DHEA Supplements for Health Conditions
DHEA supplements show some promise for easing mild to moderate depression. But more research is needed.
In a small, six-week study, researchers from the National Institute of Mental Health found that treatment with DHEA supplements helped relieve mild to moderate depression that occurs in some middle-aged people.
In addition to its potential value in treating depression, DHEA may help when used in combination with regular treatment for the following conditions:
- Systemic lupus (SLE)
- Adrenal insufficiency
But how much value is still unclear. Natural Standard is an agency that reviews and rates the strength of evidence for therapies that use complementary and alternative medicine. That includes dietary supplements like DHEA. Both National Standard and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) say that more evidence is needed to confirm the findings for those areas.
As for other conditions, both National Standard and the NIH say the evidence is unclear whether DHEA has any significant benefit in treating conditions such as:
- Alzheimer's disease
- Low bone density
- Heart disease
- Cervical cancer
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Crohn's disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Sexual dysfunction
Both agencies also say there is little evidence to support claims that DHEA has value in treating conditions such as fibromyalgia, addressing issues with memory or muscle strength, or enhancing and stimulating the immune system.
Safety of DHEA Supplements
Possible side effects of DHEA supplements can include:
- Oily skin and acne, as well as skin thickening
- Hair loss
- Stomach upset
- High blood pressure
- Changes in menstrual cycle
- Facial hair in women
- Deepening of the voice in women
- Nasal congestion
- Rapid or irregular heart beat
- Unfavorable changes in cholesterol levels
Some of these side effects can result from DHEA raising the level of testosterone and estrogen in a person's body. Medical experts caution that little is known about the long-term effect of the elevated hormone levels. So DHEA supplements should not be taken long-term without consulting with a health care professional.
DHEA and Weight Loss
A version of DHEA supplement known as 7-Keto has been widely promoted as an aid for reducing body fat and raising metabolism. The idea is that leaner body tissue and higher metabolism will burn calories more efficiently, making it easier to not only lose weight but also keep it off.
Unfortunately, most of the studies that have been done have shown little effect from DHEA in losing weight or increasing metabolism. It's a good idea to talk with your doctor or a nutritionist before investing in a DHEA supplement for weight loss.
DHEA and Athletic Performance
DHEA supplements are sometimes used by athletes because of a claim that it can improve muscle strength and enhance athletic performance. That's because DHEA is a "prohormone" -- a substance that can increase the level of steroid hormones such as testosterone.