DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is the most abundant steroid hormone in the body, and is a direct precursor of testosterone. DHEA levels decrease with age, an 80 year old person will have only 10% of the DHEA produced during peak years or early adulthood. Thus, DHEA supplementation can be particularly helpful to manage low testosterone levels in both men and women. Patients supplementing with DHEA for low testosterone will notice improvement in the testosterone levels but need to be monitored closely.
DHEA has been studied for a wide range of conditions with proven benefit for weight loss, improving blood glucose levels and insulin action, and improving feelings of well being and sexuality in women suffering from adrenal insufficiency.
Other uses include slowing or reversing aging, improving concentration and memory (being useful in Alzheimer’s as well) and as an immune system booster. It has been also evaluated for the management of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and multiple sclerosis.
DHEA is also successfully used by men suffering from erectile dysfunction (ED) and low libido because it raises testosterone levels. Enchanced testosterone levels also means an improvement in bone density thereby preventing osteoporosis, increased muscle volume and contour, and decreased body fat, especially around the waist.
Although athletes may consider DHEA to improve muscle mass, strength, and energy. National Collegiate Athletic Association ( also known as NCAA) has banned this supplement.
DHEA is, in fact, a pro-hormone produced by the adrenal glands and in smaller quantities by the ovaries in women, which converts estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, corticosterone and other important hormones. DHEA supplementation significantly increases the levels of testosterone in both men and women even after taking one single does.
Possible side effects and precautions
It is recommended to take this supplement in the morning, since a possible side effect is insomnia and because natural DHEA is produced by adrenal glands in the morning. The duration of the treatment should be based on blood tests. For example, an individual in his/her 20s may need only a few doses to optimize the level of this hormone.
Since DHEA increases the levels of testosterone and estrogen, it shouldn’t be used in people with hormone dependent cancers such as prostate, ovarian, breast or endometrial cancers. Those suffering from liver diseases should choose DHEA sublingual or topical applications (cream), since this hormone is metabolized in the liver. In some cases, DHEA can cause in women excessive hair growth (hirsutism), voice lowering, decreased breast size and increased clitoris as a result of increased testosterone levels. Men taking this hormone also experienced signs of increased testosterone with side effects such as greasy hair, acne and increased body hair.
How much DHEA is needed
DHEA should not be used in patients younger than 18. Generally speaking, DHEA is available as capsules, tablets and injections with daily doses ranging from 25-200 milligrams daily. Doses should be adjusted based on blood testosterone levels. Treatment should not last more than one year, since the long term safety of this therapy is not fully assessed. A 5-10% cream containing DHEA can be used up to four weeks, then a healthcare professional should evaluate the blood testosterone levels again.