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
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
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
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
Side Effects Of DHEA
Due to its side effects, DHEA should not be supplemented
unless under medical supervision by a specialist in
Side effects may include:
- Stunted growth in teens who have not reached their
- 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.