DHEA: Health Benefits & Side Effects

Updated in December 2023

DHEA (dehydroepianodrosterone) is a steroid hormone that is naturally produced by the adrenal glands. It is needed for the production of sex hormones, like testosterone and estrogen. DHEA production reaches its maximum rate between the ages of 20 and 30, with its concentration decreasing after 30.

DHEA can also be obtained in a synthetic form from from soybeans or yams. It can also be take in the form of a supplement, and can be indicated to achieve several health goals, such as delaying aging, promoting weight loss and preventing muscle mass loss.

Although it is sold in several countries, including the United States, there are few studies that prove its benefits. There are many side effects associated with DHEA, such as the development of abdominal fat, an increased risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.

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Health benefits

DHEA supplementation is indicated as a natural hormonal replacement therapy that can be beneficial for: 

  • Increasing or maintaining muscle mass
  • Increasing libido
  • Preventing Impotence
  • Combating depression
  • Improving vaginal atrophy during menopause
  • Strengthening the immune system
  • Improving the appearance of aging skin
  • Managing cholesterol levels
  • Increasing energy 
  • Improving memory and mood 

In addition, DHEA can work to improve bone density in adults with osteoporosis associated with low DHEA levels in the body. It can also promote fertility in women undergoing in-vitro fertilization.

DHEA is one of the most abundant hormones in the human body, as it is important for maintaining hormonal balance. Supplementation of this hormone may be indicated when DHEA levels becomes reduced, which normally happens with natural aging.

It is important to highlight that DHEA supplementation should only be done under the direction of an endocrinologist, who will closely evaluate hormone levels during this treatment.

Symptoms of low DHEA

Low DHEA levels can lead to symptoms such as weight gain, depression, anxiety, low libido, erectile dysfunction, memory or cognitive problems, or mood swings.

Additionally, bones can become more fragile, increasing the risk of fractures. In women, vaginal dryness may still persist, as this is a common symptom of menopause.

Possible side effects

The unmonitored use of DHEA can increase the levels of sex hormones, which, in women, can lead to voice changes an irregular menstrual cycle, hair loss, hair growth on the face, and worsening of PCOS.

In men, increased sex hormones can cause breast enlargement and breast sensitivity.

Furthermore, excessive use of DHEA can result in insomnia, acne, abdominal pain, increased cholesterol and changes in heart rate, as well as an increased risk for bleeding in people using anticoagulants.

DHEA supplementation may also increase the risk of developing hormone-sensitive cancers, such as prostate, breast or ovarian cancers.

Contraindications for use

DHEA supplements are not recommended for pregnant women, breastfeeding women or children, unless recommended by a general practitioner or endocrinologist.

DHEA supplementation should not be taken by people with a personal or family history of hormone-dependent cancers, such as breast, ovarian or prostate cancers.

DHEA supplementation can also reduce the effect of some medications, like tamoxifen, anastrozole, letrozole, exemestane, triazolam or fulvestrant, as well as the tuberculosis vaccine. 

DHEA is a hormone, which is why it should only be taken as medically directed.