DHEA Overview Information
DHEA is a hormone that is naturally made by the human body. It can also 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 serves as a precursor to male and female sex hormones (androgens and estrogens). DHEA levels in the body begin to decrease after age 30. This decrease occurs more quickly in women than men.
DHEA is taken by mouth for slowing or reversing aging, improving thinking skills in older people, and slowing the progress of Alzheimer's disease.
Athletes and other people take DHEA by mouth to improve physical performance. But DHEA use is banned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and Olympic Committee.
DHEA is also taken by mouth for sexual dysfunction, and to improve well-being and sexuality in men and women. It is also used for preventing clogged arteries, breast cancer, infertility, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
Some people take DHEA by mouth to treat systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), an immune condition characterized by dry mouth and dry eyes (Sjögren's syndrome), weak bones (osteoporosis), a form of muscular dystrophy called myotonic dystrophy, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis (MS), low levels of steroid hormones (Addison's disease), depression, schizophrenia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), muscle damage from exercise, inflammatory bowel disease, to slow the progression of Parkinson's disease, for withdrawal symptoms, and for a condition called atrichia pubis.
DHEA is taken by mouth for weight loss, decreasing the symptoms of menopause, rheumatoid arthritis, and aging skin.
People with HIV sometimes take DHEA by mouth to ease depression and fatigue.
Women sometimes use DHEA inside the vagina for strengthening the walls of the vagina, for increasing bone mineral density, sexual dysfunction, and for a precancerous condition called cervical dysplasia.
Some people use DHEA intravenously (by IV) to induce labor and for a form of muscular dystrophy called myotonic dystrophy.
Some people inject DHEA as a shot for psoriasis.
DHEA is applied to the skin for aging skin and to strengthen the walls of the vagina.
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.
How does it work?
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.
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. Also, early research shows that applying DHEA to the skin for 4 months improves the appearance of skin in postmenopausal women.
- Depression. Most research shows that taking 30-500 mg of DHEA by mouth daily improves symptoms of depression. However, using lower doses of 5-20 mg daily over three weeks does not appear to improve depression.
Possibly Ineffective for:
- Aging. Taking DHEA daily for up to 2 years 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.
- Physical performance. Some research suggests that older adults who take DHEA have increased muscle strength. However, most research shows that DHEA does not improve muscle strength in younger or older adults.
- Psoriasis. Early research suggests that injecting 300 mg of DHEA as a shot weekly does not improve symptoms of psoriasis in most people.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. Early research suggests that taking 200 mg of DHEA by mouth for 16 weeks does not reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in older people.
- 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. Also, taking 100 mg of DHEA daily for 12 weeks does not appear to improve symptoms of cocaine withdrawal.
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, patients with HIV, or in healthy young adults. 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 (Sjögren's syndrome). Research suggests that taking 50-200 mg of DHEA daily for 4-12 months does not improve a condition called Sjögren's syndrome that causes symptoms including dry mouth.
- Addison's disease. Research about the effects of DHEA on Addison's disease is conflicting. There is some early research that taking 50 mg of DHEA by mouth daily for 12 months might improve symptoms of Addison's disease, including weight loss and bone density loss, but it does not appear to improve mental function. Other research shows that taking 50 mg of DHEA daily for 12 weeks does not improve mental function, sexual function, body weight, or bone mineral density in patients with Addison's disease. However, it might improve mood and feelings of tiredness.
- Adrenal insufficiency. There is conflicting research about the effects of DHEA on 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.
- Improving growth and maturation in girls with hormone deficiency (atrichia pubis). Some early reports suggest that DHEA might help growth and maturation in girls with atrichia pubis.
- 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 research suggests that taking 25-100 mg of DHEA daily for 6 months reduces symptoms of CFS.
- Lung disease (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)). Early research suggests that taking 200 mg of DHEA daily for 3 months improves lung function and walking distance in people with COPD.
- Clogged arteries. Population research shows that having low blood levels of DHEA is linked to an increased risk for clogged arteries in men. However, it's not clear if taking DHEA might help lower the risk of clogged arteries.
- Muscle damage from exercise. Early research shows that taking DHEA twice daily for 5 days improves muscle soreness in men competing in an exercise program.
- Fibromyalgia. Early research shows that taking 50 mg of DHEA daily for 3 months does not reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia.
- HIV/AIDS. Research shows that people with HIV tend to have lower levels of DHEA. Also, lower levels of DHEA appear to be linked with HIV disease severity. As a result, there is interest in using DHEA in people with 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. Research on the effectiveness of DHEA for infertility is conflicting. Some population research suggests that taking DHEA by mouth daily for at least 2 months reduces the risk for miscarriage. Other research suggests that taking 75 mg of DHEA daily before in vitro fertilization (IVF) increases the chance of getting pregnant in women who are infertile, including those with reduced ovarian function. However, other research suggests that this dose of DHEA does not increase pregnancy rates.
- Inflammatory bowel disease. Early research shows that taking 200 mg of DHEA by mouth daily for 8 weeks reduces symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease in patients with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.
- Menopausal symptoms. Evidence about the effects of DHEA on menopausal symptoms is inconsistent. Some research suggests that taking 10-25 mg of DHEA by mouth daily for 12 months reduces symptoms, including hot flashes. Also, inserting a DHEA product (Vaginorm, Recipharm, Karlskoga, Sweden) into the vagina for 12 weeks seems to increase strength in the vaginal wall and improve sexual activity in postmenopausal women. But other evidence suggests that taking DHEA daily does improve psychological symptoms of menopause.
- 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.
- Osteoporosis. Research on the effects of DHEA for osteoporosis is conflicting. 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. However, analysis of clinical research suggests that DHEA does not improve bone strength in postmenopausal women.
- Hormone deficiency in men (partial androgen deficiency). Early research suggests that taking 25 mg of DHEA daily for one year improves mood, fatigue, and joint pain in older men with hormone deficiency.
- Childbirth. Research suggests that giving DHEA or DHEA sulfate (DHEA-S) intravenously (by IV) beginning at 37 or 38 weeks gestation shortens the time until labor onset.
- 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. Research about the effects of DHEA for sexual dysfunction is conflicting. Taking DHEA by mouth for 24 weeks seems to improve symptoms including erectile dysfunction and overall sexual satisfaction in men with some types of erectile dysfunction (ED). However, it does not seem to be helpful if erectile dysfunction is caused by diabetes or nerve disorders. Also, DHEA does not seem to improve sexual dysfunction in men with low levels of the hormone androgen or those with low sexual desire. Some research shows that taking DHEA by mouth might improve sexual function in women with decreased libido or those who are postmenopausal. Also, some research suggests that inserting DHEA into the vagina (Vaginorm, Recipharm, Karlskoga, Sweden) daily for 12 weeks might improve sexual function in postmenopausal women. But other research shows the taking DHEA does not improve sexual function in postmenopausal or premenopausal women. In male or female patients with certain types of depression, taking DHEA by mouth might improve sexual function.
- 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 a specific product (Vaginorm, Recipharm, Karlskoga, Sweden) containing 3.25 to 13 mg of DHEA to the vagina daily for 12 weeks seems to benefit elderly women with vaginal atrophy. Applying a specific formula of DHEA cream (Diosynth, Chicago, IL) to the inner thighs daily for 12 months also appears to provide benefits. It might also improve bone strength in these women.
- Weight loss. Research about the effects of DHEA on weight loss is conflicting. Early research suggests that DHEA helps 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. Other early research suggests that taking DHEA by mouth or under the tongue does not affect body weight or shape in obese adults.
- Heart disease.
- Breast cancer.
- Parkinson's disease.
- Other conditions.
DHEA Side Effects & Safety
DHEA is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth, applied to the skin, and used inside the vagina appropriately, short-term. DHEA has been taken by mouth for 12-24 months safely. DHEA has been safely applied to the skin for up to 12 months. DHEA has been safely used inside the vagina for up to 12 weeks. 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 taken by mouth in high doses or 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 using for a long time period 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.
Diabetes: DHEA can affect how insulin works in the body. If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar carefully if you are taking DHEA.
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.
High cholesterol: 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.
Liver problems: DHEA might make liver problems worse. Don't use DHEA if you have liver problems.
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.
Moderate Interaction Be cautious with this combination
- Anastrozole (Arimidex) interacts with DHEA
The body changes DHEA to estrogen in the body. Anastrozole (Arimidex) is used to help decrease estrogen 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).
- Exemestane (Aromasin) interacts with DHEA
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).
- Fulvestrant (Faslodex) interacts with DHEA
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 estrogen cancer. DHEA might increase estrogen in the body and decrease the effectiveness of fulvestrant for treating cancer. Do not take DHEA if you are taking fulvestrant.
- Insulin interacts with DHEA
Insulin is used to decrease blood sugar. Insulin can also decrease the amount of DHEA in the body. By decreasing DHEA in the body insulin might decrease the effectiveness of DHEA supplements.
- Letrozole (Femara) interacts with DHEA
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 estrogen 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) interacts with DHEA
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.
- Tamoxifen (Nolvadex) interacts with DHEA
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).
- Triazolam (Halcion) interacts with DHEA
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).
Minor Interaction Be watchful with this combination
- Medications for inflammation (Corticosteroids) interacts with DHEA
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.
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
- For aging skin: 50 mg of DHEA taken daily for 12 months has been used.
- For depression: 30-450 mg of DHEA taken daily for 6 weeks has been used, either alone or together with antidepressant drugs. DHEA has also been used in increasing doses up to 500 mg daily for 8 weeks.
- For aging skin: a 1% DHEA cream has been applied to the face and hands twice daily for up to 4 months.