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Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

By

Laura Shane-McWhorter

, PharmD, University of Utah College of Pharmacy

Last full review/revision Jan 2022| Content last modified Jan 2022
CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSIONAL VERSION

What is DHEA?

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 synthesized from some ingredients in the Mexican yam, but eating this plant is not recommended, because the human body cannot convert the ingredients to DHEA.

A synthetic version of DHEA is available as a tablet, capsule, powder, topical cream, and gel.

What claims are made about DHEA?

People take DHEA supplements to improve mood, energy, sense of well-being, and the ability to function well under stress. Other uses include the following:

  • Increasing sex drive

  • Deepening nightly sleep

  • Lowering cholesterol levels

  • Increasing muscle strength and bone mineral density

  • Decreasing body fat

  • Relieving depression

  • Improving the appearance of aging skin

  • Treating infertility in women undergoing assisted reproduction

In older men, body fat may be reduced. In older women with decreased adrenal gland function, DHEA may improve quality of life and depression, although there are probably more effective complementary and alternative medicine treatments.

Does DHEA work?

Many of the medicinal claims of DHEA have not been proved. However, some evidence indicates that it may relieve depression (although not as a first-line treatment), improve appearance of aging skin, and improve fertility in women undergoing assisted reproduction. Many athletes claim that DHEA builds muscle and enhances athletic performance, but the use of DHEA is banned by numerous professional sports organizations.

What are the possible side effects of DHEA?

Theoretically, DHEA may result in acne, headache, mood changes, breast enlargement in men, and hairiness in women. It may decrease HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol), and worsen polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). It also may stimulate the growth of prostate, liver, and breast cancers. However, these effects have not been substantiated.

What drug interactions occur with DHEA?

DHEA may increase bleeding in people taking anticoagulants. DHEA has triggered mania in people taking antidepressants. DHEA may antagonize the anti-estrogenic effects of tamoxifen, aromatase inhibitors (such as anastrozole), and fulvestrant. DHEA may increase the concentrations of triazolam (a benzodiazepine used for sleep), and decrease the effectiveness of bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccination for tuberculosis.

Recommendations

DHEA supplements are usually not recommended because the claimed benefits have not been proven and harmful side effects, as well as several drug interactions, are possible. Use by athletes is typically banned. Children should not use DHEA.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Generic Name Select Brand Names
SOLTAMOX
ARIMIDEX
FASLODEX
HALCION
NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSIONAL VERSION
CLICK HERE FOR THE PROFESSIONAL VERSION
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