DHEA [Dehydroepiandrosterone] has been the subject of many heated debates between fitness experts. There are numerous articles praising it and just as many de-bunking it.

DHEA is a natural steroid prohormone produced from cholesterol by the adrenal glands, the gonads, adipose tissue, brain and in the skin. It acts as the precursor of androstenedione, which can undergo further conversion to produce the androgen testosterone and the estrogens estrone and estradiol. For this reason, DHEA is claimed by many to support the maintenance of youthful hormone levels.



Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate [DHEAS] is the sulfated version of DHEA. Orally ingested DHEA is converted to DHEAS when passing through intestines and liver. DHEAS may be viewed as buffer and reservoir. Its production in the brain suggests that it also has a role as a neurosteroid.[

In the blood, most DHEA is found as DHEAS with levels that are about 300 times higher than free DHEA. Where DHEA levels naturally reach their peak in the early morning hours, DHEAS levels show no variation throughout the day.


DHEA and DHEAS In The Body

As almost all DHEA is derived from the adrenal glands, blood measurements of DHEAS/DHEA are useful to detect excess adrenal activity as seen in adrenal cancer or hyperplasia, including certain forms of congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome tend to have elevated levels of DHEAS.


Uses For DHEA and DHEAS

The effect of DHEA on the body is where most dispute arises. Studies have demonstrated mixed results using DHEA for lupus, alzheimers, muscle building and cystic ovaries.

DHEA For Lupus

Studies have shown that DHEA is useful in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration review in 2001] shows that cholesterol and other serum lipids decrease with the use of DHEA [mainly a decrease in HDL-C and triglycerides in women]

DHEA and Alzheimers

DHEA supplementation has also been studied as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease, but was found to be ineffective.

DHEA Used For Depression

Some small placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial studies have found long-term supplementation to improve mood and relieve depression.

DHEA in Antiaging

A placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006 found that DHEA supplementation in elderly men and women had no beneficial effects on body composition, physical performance, insulin sensitivity, or quality of life.

DHEA For Performance Enhancement

DHEA supplements are sometimes used as muscle-building or performance-enhancing drugs by athletes. However, a randomized placebo-controlled trial found that DHEA supplementation had no effect on lean body mass, strength, or testosterone levels.

DHEA and CardioVascular Disease

A 1986 study found that a higher level of endogenous DHEA, as determined by a single measurement, correlated with a lower risk of death or cardiovascular disease. However, a more recent 2006 study found no correlation between DHEA levels and risk of cardiovascular disease or death in men.

DHEA and Cancer

Some in vitro studies have found DHEA to have an anti-proliferative or apoptotic effect on cancer cell lines. The clinical significance of these findings is uncertain.

Higher levels of DHEA have correlated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer in both pre- and postmenopausal women.


Side Effects Of DHEA

Due to its side effects, DHEA should not be supplemented unless under medical supervision by a specialist in endocrinology.

Side effects may include:

  • Stunted growth in teens who have not reached their height potential.
  • Palpitations and other arrhythmias
  • Extensive growth of body hair, or hirsutism
  • Hair loss, especially male pattern baldness

Natural DHEA Boosting

Regular exercise is known to increase DHEA production in the body.

Some claim that the increase in endogenous DHEA brought about by caloric restriction is partially responsible for the longer life known to be associated with caloric restriction.

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