Dehydroepiandrosterone, known as DHEA, is a steroid hormone. The body naturally synthesizes it, and it plays a variety of functions.
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a naturally occurring hormone and a common supplement that has many health benefits.
Hence, it can increase bone density, decrease body fat, boost sexual function, and correct some hormonal imbalances.
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DHEA Role in the Human Body
Your body produces DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, on its own (1).
Your body can transform it into the main testosterone and estrogen sex hormones (2).
After this conversion, it may have effects on the actions of testosterone and estrogen, as well as the DHEA molecule itself.
Your body can make DHEA naturally. Some people want to know why they should consume it as a supplement.
The key reason is that the levels of DHEA decrease as you age, and this decrease can cause health problems.
In addition, during adulthood, DHEA decreases by up to 80%.
When you take dehydroepiandrosterone as a supplement, your body increases its levels. Some of it also transforms into testosterone and estrogen.
DHEA and Depression
DHEA’s relationship with depression is complex. Some research shows that women with depression have higher levels of this hormone than women without depression (8).
However, individuals with severe depression have lower DHEA levels than those with milder depression (6).
While the connection between DHEA and depression is not clear, researchers have been investigating whether taking DHEA as a supplement may benefit people with depression symptoms.
Some research has shown that it can help in treating depression in people with mild depression, or in those who do not respond to normal treatment (9).
Some researchers even caution against its use, as higher levels of DHEA in the body can increase depression symptoms in middle-aged women (11).
Overall, we need more studies before recommending DHEA for depression treatment.
Can Fix Adrenal Problems
One of DHEA’s major producers inside the body is the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys (1).
Some individuals suffer from a condition called adrenal insufficiency, in which the adrenal glands can not produce normal hormone amounts.
The disorder can cause tiredness, fatigue, and blood pressure problems. It may even advance to become life-threatening. DHEA supplements may treat adrenal insufficiency symptoms. Some research shows that supplementation with DHEA can improve the quality of life (13, 14, 15).
DHEA can decrease feelings of anxiety and depression in women with adrenal insufficiency (16).
This means it can improve overall well-being and sexual satisfaction. If you are suffering from adrenal insufficiency or other types of adrenal problems, ask your doctor if DHEA can provide benefits.
Can Improve Fertility and Libido
It’s no surprise that a supplement that affects sex hormones for males and females also affects sexual function.
For starters, DHEA supplements can enhance ovarian function in women with impaired fertility.
It increased the effectiveness of in vitro fertilization (IVF) in 25 females with fertility problems (17).
These women were suffering from IVF before and after treatment with DHEA. The women produced more eggs after treatment, and they fertilized a higher percentage of eggs—67% compared to 39% before treatment.
One study found that women who took DHEA supplements during IVF had a live birth rate of 23% compared to the control group’s 4% live birth rate (18).
Can Increase Bone Density
Also, low levels of DHEA can increase bone fracture risk (26).
Several studies have investigated whether DHEA would increase the bone density of older adults because of these connections. Some research shows that taking this supplement for one to two years in older women may improve bone density but not in men (27, 28).
Therefore, you need to take the DHEA supplement for longer periods to get the bone density benefits, and this impact may be stronger for older women.
DHEA Effects on Fat Burning
In one study of patients with adrenal gland problems, DHEA decreased fat mass by 4% over four months (39).
However, the effects of regular DHEA supplements on fat mass are not clear. Other forms of DHEA may be more effective at burning fat.
The 7-keto DHEA can increase the metabolic rate in people of all genders who are heavy (40).
Also, it can decrease body weight and fat mass three times more after taking 7-keto DHEA supplements.
Effects of DHEA on Muscle and Strength
Some assume that DHEA can increase muscle mass or muscle growth because of its ability to increase testosterone levels (38).
Several studies found it had no effect on physical performance in older adults, but others found it improved upper and lower body strength (45).
Overall, because a significant number of studies have found no benefits in muscle size or strength, DHEA is most likely ineffective in these areas.
Recommended Dosage and Side Effects
In terms of time frame, for one year, a dose of 50 mg per day is safe, and for two years, you can use 25 mg per day safely. DHEA supplements are used safely for up to two years in these studies (36, 47).
Minor side effects reported in the armpits and pubic area included greasy skin, acne, and increased hair growth (4).
Specifically, those with cancers affected by sex hormones should not take DHEA supplements. Talking to a doctor is best before you take DHEA supplements.
Taking DHEA is probably unnecessary for young, healthy individuals. Your body can make this hormone, and more of it isn’t better.
However, some individuals, particularly older adults and those with certain adrenal, sexual, or fertility issues, may benefit from DHEA supplementation.
If you are considering taking this supplement, we recommend you consult with your doctor.