DHEA supplements are used by some people who believe they can improve sex drive, build muscle, fight the effects of aging, and improve some health conditions. But there isn't much evidence for many of these claims. And the supplements have some risks.
Here's a rundown of what science actually knows about DHEA supplements and what you need to know about their safety.
What Is DHEA?
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.
Those claims range from benefits such as:
- Building up the adrenal gland
- Strengthening the immune system
- Slowing natural changes in the body that come with age
- Providing more energy
- Improving mood and memory
- Building up muscle strength
DHEA Supplements for Anti-Aging
Since DHEA levels decline with age, some researchers speculate that supplementing your body's falling levels of the hormone might help fight aging. And some small studies have reported positive anti-aging effects from the use of DHEA supplements. But a similar number of studies have reported just the opposite.
According to the National Institute on Aging as well as the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, there is not enough scientific evidence to support the idea that DHEA can affect how fast you age.
Both agencies report that little is known about the effect of long-term use of DHEA. And there is some concern that continued use of DHEA supplements could be harmful.