Introduction to DHEA

Dehydroepiandrosterone, mostly called DHEA, is a steroid hormone produced in the adrenal gland. It is the most abundant steroid in the bloodstream with higher levels in brain tissue. DHEA has been shown to have anti-aging, anti-obesity and anti-cancer influences. In addition, it is known to stabilize nerve-cell growth and is being tested in Alzheimer’s patients.

DHEA is made by the adrenal glands and secreted into the blood, where it is converted into other hormones. DHEA levels drop with advancing age, so most of the benefits are noted in older people.

The book The Biologic Role of Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) states “DHEA modulates diabetes, obesity, carcinogenesis, tumor growth, neurite outgrowth, virus and bacterial infection, stress, pregnancy, hypertension, collagen and skin integrity, fatigue, depression, memory and immune responses.”

The claims about DHEA are that it increases muscle mass, stamina, sexual vitality and feeling of well-being. Some studies support these claims, and some do not.


DHEA and Sexual Funtion

DHEA is a precursor to numerous steroid sex hormones, including estrogen and testosterone. Studies suggest it may act as a “buffering hormone” thus altering the state-dependency of other steroid hormones.


Primary Benefits

Studies have indicated that DHEA benefits:

  • Anti-Obesity Factor - DHEA-treated mice ate normally, they remained thin and lived longer than control mice. Diabetes, a typical complication of obesity, was also dramatically decreased.
  • Glucose Metabolism - DHEA inhibits G6PDH, an enzyme that breaks down glucose, and turns it into fat. DHEA’s inhibition of G6PDH may redirect glucose from anabolic fat-production into catabolic energy metabolism, thus creating a leaner metabolism. Toxicity factors still need to be assessed.
  • Cancer Prevention - Early studies suggested that DHEA was abnormally low in women who developed breast cancer, as much as nine years prior to the onset or diagnosis of the disease. DHEA has demonstrated protective effects for cancers of the skin, lungs, bowel, breast and liver in animals. Studies continue as to whether the same level of benefits will be realized in humans.
  • Antiaging - ehancing brain function, the immune system and acting as a buffering hormone to retain other hormone llevels.


DHEA and Anti Aging

DHEA levels are known to fall dramatically with age, falling 90% from age 20 to age 90. This is the largest decline of an important biochemical yet documented.

The body’s production of DHEA drops from about 30 mg at age 20 to less than 6 mg per day at age 80. According to Dr. William Regelson of the Medical College of Virginia, DHEA is “one of the best biochemical bio-markers for chronologic age.” In some people, DHEA levels decline 95% during their lifetime —In animal studies, DHEA extends rodent lifespans up to 50%. The animals not only lived longer, they looked younger. The graying, course-haired controls could easily be distinguished from the sleek, black-haired, DHEA-treated animals.

Enhancing Brain Function - DHEA may protect brain neurons from senility-associated degenerative conditions, like Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Eugene Roberts found that very low concentrations of DHEA were found to “increase the number of neurons, their ability to establish contacts, and their differentiation” in cell cultures. DHEA may also enhance long-term memory.

Enhance Immune Function - DHEA is known to enhance general immune response, possibly utilising skin tissue in the immune facilitating properties of DHEA.

DHEA: The Buffering Steroid - DHEA is the first example of a buffer action for hormones making us more vulnerable to the effects of stress. As DHEA declines with age, the level of this buffer against the stress-related hormones declines. It is the buffer action that [helps prevent] us from aging.

The decrease of DHEA with age may result in gradual decline of a system for suppressing enzyme systems responsible for creating the building blocks of new cells, like lipids, nucleic acids (RNA and DNA) and sex steroids. The resulting rise in enzymatic activity in advanced age may be responsible for the proliferative events (cancer) and degenerative disease that become more frequent in advanced age. In this respect, DHEA might be best considered to be an anti-hormone, which might “de-excite” steroid-sensitive receptors that would otherwise lead to enhanced metabolic activity.

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Exact dosages for humans have not been clearly determined. Daily dosages vary from 5 to 10 mg to as much as 2000 mg, with 5, 10, 25 and 250 mg being the range for typical tablet and capsule sizes. DHEA is usually split into 2-4 daily doses, especially at the higher dosage levels.

Safe supplements dosages are considered to be around 10 mg for women and 20 mg for men.

Recommendations suggest that dosage be adjusted to bring blood DHEA and DHEA-S measurements towards young-adult levels. These blood tests can be ordered by your physician; remember to get your first test before you start taking DHEA.



  • Those with a family history of breast or prostate cancer should avoid this supplement.
  • DHEA can also cause acne, increased sweating, and increased facial hair in women.
  • Experts recommend taking DHEA only if you’re over 45 and have low levels of DHEA.


Regulatory Constraints

In Europe, DHEA is already available as a drug in 5 and 10 mg doses (although it has been hard to obtain). It is used primarily for the treatment of menopause.

In the United States, DHEA must first be approved as a drug by the FDA before it can be marketed for medical purposes. Unfortunately, this costs up to 100 million dollars and a decade to accomplish. Without a patent to restrict competition, prices cannot be raised high enough to recover the investment in the approval process. DHEA is an unpatentable substance.


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