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Benefits of DHEA Supplements: Dosage and Side Effects

benefits of DHEA supplements

Supplements that provide health benefits may also alter your hormone levels. DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is both a naturally occurring hormone and a common supplement that can affect certain hormones inside the body. Hence, it can increase bone density, decrease body fat, boost the sexual function and correct some hormonal imbalances. Here are the benefits of DHEA supplements.

DHEA Role in the Human Body

DHEA or dehydroepiandrosterone is a hormone that your body produces on its own. Your body can transform it into the main testosterone and estrogen male and female sex hormones (1).

After this conversion, it may take effects by the actions of testosterone and estrogen, and by the DHEA molecule itself (2).

Your body can make DHEA naturally. Some people want to know why should they 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 percent. This is not only relevant for older adults since levels start decreasing around the age of 30 (3, 4, 5).

Lower levels of DHEA can increase the risk of heart disease, depression, and mortality (6, 7, 8, 9, 10).

When you take dehydroepiandrosterone as a supplement, your body increases its levels. Some of it also transforms into testosterone and oestrogen (11).

DHEA and Depression

DHEA’s relationship with Depression is complex. Some research shows that women with depression had higher levels of this hormone than women without depression (12).

However, individuals with severe depression have lower DHEA levels than those with milder depression (13).

While the connection between DHEA and depression is not clear, researchers have been investigating whether taking DHEA as a supplement may reduce depression symptoms.

Some research has shown that it can help in treating depression, in people with mild depression or those who do not respond to normal treatment (14).

Other studies in healthy, middle-aged, and elderly adults showed no improvement in mental function (15, 16, 17).

Some researchers even caution against its use, as higher levels of DHEA in the body can increase depression symptoms in middle-aged women (18).

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 (19).

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 (20).

DHEA supplements may treat adrenal insufficiency symptoms. Some research shows that supplementing with DHEA can improve the quality of life (21, 22, 23).

DHEA can decrease feelings of anxiety and depression in women with adrenal insufficiency. This means it can improve overall well-being and sexual satisfaction (24).

If you are suffering from adrenal insufficiency or other adrenal problems, ask your doctor if DHEA can help.

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 (25).

These women were suffering from IVF before and after treatment with DHEA. The women produced more eggs after treatment and a higher percentage of eggs were fertilized 67% compared to 39% before treatment.

One study found that women who took DHEA supplements during IVF had a live birth rate of 23 percent compared to the control group’s 4 percent live birth rate (26).

Additionally, several studies have shown that these supplements can increase both men’s and women’s libido and sexual function (27, 28, 29).

Nevertheless, people who have sexual function problems can benefit from this supplement. Often without sexual problems, you cannot benefit from it (30, 31).

Can Increase Bone Density

Low levels of DHEA can lower the bone density that decreases as your age (32, 33).

Also, low levels of DHEA can increase bone fracture risk (34).

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 men (35, 36).

Certain studies have found no bone density benefits after DHEA supplementation, but most of these studies have lasted six months or fewer (37, 38, 39).

Therefore, you need to take the supplement for longer periods to improve bone density, and this impact may be stronger in older women.

DHEA Effects on Fat Burning

Most research shows DHEA is not effective in reducing fat mass (40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45).

However, some evidence suggests that DHEA supplements in older men or adults whose adrenal glands do not function can produce slight decreases in fat mass (46, 47).

However, one study in patients with adrenal gland problems, DHEA decreased fat mass by 4 percent over four months (48).

However, the effects of regular DHEA supplements on fat mass are not clear. Other forms of DHEA may be more effective in body fat burning processes. The 7-Keto DHEA can increase the metabolic rate in both men and women overweight (49).

Also, it can decrease body weight and fat mass three times more after taking 7-Keto DHEA supplements (50).

Individuals taking the supplement lost about 6.4 pounds (2.9 kg) of body weight and 1.8 percent body fat in this study. Those in the placebo group lost just 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of body fat that is 0.6 percent.

The 7-Keto DHEA might help you lose fat. However, we need more research.

Effects of DHEA on Muscle and Strength

Some assume that DHEA can increase muscle mass or muscle strength because of its ability to increase testosterone levels (51).

Most research shows taking DHEA supplements do not improve muscle mass or muscle strength.

This shows in young, middle-aged, and elderly adults over periods of four weeks to one year (52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57).

A small research has shown that this supplement may improve strength and physical performance in weak, older adults or those with adrenal glands problems (58, 59, 60).

Several studies have shown that it did not improve physical performance in older adults, but others have reported increased strength of the upper and lower body (61).

Ultimately, since many studies show no benefits in terms of muscle size or strength, DHEA is probably not successful in both respects.

Recommended Dosage and Side Effects

While there are many reports of 10 to 500 mg doses. A typical dose should be 25 to 50 mg per day (62, 63, 64).

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.

Generally, DHEA supplements used safely for up to two years in these studies (65, 66).

Minor side effects reported in the armpits and pubic area included greasy skin, acne and increased hair growth (67).

Specifically, those with cancers affected by sex hormones should not take DHEA supplements (68).

Talking to a doctor is best before you take DHEA supplements.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between 7-keto-DHEA and DHEA?


7-keto-DHEA is formed in the body through dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). DHEA is a “parent hormone” made by glands close to the kidney. But unlike DHEA, it does not convert 7-keto-DHEA into steroid hormones such as androgen and estrogen.

When to take DHEA?


Taking DHEA supplements at two times points is safest. The best way to remember is to take half of your dose when you wake up and the other half before bed.

What is DHEA–sulfate?


DHEA sulphate is a form of DHEA storage. Importantly, the enzyme can be created by every tissue in your body and brain to remove the sulfate so that DHEA can cause repair in that place.

How long does DHEA last?


DHEA is completely metabolized within 8 hours. The benefits of DHEA (strength, stamina, durability, muscle mass, and bone density) are cumulative and long-lasting with regular use.

Is DHEA steroid?


Chemically, DHEA is a steroid, but it should not be confused with synthetic anabolic steroids which some bodybuilders misuse. DHEA is a natural steroid that resembles other hormones produced by the body, such as vitamin D.

Why take DHEA?


Because DHEA is the most comprehensive repair signal in the body, and because it does such a skilled job telling the body to make more energy, DHEA can be useful to improve quality of life.

Where is DHEA produced?


The adrenal glands, brain, ovaries, testicles. Primates and dogs are animals that have the highest DHEA amounts. DHEA supplements come from the Mexican plant yam hormone diosgenin, which is converted into DHEA in a laboratory.

The Bottom Line

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 that you consult with your doctor.

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Naeem Durrani BSc
Naeem Durrani is a freelance journalist who specializes in health and wellness innovation. His interests include medical research, nutrition, and the scientific evidence around effective wellness practices that empower people to positively transform their lives.
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