Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a steroid produced by the adrenal gland and is a precursor of estrogens and androgens. Effects on the body are similar to those of testosterone. DHEA can also be synthesized from precursors in the Mexican yam; this form is the most commonly available.
DHEA supplements are said to improve mood, energy, sense of well-being, and the ability to function well under stress. They are also said to improve athletic performance, stimulate the immune system, deepen nightly sleep, lower cholesterol levels, decrease body fat, build muscles, reverse aging, improve brain function in patients with Alzheimer's disease, and increase libido. The medicinal claims of DHEA have not been proved.
Adverse effects are unknown. There are theoretical risks of gynecomastia in men, hirsutism in women, and stimulation of prostate and breast cancer. There is a case report of mania and one of seizure.
Last full review/revision May 2009 by Ara DerMarderosian, PhD
Content last modified August 2013