Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)


Peer Reviewed

Bloodcells illustration

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is the most abundant hormone in the bloodstream. It is produced by the adrenal glands. This hormone is produced in great quantities up until age 25, at which time production slows. By age 80 a person's DHEA levels may only be 10% or 20% of what they were at age 25.

DHEA has many functions, including generation of estrogen and testosterone, muscle mass, reduction of body fat, and stimulation of bone formation. It may provide protection against cancer. Other disease processes it may help protect against include high blood pressure, diabetes, lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, osteoporosis, obesity, nerve degenerative, and certain age-related disorders.

Sources of DHEA
The food source for DHEA is wild yams (not the sweet potato type) found in Mexico. Most DHEA supplements, primarily disogenin, are extracts of this wild yam. It is best to take only the pharmaceutical grade of DHEA. It is available in capsules, chewing gum, tablets, and drops that are put under the tongue.

Guidelines and Cautions
DHEA should be taken with caution.

  • Some doctors believe taking high doses of DHEA supplements suppresses the body’s ability to synthesize the hormone.
  • Animal studies have shown high doses can lead to liver damage. To prevent oxidative damage to the liver, some sources recommend taking vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium.
  • DHEA increases the production of hormones and therefore may stimulate breast, prostate, ovarian, and testicular cancers. Since it increases the production of testosterone, women may experience facial hair growth and/or other signs of masculinization. Men may experience high blood pressure, male pattern baldness, sexual aggressiveness and similar tendencies taking DHEA.

People under the age of 40 should only take this if their DHEA levels are known to be low. The normal level for women is 130 mg/dL and men 180 mg/dL.

An alternative to DHEA is 7-Keto DHEA. It is not converted into estrogen or testosterone, and may be a safer alternative to DHEA.

Disclaimer: Many people report feeling improvement in their condition and/or general well-being taking dietary, vitamin, mineral, and/or herbal supplements. The Editorial Board of, however, cannot endorse such products since most lack peer-reviewed scientific validation of their claims. In most cases an appropriate diet and a "multiple vitamin" will provide the necessary dietary supplements for most individuals. Prior to taking additional dietary, vitamin, mineral, and/or herbal supplements it is recommended that patients consult with their personal physician to discuss their specific supplement requirements.

Updated on: 03/16/16
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Vincent Traynelis, MD
Although many patients describe improvement in their condition after taking one of the supplements previously described, the Editorial Board is unable to endorse these supplements, as there is insufficient peer reviewed research available. Hopefully the role of these compounds will be better understood once more scientific research is compiled.
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