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Lupus and DHEA: A New Approach

Lupus is an autoimmune condition that can cause inflammation and pain in any part of the body. As with all autoimmune conditions, there is no “cure” necessarily, but it stems from imbalances in the body that can be adjusted, so remission from this condition is possible.

Autoimmunity is when the body attacks its own tissue and organs. In lupus, any bodily system can be attacked, so there are a wide range of possible symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Fever
  • Rashes (malar “butterfly” type)
  • Chest pain  
  • Hair loss (alopecia)
  • Sun or light sensitivity
  • Kidney problems
  • Mouth sores 
  • Prolonged or extreme fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Brain fog
  • Memory problems
  • Blood clotting
  • Eye disease
  • Anxiety

One natural method for relieving lupus symptoms that has been showing a lot of positive results is DHEA. DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a mild male hormone. It can be helpful for reducing lupus symptoms such as hair loss, joint pain, fatigue, and brain fog.

In blood tests, DHEA levels tend to be lower in people who have inflammatory diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and inflammatory bowel disease. The more severe a person’s symptoms are, the lower their DHEA levels are. So, the hypothesis is that the higher we can get the DHEA levels, the less symptoms that person will experience! Experiments with mice and clinical trials with humans have both shown that DHEA supplementation can, in fact, reduce symptoms of lupus.

How Does it Work?

While it theoretically makes sense that if low DHEA = more symptoms, then high DHEA = less symptoms, we need to know how this works in order to be sure that it isn’t just a random connection. 

You may have heard of a “cytokine storm” in relation to the recent pandemic. It is basically a state of systemic inflammation. Cytokines are proteins that are important for communication between cells. Some cytokines are actually anti-inflammatory, but many are pro-inflammatory, meaning that they cause inflammation, as they do in a cytokine storm.

Studies have shown that DHEA may help regulate cytokine production and reduce the amount of pro-inflammatory cytokines that are created, therefore reducing overall inflammation. The relationship between cytokines and DHEA may also explain why DHEA levels are lower in people that have chronic inflammatory conditions, such as lupus and RA. Pro-inflammatory cytokines actually suppress the enzymes that are needed to make DHEA. So there is a bit of a “chicken and the egg” situation here, since it is not exactly clear which comes first. But we know that there is a vicious cycle:

DHEA can reduce autoimmunity, but it also increases resistance to infection. How can it both amp up and calm down your immune system? The answer is in its ability to regulate. The key to resolving autoimmunity is not to suppress the entire immune system, which leaves your body vulnerable to infection, but to regulate the immune system so that it works properly. DHEA seems to be an important factor for immune system regulation. The biggest factor though, of course, is T-regulatory cell function- literally named for their job of ‘policing’ the immune system.

Side effects of DHEA can include acne, facial hair growth, oily skin, and excessive sweating. In one study, even though every patient who continued to take the DHEA for 12 months showed significant improvement, 16% of the participants dropped out of the study early due to side effects. This goes to show that this medication may not be the best option for everyone (doses tended to be high so this may have led to side effects).

DHEA can also lower good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) in women and raise estrogen levels in postmenopausal women. (Learn more about the importance of healthy cholesterol levels here and the issues with estrogen dominance here.) There have been concerns raised about the long-term effects due to lowered HDL cholesterol, so it is important to talk with a doctor about DHEA rather than attempting to use it by yourself.

At Dr. Autoimmune, we use a functional medicine approach to identify the root cause of your condition and develop a custom plan using diet, supplementation, and lifestyle change to help you reach your health goals. We are unique because we also address the brain through functional neurology, which is especially helpful for lupus patients struggling with brain fog and memory loss. With an 85% success rate, we are confident that we can get you the results you are looking for. If you’re ready to be brave to change, click the “Start Your Journey” button at the bottom of this page.

A Hair-Owing Dilemma


Baldness is the name given to the most common type of hair loss, androgenetic alopecia, genetically caused hair loss. Male pattern baldness typically occurs on the top and front of the head. Female pattern baldness occurs on the top, usually widening at the part. Genetics and stress can exacerbate hair loss, but too often our immune system gets involved, and can be the culprit in the alopecia mystery.

Alopecia is the medical term for bald, and “areata” means patchy. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition that attacks the skin follicles creating non-scarring hair loss, generally on the head and face. This condition affects millions of people, which often drives both women and men to shave their hair in order to minimize or hide this patchy disorder. One study showed that among the 71 patients with alopecia areata, males outnumbered females with a ratio of 2.5:1. The maximum incidence of alopecia areata was in the age group of 20-40 years (50.4%).

Alopecia has different shapes and sizes

  • Alopecia areata totalis means you’ve lost all the hair on your head.
  • Alopecia areata universalis is the loss of hair over your entire body.
  • Diffuse alopecia areata is a sudden thinning of your hair rather than lost patches.
  • Ophiasis alopecia areata causes hair loss in a band shape around the sides and back of your head.

The loss amount and shapes can be categorized 3 severity classifications:

  • Mild symptoms would typically have 3 or less patches with no larger than 3 cm, or the loss is limited to the eyelashes.
  • Moderate symptoms have more than 3 patches or a patch larger than 3 cm without total hair loss on your head and/or body.
  • Severe symptoms would be classified as total hair loss on head or body, or a snake-shaped loss on the scalp or head.

Any type of alopecia can affect emotional health through shame and trauma. Highlighted during a recent awards show that went viral, hiding or lack of awareness about this disorder can be humiliating, and many are uneducated about its cause or existence. Awareness of any imbalance that affects millions of people should be shared and education of how to support your immune system is key in getting ahead of our health epidemic.

Thyroid/Hashimoto’s dysfunction

Many Dr. Autoimmune clients with thyroid disease report hair loss In fact, 74% of all thyroid patients report hair thinning or loss. When hormone production of T3 and T4 is disrupted, it affects the health and development of hair loss and growth. With proper diet, supplement and lifestyle shifts, your endocrine system can rebalance and your symptoms can dissipate or disappear altogether.

Lupus

Like all autoimmunity, lupus causes widespread panic of inflammation which can include your skin. Inflammation creates stress which can manifest in many different organs. With proper diagnosis and support, you can get this inflammation under control, and your hair can grow back.

Other autoimmune diseases that could cause hair loss

There is hope!

Don’t pull the rest of your hair out in frustration; there is hope! Dr. Autoimmune can help you get to the root cause of your symptoms and get your health to soar again. Rather than utilizing a symptom based approach, maybe looking deeper into the physiology and mechanisms can create lasting changes. It can take longer and requires diet and supplementation but functional medicine is “root cause medicine”, and investing in your health may be the spark you need to feel confident and radiate from the inside-out.