underwater, Demolition/SEAL training” Physiology and Behavior. Dec 1 2022. Vol.257. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0031938422002761

Hugh R. Woodward, MHA

Hugh Woodward is President/CEO of Health2Go, Inc. Health2Go makes and sells Twist 25 DHEA cream.
Hugh has a BBA in Business Management from University of Texas in Austin, Texas and an MHA, Master of Science in Health Care Administration.

Hugh is a subject matter expert on DHEA dedicating the past 20+ years of his life to studying the medical research about it. Hugh started Health2Go, Inc. in 2007 to research and develop the safest most effective DHEA supplement cream that can be made.

View profile

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Shopping Cart