What is it?
DHEA is a hormone that is naturally made by the human body. It can be made in the laboratory from chemicals found in wild yam and soy. However, the human body cannot make DHEA from these chemicals, so simply eating wild yam or soy will not increase DHEA levels. Don’t be misled by wild yam and soy products labeled as “natural DHEA.”
DHEA is used for slowing or reversing aging, improving thinking skills in older people, and slowing the progress of Alzheimer’s disease.
Athletes and other people use DHEA to increase muscle mass, strength, and energy. But DHEA use is banned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
DHEA is also used by men for erectile dysfunction (ED), and by healthy women and women who have low levels of certain hormones to improve well-being and sexuality.
Some people try DHEA to treat systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), weak bones (osteoporosis), multiple sclerosis (MS), low levels of steroid hormones (Addison’s disease), depression, schizophrenia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and to slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease. It is also used for preventing heart disease, breast cancer, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
DHEA is used for weight loss, for decreasing the symptoms of menopause, and for boosting the immune system.
People with HIV sometimes use DHEA to ease depression and fatigue.
Women who have passed menopause sometimes use DHEA inside the vagina for strengthening the walls of the vagina and for increasing bone mineral density.
Like many dietary supplements, DHEA has some quality control problems. Some products labeled to contain DHEA have been found to contain no DHEA at all, while others contained more than the labeled amount.
DHEA is being investigated and may eventually be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a prescription drug for treating systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and improving bone mineral density in women with lupus who are taking steroid drugs for treatment. The FDA is still studying the pharmaceutical company’s application for approval.
How effective is it?
Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate.
The effectiveness ratings for DHEA are as follows:
Possibly effective for...
- Aging skin. Some research shows that taking DHEA by mouth increases the thickness and hydration of the top layer of the skin in elderly people. Early research shows that applying DHEA to the skin for 4 months improves the appearance of skin.
- Depression. Most research shows that taking 30-500 mg of DHEA by mouth daily improves symptoms of depression. However, other early research shows that using lower doses of 5-20 mg daily over three weeks does not improve depression.
Possibly ineffective for...
- Withdrawal symptoms. Early research shows that taking 100 mg of DHEA daily together with standard therapy for 12 months does not improve symptoms of drug withdrawal in people addicted to heroin. Taking 100 mg of DHEA daily for 12 weeks also did not improve symptoms of cocaine withdrawal.
- Psoriasis. Early research suggests that injecting 300 mg of DHEA as a shot weekly might not improve symptoms of psoriasis in most people.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. Early research suggests that taking 200 mg of DHEA by mouth for 16 weeks might not reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in older people.
Likely ineffective for...
- Mental function. Most research shows that taking DHEA by mouth does not seem to improve mental function or decrease mental decline in healthy older people. However, some early research suggests that taking 50 mg of DHEA daily for 4 weeks might improve vision and memory in middle-aged and older women..
- Dry mouth (Sjogrens syndrome). Research suggests that taking 50-200 mg of DHEA daily for 4-12 months does not improve a condition called Sjogrens syndrome that causes symptoms including dry mouth.
Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...
- Addison’s disease . Evidence on the effectiveness of DHEA for treating Addison’s disease is inconsistent. There is some early evidence that DHEA might improve symptoms of Addison’s disease, including weight loss, but might not improve mental function.
- Adrenal insufficiency. There is contradictory information about whether taking DHEA can improve feelings of well-being, sexuality, depression, anxiety, and other symptoms in people with this hormone deficiency. Some research suggests that DHEA might improve these symptoms, while other research suggests that DHEA provides no benefit.
- Aging. Taking DHEA does not seem to improve body shape, bone strength, muscle strength, insulin sensitivity, or quality of life in people older than 60 who have low DHEA levels.
- Improving growth and maturation in girls with hormone deficiency (atrichia pubis). There is some evidence that DHEA might help growth and maturation in these girls.
- Abnormal cell growth on the cervix (cervical dysplasia). Early research shows that administering 150 mg of DHEA through the vagina for up to 6 months reverses abnormal cell growth on the cervix.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Early evidence suggests that taking 25-100 mg of DHEA daily for 6 months reduces chronic fatigue.
- Lung disease (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)). Early research suggests that taking 200 mg of DHEA daily for 3 months appears to improve lung function in people with COPD.
- Fibromyalgia. Early research shows that taking 50 mg of DHEA daily for 3 months does not reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia.
- HIV/AIDS. Early studies suggest that taking DHEA might improve HIV patients’ mental health and quality of life. However, DHEA does not seem to actually impact the HIV disease process itself.
- Infertility. Evidence on the effectiveness of DHEA for infertility is inconsistent. Early research suggests that taking 75 mg of DHEA before in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments appears to improve the success rates of IVF. However, other research suggests it does not increase pregnancy rates.
- Inflammatory bowel disease. Early research shows that taking 200 mg of DHEA by mouth daily for 56 days reduces symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.
- Inducing labor. Research suggests that administering DHEA through IV twice weekly until the start of labor after 38 weeks of pregnancy or daily for 3 days shortens the time before labor and the length of labor.
- Menopausal symptoms. Evidence on the effects of DHEA on menopausal symptoms is inconsistent. Some research suggest that taking 10-25 mg of DHEA by mouth daily reduces symptoms including hot flashes. Other evidence suggests DHEA might provide no benefit.
- Metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions that put people at high risk for heart disease). There is early evidence that DHEA might lower some of the health risks that make overweight men and women more likely to develop metabolic syndrome. The risk factors that DHEA seems to lower are obesity, fat around the waist, and high insulin levels.
- Inherited condition with many symptoms including muscle wasting (myotonic dystrophy). Taking 100 to 400 mg of DHEA daily for 12 weeks might not affect muscle strength in people with myotonic dystrophy. However, administering DHEA through injections seems to improve daily function, heart function and muscle strength.
- Weak bones (osteoporosis). Evidence on the effects of DHEA for weak bones is inconsistent. Taking DHEA by mouth daily seems to improve bone mineral density (BMD) in older women and men with osteoporosis or osteopenia (pre-osteoporosis). DHEA may also increase BMD in young women with the eating disorder called anorexia nervosa.
- Hormone deficiency in men (partial androgen deficiency). Early research suggests that taking 25 mg of DHEA daily for one year might improve mood, fatigue and join pain in older men with hormone deficiency.
- Physical performance. Some research shows that older adults who take DHEA have improved measures of muscle strength. However, other research has found no effect of taking DHEA on muscle strength.
- Schizophrenia. Evidence on the effectiveness of DHEA for schizophrenia is unclear. Some research shows that taking DHEA by mouth improves schizophrenia symptoms. DHEA may be more effective in women than men. Other research shows it provides no benefit.
- Sexual dysfunction. Evidence on the effectiveness of DHEA for sexual dysfunction is inconsistent. Taking DHEA by mouth for 24 weeks seems to improve symptoms including erectile dysfunction and overall satisfaction in men. However, it does not seem to be helpful if erectile dysfunction is caused by diabetes or nerve disorders. Some research shows that it might improve sexual function in women, while also research suggests no benefits.
- Improving symptoms of lupus (SLE). Evidence on the effectiveness of DHEA for SLE is inconsistent. Some research suggests it provides no benefits. Other research suggests that taking DHEA by mouth along with conventional treatment might help reduce the number of times symptoms flare up and may allow a reduction in the dose of prescription drugs needed. DHEA might also help SLE symptoms such as muscle ache and mouth ulcers.
- Vaginal weakness (vaginal atrophy). Applying 3.25 to 13 mg of a specific DHEA product (Vaginorm) to the vagina daily for 12 weeks seems to benefit elderly women with vaginal atrophy.
- Weight loss. Early evidence suggests that DHEA seems to help overweight older people who are likely to get metabolic syndrome to lose weight. It is not known if DHEA helps younger people to lose weight.
- Heart disease.
- Breast cancer.
- Parkinson’s disease.
- Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate DHEA for these uses.
DHEA is a “parent hormone” produced by the adrenal glands near the kidneys and in the liver. In men, DHEA is also secreted by the testes. It is changed in the body to a hormone called androstenedione. Androstenedione is then changed into the major male and female hormones.
DHEA levels seem to go down as people get older. DHEA levels also seem to be lower in people with certain conditions like depression. Some researchers think that replacing DHEA with supplements might prevent some diseases and conditions.
DHEA is POSSIBLY SAFE for most people when used for just a few months. It can cause some side effects including acne, hair loss, stomach upset, and high blood pressure. Some women can have changes in menstrual cycle, facial hair growth, and a deeper voice after taking DHEA.
DHEA is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when used in larger amounts and long-term. Do not use DHEA in doses higher than 50-100 mg a day or for a long period of time. Using higher doses or long-term use of DHEA can increase the chance of side effects.
Special precautions & warnings:
Pregnancy and breast-feeding: DHEA is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth during pregnancy or breast-feeding. It can cause higher than normal levels of a male hormone called androgen. This might be harmful to the baby. Don’t use DHEA if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
Hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids: DHEA is a hormone that can affect how estrogen works in the body. If you have any condition that might be made worse by exposure to estrogen, don’t use DHEA.
Liver problems: DHEA might make liver problems worse. Don’t use DHEA if you have liver problems.
Diabetes: DHEA can affect how insulin works in the body. If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar carefully if you are taking DHEA.
Depression and mood disorders: There is some concern that patients with a history of depression and bipolar disorder might have some mental side effects if they use DHEA. DHEA can cause mania (excitability and impulsiveness), irritability, and sexual inappropriateness in people with mood disorders. If you have a mood disorder, be sure to discuss DHEA with your healthcare provider before you start taking it. Also, pay attention to any changes in how you feel.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): Taking DHEA might make this condition worse. Don’t use DHEA if you have PCOS.
Cholesterol problems: DHEA might lower “good cholesterol” (high lipoprotein cholesterol, HDL). If your HDL level is already too low, discuss DHEA with your healthcare provider before you start taking it.
Be cautious with this combination.
The body changes DHEA to estrogen in the body. Anastrozole (Arimidex) is used to help lower estrogen levels in the body. Taking DHEA along with anastrozole (Arimidex) might decrease the effectiveness of anastrozole (Arimidex). Do not take DHEA if you are taking anastrozole (Arimidex).
The body changes DHEA to estrogen in the body. Exemestane (Aromasin) is used to help decrease estrogen in the body. Taking DHEA along with exemestane (Aromasin) might decrease the effectiveness of exemestane (Aromasin). Do not take DHEA if you are taking exemestane (Aromasin).
Some types of cancer are affected by hormones in the body. Estrogen-sensitive cancers are cancers that are affected by estrogen levels in the body. Fulvestrant (Faslodex) is used for this type of cancer. DHEA might increase estrogen in the body and decrease the effectiveness of fulvestrant (Faslodex) for treating cancer. Do not take DHEA if you are taking fulvestrant (Faslodex).
Insulin is used to lower blood sugar. Insulin can also lower the amount of DHEA in the body. By lowering DHEA in the body, insulin might lower the effectiveness of DHEA supplements.
Some types of cancer are affected by hormones in the body. Estrogen-sensitive cancers are cancers that are affected by estrogen levels in the body. Letrozole (Femara) is used for this type of cancer. DHEA might increase estrogen in the body and decrease the effectiveness of letrozole (Femara) for treating cancer. Do not take DHEA if you are taking letrozole (Femara).
Medications changed by the liver (Cytochrome P450 3A4 (CYP3A4) substrates)
Some medications are changed and broken down by the liver. DHEA might decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. Taking DHEA along with some medications that are broken down by the liver can increase the effects and side effects of some medications. Before taking DHEA, talk to your healthcare provider if you are taking any medications that are changed by the liver.
Some medications changed by the liver include lovastatin (Mevacor), ketoconazole (Nizoral), itraconazole (Sporanox), fexofenadine (Allegra), triazolam (Halcion), and many others.
Medications for depression (Antidepressant drugs)
DHEA increases a brain chemical called serotonin. Some medications for depression also increase the brain chemical serotonin. Taking DHEA along with these medications for depression might increase serotonin too much and cause serious side effects including heart problems, shivering, and anxiety. Do not take DHEA if you are taking medications for depression.
Some of these medications for depression include fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), amitriptyline (Elavil), clomipramine (Anafranil), imipramine (Tofranil), and others.
Medications that slow blood clotting (Anticoagulant / Antiplatelet drugs)
DHEA might slow blood clotting. Taking DHEA along with medications that also slow clotting might increase the chances of bruising and bleeding.
Some medications that slow blood clotting include aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as diclofenac (Voltaren, Cataflam, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), naproxen (Anaprox, Naprosyn, others), dalteparin (Fragmin), enoxaparin (Lovenox), heparin, warfarin (Coumadin), and others.
Some types of cancer are affected by hormones in the body. Estrogen-sensitive cancers are cancers that are affected by estrogen levels in the body. Tamoxifen (Nolvadex) is used to help treat and prevent these types of cancer. DHEA increases estrogen levels in the body. By increasing estrogen in the body, DHEA might decrease the effectiveness of tamoxifen (Nolvadex). Do not take DHEA if you are taking tamoxifen (Nolvadex).
The body breaks down triazolam (Halcion) to get rid of it. DHEA might decrease how quickly the body breaks down triazolam (Halcion). Taking DHEA along with triazolam (Halcion) might increase the effects and side effects of triazolam (Halcion).
Taking DHEA might reduce the effectiveness of the tuberculosis vaccine. People receiving a vaccination for tuberculosis should use DHEA cautiously.
Be watchful with this combination.
DHEA seems to increase estrogen levels in the body. Taking DHEA along with estrogen pills might cause too much estrogen in the body.
Some estrogen pills include conjugated equine estrogens (Premarin), ethinyl estradiol, estradiol, and others.
Medications for inflammation (Corticosteroids)
The body naturally makes DHEA. Some medications for inflammation might decrease how much DHEA the body makes. Taking some medications for inflammation might decrease the effects of taking DHEA pills.
Some medications for inflammation include dexamethasone (Decadron), hydrocortisone (Cortef), methylprednisolone (Medrol), prednisone (Deltasone), and others.
Taking DHEA with a testosterone pill might cause there to be too much testosterone in the body. This might increase the chance of testosterone side effects.
Herbs and supplements that might slow blood clotting
Using DHEA along with herbs that can slow blood clotting could increase the risk of bleeding in some people. These herbs include angelica, clove, danshen, garlic, ginger, ginkgo, Panax ginseng, and others.
Taking licorice increases the levels of DHEA in the body. Taking licorice with DHEA might increase the side effects of DHEA.
Soy might increase or decrease DHEA levels in the body. Taking soy with DHEA might increase the effects of DHEA.
Eating fiber seems to decrease levels of DHEA in the body. Eating fiber while taking DHEA might decrease the effects of DHEA.
Soy might increase or decrease DHEA levels in the body. Taking soy with DHEA might increase the effects of DHEA.
Strict vegetarians have higher levels of DHEA in their blood than non-vegetarians. However, this difference seems to disappear after menopause. Researchers aren't sure how important these findings are.
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
- In postmenopausal women and in elderly men: Doses of 25-50 mg daily are commonly used.
- For treatment of schizophrenia: Increasing doses of DHEA of 25 mg daily for 2 weeks, 25 mg two times daily for 2 weeks, and 50 mg two times daily for 2 weeks.
- For replacement of hormones when the adrenal glands are not working well (androgen deficiency): 25-50 mg given daily as a single dose.
- For systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): 200 mg per day along with conventional medical treatment, but doses up to 600 mg per day have been used.
- For improving bone mineral density in people with weak bones (osteoporosis): 50-100 mg per day.
- For erectile dysfunction: 50 mg per day.
3b-Hydroxy-Androst-5-Ene-17-One, 3BetaHydroxy-Androst-5-Ene-17-One, Androstenolone, Dehydroepiandrosterone, Déhydroépiandrostérone, DHEA-S, GL701, Prasterone, Prastérone.
To learn more about how this article was written, please see the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database methodology.methodology (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/methodology.html).
To see all references for the DHEA page, please go to http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/331.html.
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