INDEX

DHEA

Background

dhea hormone adrenal

  • Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone that comes from the adrenal gland. It is also made in the brain. DHEA leads to the production of androgens and estrogens (male and female sex hormones). DHEA levels in the body begin to decrease after age 30. Levels decrease more quickly in women. Low DHEA levels may lead to hormonal disorders, AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, depression, diabetes, inflammation, immune disorders, and osteoporosis. Corticosteroids, birth control taken by mouth, and agents that treat psychiatric disorders may reduce DHEA levels.
  • 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.

Scientific Evidence

Uses Grade*
Bone density

Aging and diseases such as lupus (an autoimmune disorder that affects the skin and organs) and anorexia may cause bone loss. Evidence suggests that higher DHEA levels may be linked to higher bone density, particularly in women who have undergone menopause. Research reports that DHEA supplements may help increase bone density.

A
Depression

Most studies on the use of DHEA for depression support its use for this purpose. Recent research reports that high DHEA levels may be associated with successful treatment of major depression. Higher-quality, long-term studies are needed before firm conclusions can be made.

A
Weight loss

Most studies on the use of DHEA for fat or weight loss support its use for this purpose. 7-Keto, a product that contains DHEA, may help boost metabolism. However, more long-term research is needed before firm conclusions can be made.

A
Adrenal insufficiency

There is good evidence supporting the use of DHEA for adrenal insufficiency, a condition in which the adrenal glands do not make enough hormones. Studies suggest that DHEA may improve hormone levels, health, and quality of life in people with adrenal insufficiency. However, other research found a lack of effect of DHEA on depression symptoms or heart health. Additional research is needed in this area.

B
Lupus

DHEA levels are lower in women who have lupus (an autoimmune disorder that affects the skin and organs). DHEA may boost immune function. Several trials report that DHEA may lack an effect on SLE disease activity, though there is some evidence supporting its use in addition to regular treatment. Research suggests that DHEA may help improve symptoms of SLE. Additional research is needed in this area.

B
Sexual function / libido / erectile dysfunction

Research has demonstrated lower levels of DHEA in men with erectile dysfunction. DHEA supplementation may benefit people with decreased libido. However, high-quality studies have demonstrated inconsistent results regarding DHEA supplementation for improving sexual function, libido, and erectile dysfunction. Although research in this area is promising, additional well-designed studies are required.

B
Aging

DHEA levels may decrease with age. Early evidence in older adults suggests that DHEA may help protect against age-related declines in physical function. Research suggests that low levels of hormones such as DHEA may predict mortality (death) in older men; however, these data have been criticized. In another study, an association between DHEA levels and mental status was lacking. Additional research is needed in this area.

C
AIDS/HIV

Early research suggests lower DHEA levels may predict HIV progression. DHEA may benefit people who have HIV in terms of boosting the immune system and blocking disease reactivation. DHEA has been suggested as an alternative or additional therapy to regular treatment for HIV-1 infection. However, there is conflicting evidence. Additional research is needed in this area.

C
Cervical cancer

Early evidence suggests that DHEA inserted into the vagina may benefit women with cervical cancer. Additional research is needed in this area.

C
Chronic fatigue syndrome

There is some evidence that DHEA may improve symptoms of fatigue. Early studies report that DHEA may benefit people who have chronic fatigue syndrome. Additional research is needed in this area.

C
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Preliminary results suggest that DHEA improves walking and lung function in people with COPD. Although this is promising, weaknesses in study design limit these findings. Further high-quality research is needed in this area.

C
Coronary artery disease

Research suggests that high DHEA levels may be associated with lower risk of clogged arteries. Other studies report that heart disease risk factors such as obesity, insulin resistance, and high cholesterol may improve with DHEA. Early evidence has also found that DHEA may improve blood vessel function, reduce chest pain, and prevent blood clots. However, consistent results are lacking in terms of the benefits of DHEA on cholesterol. Additional research is needed in this area.

C
Diabetes

Low DHEA may be linked to diabetes, blood sugar problems, and insulin resistance. However, there is conflicting evidence. Additional research is needed in this area.

C
Drug withdrawal

There is mixed evidence regarding the benefits of DHEA for people who are undergoing drug withdrawal from cocaine or heroin. Additional research is needed in this area.

C
Fibromyalgia

Early evidence suggests that DHEA lacks benefit in people with fibromyalgia (chronic muscle pain and fatigue). Additional research is needed in this area.

C
Immune function

Several studies report that DHEA may boost immune function. Although it has not been well studied in humans, the available research notes that DHEA may enhance the immune system, particularly in old age. It may also benefit those with conditions such as lupus, asthma, hives, eczema, and pneumonia, and those with organ transplants. Additional research is needed in this area.

C
Infertility

Early evidence suggests that DHEA may benefit people who have fertility problems, especially those with unsuccessful in vitro fertilization (IVF). However, it has been suggested that DHEA be used under the care of a qualified health professional. Additional research is needed in this area.

C
Inflammatory bowel disease

Early evidence has found that DHEA may benefit people who have Crohn’s disease, a condition that may cause diarrhea, stomach pain, and rectal bleeding. Additional research is needed in this area.

C
Labor induction

Early evidence suggests that DHEA may shorten the length of labor. High-quality trials are needed to determine safety for the infant. Caution is advised because high androgen levels may have negative effects on pregnancy or a breastfeeding infant.

C
Menopause

Low levels of DHEA have been associated with impairments in sexual function, well-being, and cognitive performance of postmenopausal women. However, early evidence suggests that DHEA may lack benefit for women experiencing menopause. High-quality studies are needed in this area.

C
Miscarriage

Some research reports that DHEA supplementation may decrease the rate of miscarriage. Additional research is needed in this area.

C
Myotonic dystrophy

Myotonic dystrophy (muscle wasting and weakness) may be linked to low DHEA levels. There is conflicting evidence in terms of DHEA use for treating this condition. Additional research is needed in this area.

C
Partial androgen deficiency

Research suggests that a low dose of DHEA may affect symptoms of partial deficiency in androgens, a male sex hormone. DHEA may protect from age-related declines in hormonal functions. Additional research is needed in this area.

C
Schizophrenia

Early evidence suggests that DHEA may benefit people who have schizophrenia. Some reports have found high DHEA levels in people with schizophrenia, while others found low levels. The effects of DHA alone are unclear. Additional research is needed in this area.

C
Skin aging

Low DHEA levels have been linked to skin aging and low collagen production. Early research suggests that DHEA may be applied to the skin to help prevent skin aging. Additional research is needed in this area.

C
Vaginal atrophy

Early research reports that DHEA may benefit postmenopausal women who have vaginal atrophy (thinning, drying, and inflammation of the vaginal walls). DHEA may promote vaginal cell growth, reduce vaginal pH, and improve the occurrence of pain during sex. Additional research is needed in this area.

C
Cognitive disorders

Higher DHEA levels have been linked to better cognitive function (thinking), concentration, and working memory. However, evidence to support the use of DHEA for this purpose are lacking. Additional studies are warranted in this area.

D
Muscle strength

There is a lack of evidence to support the use of DHEA to improve muscle strength. Additional research is warranted in this area.

D
Psoriasis

Early evidence suggests that DHEA may lack benefit in people who have psoriasis (flaky, red skin patches and irritation). Additional well-designed studies are needed in this area.

D
Rheumatoid arthritis

Early evidence suggests that DHEA may lack benefit in people who have rheumatoid arthritis. Additional well-designed studies are needed in this area.

D
Sjögren’s syndrome

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disorder characterized by dry eyes and mouth. Many women with Sjögren’s syndrome are deficient in androgen (a male sex hormone) and have low DHEA levels. Although restoring DHEA levels may improve immune function and inflammation, evidence suggests a lack of effect on Sjögren’s syndrome.

D

*Key to grades:

A: Strong scientific evidence for this use;

B: Good scientific evidence for this use;

C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use;

D: Fair scientific evidence against this use (it may not work);

F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likely does not work).

Tradition

  • Addiction, adrenoleukodystrophy (a type of fat breakdown disorder), aggressive behavior, amenorrhea (lack of menstrual period), angioedema (swelling under the skin), anticoagulant, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiviral, anxiety, asthma, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, bladder cancer, bladder control, breast cancer, burns, colon cancer, critical illness, diuretic, eczema, exercise performance, fetal development, flu, gum disease, heart failure, Huntington’s disease, hypopituitarism (problems in pituitary production of hormones), lipodystrophy in HIV (fat metabolism disorder), liver protection, malaria, malnutrition, movement disorders, multiple sclerosis, nervous system function, osteoarthritis, ovarian disorders, pain, pancreatic cancer, Parkinson’s disease, pneumonia, polycystic ovarian syndrome (sex hormone imbalance), pouchitis (inflammation of ileal pouch), prevention of restenosis after coronary angioplasty (PTCA, blood vessel narrowing), prostate cancer, pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in lung arteries), quality of life, radiation side effects, Raynaud’s disease (lowered circulation causing discolored extremities), sepsis (deadly infection), skin graft healing, sleep apnea (breathing problems during sleep), stress (heat-induced), tetanus (nervous system infection), thymic regeneration (recovery of thymus from age-related size decrease), trauma, urticaria (hives), vascular disorders (blood vessel disorders), viral encephalitis (brain inflammation).

Dosing

Adults (18 years and older)

  • To treat symptoms of adrenal insufficiency (hormone production problems), 20-200 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth daily for up to 12 months.
  • To treat AIDS/HIV, 50-2,250 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth for up to sixteen weeks.
  • To improve bone density, doses of 50-200 milligrams of DHEA have been taken by mouth daily for up to two years.
  • To treat cervical cancer, 150 milligrams of DHEA has been applied to the vagina daily for up to six months.
  • To treat chronic fatigue syndrome, up to 500 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth daily for up to six months.
  • To treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), 200 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth daily for three months.
  • To treat cognitive disorders, 25-400 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth daily for up to six months. A dose of 200 milligrams of DHEA-S has been injected into the vein daily for four weeks.
  • To treat depression, 5-450 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth daily for up to six weeks, alone or in addition to antidepressants. DHEA has been taken by mouth starting at a dose of 100 milligrams up to 500 milligrams daily for eight weeks (increasing by 100 milligrams each week).
  • To treat diabetes, 25-75 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth daily for up to one year. Higher doses of 1,600 milligrams of DHEA have also been taken by mouth daily for 28 days. An infusion of 1 milligram of DHEA has been injected into the blood hourly for a total of 17 hours.
  • To treat drug withdrawal, 100 milligrams of DHEA has been taken daily by mouth for 12 weeks and 12 months.
  • To treat fibromyalgia, 50 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth daily for three months.
  • To treat heart disease, 25-150 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth daily for up to two years.
  • As an immune system stimulant, 50 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth daily for 20 weeks.
  • To treat infertility, 25-80 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth daily for at least six weeks and up to four months.
  • To treat inflammatory bowel disease, 200 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth daily for 56 days.
  • To induce labor, 10 milligrams of DHEA-S dissolved in 10 milliliters of 5% glucose solution has been injected into the blood twice weekly after 38 weeks gestation. A dosage of 100 milligrams of DHEA-S in 250 milliliters of 5% levulose solution has been injected into the blood daily for three days. Additionally, 200 milligrams of DHEA-S has been injected into the blood once or twice weekly beginning at 37 weeks gestation. Multiple doses of 50 milligrams or 100 milligrams of DHEA-S have been injected during weeks 38-42 of pregnancy.
  • To treat lupus, 20-200 milligrams of DHEA has been taken daily for up to two years.
  • To treat menopause, 10-50 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth daily for up to 12 months. Additionally, 100 milligrams of DHEA-S has been taken by mouth daily for three months.
  • To prevent miscarriage, 25 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth three times daily for at least two months.
  • To improve muscle strength, 50-150 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth daily for up to 12 months.
  • To treat myotonic dystrophy (muscle wasting and weakness), 100 milligrams and 400 milligrams of DHEA have been taken by mouth daily for 12 weeks. Additionally, 200 milligrams of DHEA-S has been injected into a vein for eight weeks.
  • To treat obesity, 50-200 milligrams of DHEA, 7-oxo-DHEA or 7-Keto has been taken by mouth daily for up to 12 months. Additionally, 400 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth four times daily for 28 days. A dosage of 40 milligrams of DHEA placed under the tongue has been taken twice daily for eight weeks.
  • To treat partial androgen deficiency, 25 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth daily for one year.
  • To treat psoriasis, 300 milligrams of DHEA-enanthate has been injected into the muscle daily.
  • To treat rheumatoid arthritis, 200 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth daily for 16 weeks.
  • To treat schizophrenia, DHEA has been taken by mouth at a starting dose of 25 milligrams by mouth daily for two weeks, then 50 milligrams daily in divided doses for two weeks, and then 100 milligrams daily in divided doses for a final two weeks. Additionally, 200 or 400 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth daily for up to eight weeks.
  • To treat sexual dysfunction/libido/erectile dysfunction, 20-75 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth for up to six months. A single dose of 300 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth. Additionally, 90 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth daily for three weeks followed by 450 milligrams daily for three weeks. A dose escalation of DHEA from 100 milligrams to 400 milligrams daily for eight weeks (increasing by 100 milligrams at weekly intervals) has been taken by mouth.
  • To treat Sjögren’s syndrome, 50-200 milligrams of DHEA has been taken by mouth daily for up to one year.
  • To treat skin aging, 0.1-2% DHEA has been applied once or twice daily to the face, hands, upper chest, and thighs for up to four months.
  • To treat vaginal atrophy, daily doses of 0.25%, 0.5%, and 1.0% DHEA (prasterone; Vaginorm™) have been applied to the vagina for 12 weeks.

Children (younger than 18 years)

  • There is no proven safe or effective dose for DHEA in children. DHEA may interfere with hormonal development.

References

  1. Artini, P. G., Simi, G., Ruggiero, M., Pinelli, S., Di Berardino, O. M., Papini, F., Papini, S., Monteleone, P., and Cela, V. DHEA supplementation improves follicular microenviroment in poor responder patients. Gynecol.Endocrinol. 2012;28(9):669-673. View Abstract
  2. Bloch, M., Ish-Shalom, S., Greenman, Y., Klein, E., and Latzer, Y. Dehydroepiandrosterone treatment effects on weight, bone density, bone metabolism and mood in women suffering from anorexia nervosa-a pilot study. Psychiatry Res 12-30-2012;200(2-3):544-549. View Abstract
  3. Bosdou, J. K., Venetis, C. A., Kolibianakis, E. M., Toulis, K. A., Goulis, D. G., Zepiridis, L., and Tarlatzis, B. C. The use of androgens or androgen-modulating agents in poor responders undergoing in vitro fertilization: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Hum Reprod.Update. 2012;18(2):127-145. View Abstract
  4. Bradley, M., McElhiney, M., and Rabkin, J. DHEA and cognition in HIV-positive patients with non-major depression. Psychosomatics 2012;53(3):244-249. View Abstract
  5. Divasta, A. D., Feldman, H. A., Giancaterino, C., Rosen, C. J., Leboff, M. S., and Gordon, C. M. The effect of gonadal and adrenal steroid therapy on skeletal health in adolescents and young women with anorexia nervosa. Metabolism 2012;61(7):1010-1020. View Abstract
  6. Dumas de La, Roque E., Savineau, J. P., Metivier, A. C., Billes, M. A., Kraemer, J. P., Doutreleau, S., Jougon, J., Marthan, R., Moore, N., Fayon, M., Baulieu, E. E., and Dromer, C. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) improves pulmonary hypertension in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): a pilot study. Ann Endocrinol.(Paris) 2012;73(1):20-25. View Abstract
  7. Gomez-Santos, C., Hernandez-Morante, J. J., Tebar, F. J., Granero, E., and Garaulet, M. Differential effect of oral dehydroepiandrosterone-sulphate on metabolic syndrome features in pre- and postmenopausal obese women. Clin Endocrinol.(Oxf) 2012;77(4):548-554. View Abstract
  8. Gonzalez, F., Nair, K. S., Daniels, J. K., Basal, E., and Schimke, J. M. Hyperandrogenism sensitizes mononuclear cells to promote glucose-induced inflammation in lean reproductive-age women. Am J Physiol Endocrinol.Metab 2-1-2012;302(3):E297-E306. View Abstract
  9. McHenry, C. M., Bell, P. M., Hunter, S. J., Thompson, C. J., Courtney, C. H., Ennis, C. N., Sheridan, B., McCance, D. R., Mullan, K. R., and Atkinson, A. B. Effects of dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate (DHEAS) replacement on insulin action and quality of life in hypopituitary females: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Clin Endocrinol.(Oxf) 2012;77(3):423-429. View Abstract
  10. Merritt, P., Stangl, B., Hirshman, E., and Verbalis, J. Administration of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) increases serum levels of androgens and estrogens but does not enhance short-term memory in post-menopausal women. Brain Res 11-5-2012;1483:54-62. View Abstract
  11. Munoz, Y. C., Gomez, G. I., Moreno, M., Solis, C. L., Valladares, L. E., and Velarde, V. Dehydroepiandrosterone prevents the aggregation of platelets obtained from postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes mellitus through the activation of the PKC/eNOS/NO pathway. Horm.Metab Res 2012;44(8):625-631. View Abstract
  12. Papierska, L., Rabijewski, M., Kasperlik-Zaluska, A., and Zgliczynski, W. Effect of DHEA supplementation on serum IGF-1, osteocalcin, and bone mineral density in postmenopausal, glucocorticoid-treated women. Adv.Med Sci 6-1-2012;57(1):51-57. View Abstract
  13. Taylor, M. K., Padilla, G. A., Stanfill, K. E., Markham, A. E., Khosravi, J. Y., Ward, M. D., and Koehler, M. M. Effects of dehydroepiandrosterone supplementation during stressful military training: a randomized, controlled, double-blind field study. Stress. 2012;15(1):85-96. View Abstract
  14. Weiss, E. P., Villareal, D. T., Ehsani, A. A., Fontana, L., and Holloszy, J. O. Dehydroepiandrosterone replacement therapy in older adults improves indices of arterial stiffness. Aging Cell 2012;11(5):876-884. View Abstract
  15. Yeung, T. W., Li, R. H., Lee, V. C., Ho, P. C., and Ng, E. H. A randomized double-blinded placebo-controlled trial on the effect of dehydroepiandrosterone for 16 weeks on ovarian response markers in women with primary ovarian insufficiency. J Clin Endocrinol.Metab 2013;98(1):380-388. View Abstract