What Is DHEA Supplement?
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a hormone produced by your body’s adrenal glands. These are glands just above your kidneys.
DHEA supplements can be made from wild yam or soy.
Scientists don’t know everything DHEA does. But they do know that it functions as a precursor to male and female sex hormones, including testosterone and estrogen. Precursors are substances that are converted by the body into a hormone.
DHEA production peaks in your mid-20s. In most people, production gradually declines with age.
Testosterone and estrogen production also generally declines with age. DHEA supplements can increase the level of these hormones. That’s why a number of claims have been made about their potential health benefits.
Evidence suggests that DHEA may help treat depression, obesity, and osteoporosis. However, more research is needed to support its use for hormonal disorders, sexual function, and lupus (an autoimmune disorder that affects the skin and organs). DHEA has been studied for the treatment of HIV, schizophrenia, and severe injury.
DHEA may cause side effects related to other hormones. Women may experience symptoms such as oily skin, increased unnatural hair growth, a deep voice, irregular periods, smaller breast size, and increased genital size. Men may experience breast tenderness, urinary urgency, aggression, or reduced size of the testes. Other side effects that may occur in either sex include acne, sleep problems, headache, nausea, skin itching, and mood changes. DHEA may also affect levels of other hormones, insulin, and cholesterol. Safety information is lacking on the long-term effects of DHEA. DHEA may increase the risk of prostate, breast, and ovarian cancers. It is not suggested for regular use without a health professional’s care.
DO NOT EXCEED more than 5 mg a day on a long term basis. Blood and saliva testing are not reliable ways to determine how much DHEA you should take because blood levels do not give a clear view on how this hormone is interacting within cells in the brain, skin, hair, liver, breast, prostate, and other tissues and organs. You may consider other non-hormonal options to improve your health. For instance, for sexual health and libido improvement, consider a popular and effective male and female herbal sexual enhancement product such as Passion Rx. For mental health, there are various brain supplements including Mind Power Rx. To improve muscle tissue, consider creatine powder. For more energy and a sense of wellbeing, try MultiVit Rx or the natural antidepressants 5HTP, St. John’s wort or SAM-e. If there are no other good options, and if you really do need to take a DHEA supplement, use the smallest amount that works in order to prevent unpleasant reactions. Take frequent breaks which I call ‘hormone holidays.’
DHEA Benefits & Supplement Uses
1. Lowers Inflammation
Inflammation is the root of most diseases and tied to just about every age-related health problem that exists. Restoring DHEA production, both naturally with certain lifestyle habits and also through use of supplements, can improve many youthful qualities. DHEA’s ability to lower inflammation and balance hormones helps facilitate higher energy levels, a leaner body, and more vitality. DHEA taken in supplement form boosts certain hormone levels (like testosterone and estrogen), helps prevent autoimmune reactions and mood disorders like depression and improves overall quality of life in many ways.
Research shows that people metabolic syndrome — a term characterized by a combination of risk factors related to high inflammation such as obesity/being overweight, having high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes — tend to have lower levels of DHEA. Studies also show that obese adults tend to produce less DHEA compared to healthy weight adults. Scientists also associate low DHEA with inflammatory autoimmune disorders like lupus and arthritis.
Studies involving women with autoimmune disorders like lupus and thyroid disorders suggest that low DHEA levels negatively impact internal organs, the skin and the immune system. Research also suggests that DHEA supplementation may help improve symptoms of aches and pain, ongoing fatigue and inflammatory skin reactions safely without many, or any, side effects in many adults.
2. Helps Improve Bone Density and Muscle Mass
DHEA is associated with anti-aging effects that help protect bone loss and lower the risk for fractures or conditions like osteoporosis. Apart from aging, bone loss occurs at higher rates in people with thyroid or autoimmune disorders, poor diets, sedentary lifestyles, eating disorders and hormonal imbalances. Some evidence suggests that higher DHEA levels improve estrogen production, resulting in higher bone mineral density in older or post-menopausal women. These women are most at risk for bone-related disorders.
Since sports organizations like the NCAA added DHEA supplements to their banned list, there’s been a lot of backlash. DHEA is not a synthetic steroid or performance enhancer that promotes abnormal muscle growth, it actually works more like a repair signal that helps the body recover from intense training and physical activity. It helps cells take up glucose for energy, supports many different functions of the metabolism and prevents fat accumulation, especially dangerous visceral fat.
DHEA side effects? Review of safety and adverse events, concerns with safety
Individuals with normal levels of this hormone in their bloodstream who take high doses are likely get DHEA side effects. Some of these effects can linger several days after stopping the hormone, but much depends on the dosage used, a person’s unique metabolism, and how long the product has been taken.
Email received in 2016:
Dear Dr. Sahelian, I wish I read and followed all of your warnings regarding dhea many years ago. I was a bodybuilder and yoga instructor and I am experiencing many health problem which I believe are related to too much dhea in addition to other supplements. I’m upset that I did not take dhea more seriously.
The adverse effects include:
Acne and pimples
Acne can occur due to increase levels of androgens. There are those who are very prone to acne eruptions and they could have pimples develop within a day or two. I know others who have taken this androgen hormone for months and years without any skin problems.
Blood pressure elevation
Some users have reported hypertension with use.
I started taking DHEA about 2 months ago at 20 mg per day. On Christmas day my blood pressure shot up higher than it has ever been at 177/80. However, that was nothing compared to what happened 2 weeks ago when I woke up at 4 am with a headache and a blood pressure of 226/99, which has been the peak. My blood pressure is now averaging 175/80. Before this all happened it was averaging 135/70. I am a 71 year old male.
Email – My friend is 42 and took DHEA 25mg for about 2 months. Her breasts have started to swell painfully. She already needs a bigger bra size.
Cancer, tumor formation
High dosing for prolonged periods – many years – could theoretically increase the risk for certain cancers such as breast cancer and prostate cancer. It is well-known that excess exposure to many types of hormones, such as androgens, progesterone and estrogens, increases the risk for certain types of cancer.
Hair loss side effects, thinning hair is a concern in men and women, hair falling out
Any androgenic steroid, such as DHEA, testosterone and androstenedione can cause the side effect of hair loss or thinning in susceptible individuals. DHEA is likely to raise levels of testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in the hair follicles. Too much DHT will lead to hair loss. The temporary (2 to 3 month) use of finasteride [Propecia 1 mg or Proscar 5 mg] could stop the hair loss and possibly regrow part or all of the loss. It is difficult to predict how long a person would need to take finasteride. Even if DHEA supplementation does not significantly increase levels of testosterone in the bloodstream, it is still quite possible, and perhaps likely, that it enters hair follicles, and is converted to testosterone, and on to DHT locally, thus contributing to hair loss. The study of hormones is called endocrinology, and there is increasing attention to the study of hormones inside tissues and cells. This is called intracrinology.