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DHEA ( dehydroepiandrosterone) is a hormone that's naturally produced by the adrenal glands. Levels of DHEA naturally drop after age 30. Some people take DHEA supplements in the hopes that DHEA will have health benefits and prevent some illnesses. However, the evidence is mixed.

Why do people take DHEA?

A number of studies have found that DHEA supplements may help people with depression, obesity, lupus, and adrenal insufficiency. DHEA may also improve skin in older people and help treat osteoporosis, vaginal atrophy, erectile dysfunction, and some psychological conditions.

Low DHEA levels are associated with aging and a number of diseases, such as anorexia, type 2 diabetes, and HIV. In older men, having low levels of DHEA is also associated with a higher chance of death. However, it's not clear that using DHEA supplements will help lower the risks of getting any diseases.

DHEA is used by some people who want to "reverse" aging and boost immunity, cognitive function, and muscle strength. For now, studies don't back up these uses. DHEA has been studied as a treatment for other conditions, ranging from cardiovascular disease to menopause to Alzheimer's. The results have been unclear.

How much DHEA should you take?

There is no standard dosage of DHEA. Some studies have used capsules dosed between 25 and 200 milligrams a day, or sometimes even higher, but it depends on the medical conditions being treated. Ask your doctor for advice.

Can you get DHEA naturally from foods?

There are no food sources of DHEA. Wild yams contain a substance similar to DHEA that is used to make DHEA in the laboratory. The body manufactures DHEA naturally in the adrenal glands.

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