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Your adrenal glands are small but important organs that sit atop your kidneys. They produce hormones your body needs to function properly, including dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, which is needed to produce male and female sex hormones. Aside from producing sex hormones, they produce your body primary stress hormone, known as cortisol, which helps buffer the everyday stress placed on your mind and body. They also produce mineralocorticoids, which are hormones that help your body regulate minerals and balance fluids. Estrogens are important to the female reproductive system and androgens are responsible for male characteristics. Your DHEA levels peak around age 25 and naturally decline with age. When your adrenal glands are not producing enough hormones, it is called adrenal insufficiency. If you have Addison disease, your adrenal gland production drops to less than 20 percent of its full capacity. Adrenal insufficiency has several causes. An adrenal gland tumor can prevent it from functioning optimally. An autoimmune disease can cause the immune system to attack your adrenal gland, resulting in insufficiency. A pituitary tumor can cause low adrenal function. Your pituitary gland is a small, peasized gland at the base of your brain that controls how much hormone your adrenal gland produces.

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If your doctor determines that your low DHEA is adversely affecting your health, he may recommend treatment options. Treatment depends on the cause. If there are no obvious causes, you doctor may recommend that you take synthetic DHEA in pill or cream form. If there is an adrenal tumor, he may recommend surgery to remove it. Your adrenal glands require vitamin B6 and the minerals zinc and magnesium to function properly. It is helpful to ask your doctor to check your levels of these nutrients. If you are deficient in any or all of these nutrients, it can contribute to adrenal insufficiency.