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Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

By Melissa G. Marko, PhD, Senior Clinical Scientist, Nestle Nutrition ; Ara DerMarderosian, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Biology and Pharmacognosy, University of the Sciences

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a steroid produced in the adrenal glands and converted into sex hormones (estrogens and androgens). DHEA’s effects on the body are similar to those of testosterone. DHEA can be extracted from the Mexican yam.

Medicinal claims

People take DHEA supplements to improve mood, energy, sense of well-being, and the ability to function well under stress. Other uses include deepening nightly sleep, lowering cholesterol levels, and decreasing body fat. It is also claimed to reverse aging, improve brain function in people with Alzheimer disease, and decrease symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus). The medicinal claims of DHEA have not been proved. Many athletes claim that DHEA builds muscle and enhances athletic performance, but the use of DHEA is banned by numerous professional sports organizations.

Possible side effects

Theoretically, DHEA may result in acne, breast enlargement in men, and hairiness in women. It also may stimulate the growth of prostate, ovarian, breast, and other hormone-sensitive cancers. However, these effects have not been substantiated. DHEA should not be used by children. Other known side effects are agitation, insomnia, nervousness, irritability, and psychiatric problems.

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