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Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

By 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 and improve brain function in people with Alzheimer’s disease. The medicinal claims of DHEA have not been proved. Many athletes claim that DHEA builds muscle and enhances athletic performance.

Possible Side Effects

Theoretically, DHEA may result in breast enlargement in men and hairiness in women and 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 psychosis.

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