- DHEA is a steroid hormone that’s mainly produced by your body’s adrenal glands, though small amounts are also secreted by the gastrointestinal tract, gonads, and brain.
- Research shows DHEA increases testosterone production in older men and estrogen production in older women, which can lessen cognitive impairment, improve strength, and improve bone density in women.
- Keep reading to learn exactly what DHEA is, what its benefits and side effects are, what the clinically effective dose is, and more!
You’ve probably heard that optimizing your hormones is the high road to looking and feeling better.
And this is sort of true.
Lifting weights, eating the right amount of calories, and getting enough sleep all exert many of their salubrious effects by increasing or decreasing various hormones in the body.
Another way to optimize your hormones, though—and the one that people usually mean when they use this term—is to take supplements, medications, or synthetic hormones.
Most of these substances are only available with a prescription from a doctor, but there are a few that you can buy over the counter—like DHEA supplements.
If you listen to Internet natter, you’ve probably heard that DHEA is the closest thing we have to a “fountain of youth.” Others say there’s little evidence DHEA has any benefits at all, and any claim to the contrary is based on shaky science.
Keep reading to find out.
DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone (dee-hydro-epi-and-rost-erone), is a steroid hormone that’s mainly produced by your body’s adrenal glands, though small amounts are also secreted by your digestive organs, reproductive organs, and brain.
As with other steroid hormones like testosterone and estrogen, DHEA’s natural production peaks in young adulthood and declines by around 10% each decade until around the age of 70.
Synthetic versions of DHEA are also created from chemicals found in wild yam and soy called diosgenin and genistein, and sold as dietary supplements. When taken regularly, these supplements raise your body’s level of DHEA.
Your body can’t make DHEA from these chemicals in their natural state, though, so eating yams and soy (or yam/soy extracts) won’t raise your body’s level of DHEA.
Despite being discovered in 1934, scientists still don’t fully understand DHEA’s role within the body. This is largely because:
- DHEA is an endogenous metabolite that cannot be patented, which means pharmaceutical companies aren’t interested in supporting research into its uses.
- DHEA is largely unique to humans, which makes it difficult to study its effects in other animals (an important step when researching new substances).
One thing scientists are sure of, however, is that DHEA is a precursor to testosterone and estrogen. In other words, the body uses DHEA as raw material for making testosterone and estrogen.
And it’s for this reason that people on the Internet rave about its purported health benefits and why companies have begun marketing DHEA to bodybuilders and athletes.
Summary: DHEA is a steroid hormone that’s mainly produced by your body’s adrenal glands and is converted into testosterone and estrogen.
DHEA is sometimes touted as a treatment for health conditions such as . . .
- Obesity, coronary heart disease, and type 2 diabetes
- Vaginal atrophy and erectile dysfunction
- Alzheimer’s disease
. . . and when used as a supplement, associated with . . .
. . . which all sounds hunky-dory.
The problem is, for every study that supports one of these claims, there’s another that shoots it full of holes, which can make it difficult to know what’s true and what’s not. In other words, the research surrounding DHEA creates the kind of kerfuffle that makes people say “you can find a study to prove anything.”
While the research on DHEA is perplexing and contradictory, we can winnow a few grains of truth from the chaff.
For example, studies consistently show that DHEA does have one valid benefit—it boosts the production of other steroid hormones in your body.
At this point you’re probably thinking, “It’s basically a steroid right?”
While DHEA is a steroid hormone, it’s a far cry from the steroids used by pro-bodybuilders, Hollywood actors, and fitness influencers. What’s more, if you’re young enough to have naturally high levels of DHEA, supplementing with more won’t produce any meaningful benefits.
It’s a different story for older folks with lower DHEA levels, though.
Research shows that supplementing with DHEA increases testosterone production in older men and estrogen production in older women, which can improve bone density (mostly in women), lessen cognitive impairment, and improve strength.
For example, in one meta-analysis conducted by scientists at Maggiore-Bellaria Hospital, researchers parsed through 25 studies involving 1,353 participants between 23 and 84 years old, and concluded that supplementing with DHEA has a significant positive effect on body composition for those who are slightly longer in the tooth.
That is, while DHEA doesn’t do much to help younger folks reach their health and fitness goals, it can help people aged 60+ to gain muscle and lose fat.
DHEA may be particularly helpful for older women thanks to its positive effects on bone density.
A good example of this comes from a study conducted by scientists at the University of Connecticut Health Center. In this study, researchers took 99 women in their 70s and early 80s who had low levels of DHEA, low bone mass, and who were classified as “frail,” and placed them into one of four groups:
- A group that took 50 mg of DHEA per day and did two 90-minute yoga sessions per week.
- A group that took 50 mg of DHEA per day and did two 90-minute chair aerobics sessions per week.
- A group that took a placebo and did two 90-minute yoga sessions per week.
- A group that took a placebo and did two 90-minute chair aerobics sessions per week.
At the beginning of the 6-month study, the researchers measured the participant’s lean body mass, fat mass, and bone mineral content using a DXA scanner. They also measured their grip strength, leg press strength, and mobility using a test called the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB).
At the end of the study, the women supplementing with DHEA (groups one and two) increased muscle mass and lower leg strength to a small but significant degree, and performed better on measures of balance and mobility than the other groups.
So, should everyone and their granny (har har) rush out and buy a DHEA supplement?
While there’s promising evidence that DHEA can help check some of the downsides of aging, it’s only effective in people who are already getting up there in years. Even then, the effects of supplementing with it are pretty modest.
That said, if you’re already doing all of these things, taking DHEA might put a little extra pep in your step.
Summary: Research shows supplementing with DHEA increases testosterone production in older men and estrogen production in older women, which can improve bone density in women, lessen cognitive impairment, and improve strength to a small degree.
On the whole, most research has found that moderate doses of DHEA are safe and produce few to no side effects.
That said, large doses of DHEA supplements can cause side effects such as oily skin, acne, and increased body hair growth, particularly on the face, in the armpits, and in the pubic region in some people. These side effects tend to be rare and temporary, though.
DHEA supplementation is not recommended if you are also being treated for a form of cancer that’s made worse by high levels of sex hormones such as prostate, ovarian, breast, or endometrial cancers.
If you’re elderly (roughly over the age of 70) and supplementing with DHEA, it’s advised that you have your DHEA and its androgenic and estrogenic metabolite levels checked at least annually to minimize the risks of breast or prostate cancer.
Summary: You shouldn’t take DHEA if you’re being treated for some forms of cancer, though for most other people there are few to no side effects unless you take large doses.
Find the Best Diet for You in Just 60 Seconds
How many calories should you eat? What about "macros?" What foods should you eat? Take our 60-second quiz to get science-based answers to these questions and more.Take the Quiz
For a supplement to fully have science on its side, it must be proven effective in well-designed, well-executed, and peer-reviewed scientific research. The dosages that are used in these studies are referred to as the clinically effective dosages.
You see, it’s not enough to just know that DHEA can have positive effects on your health as you age. You need to know how much is needed to get its benefits and then ensure you use that dose.
Summary: The clinically effective dosage for DHEA is 50 to 200 mg per day.
While the evidence in favor of DHEA is encouraging, more research is needed before we can definitively say it should be a cornerstone of your supplementation regimen. What’s more, one DHEA supplement is much like another, and as long as it contains a clinically effective dose of DHEA, you’ll experience its full benefits.
(Just make sure you get DHEA and not 7-keto DHEA, which is a different substance that doesn’t offer any of the benefits of DHEA).
For that reason, it’s probably not worth taking on its own, the same way you might take whey protein or creatine monohydrate to help build muscle.
In other words, it’s best to take DHEA with other supplements that have been proven to restore some of the vigor of your younger years, like Vitality.
Vitality is a 100% natural wellness supplement that balances hormones, increases energy levels, and reduces stress and fatigue.
Vitality contains 100 milligrams of DHEA per serving along with clinically effective doses of three other ingredients designed to make you feel fitter, livelier, and calmer, including . . .
- Rhodiola rosea, which is a substance that causes an imperceptible level of stress in the body and trains it to better handle future stresses.
- Bilberry extract, which enhances your mood and cardiovascular health, preserves cognition (including memory, learning, and fluency), and may have blood pressure-lowering and anti-cancer effects.
- Vitamin B12, which supports the nervous system and blood cells and is involved in the production of DNA and the metabolism of food.
You could take all of these ingredients separately, but if you want all of them in a single supplement containing clinically-effective doses of each, then you can just take Vitality.
So, if you want to feel stronger, sharper, and sunnier by enhancing your body’s ability to restore and sustain your physical and mental performance and well-being. . . try Vitality today.
Summary: DHEA probably isn’t worth taking on its own and one DHEA supplement is much like any other, so it’s impossible to say which one is the “best.” Thus, it’s best to take DHEA with other supplements that support your health and well-being.
In fact, there are some potential benefits of DHEA that are female-specific, including:
- Improved bone mineral density
- Increased success with in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment
- Improved sexual function and increased libido
- Improved psychological well-being
- Decreased pain during sexual activity
DHEA is a steroid hormone produced naturally by the body, which is very different from drugs typically referred to as steroids.
When we refer to steroids in a bodybuilding or sports context, these are often unnatural substances known as anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) that can behave in similar ways to natural hormones like testosterone and estrogen. However, they’re taken at doses with effects that far exceed what natural hormones would do.
The dose of DHEA in Vitality is also well within the amount naturally produced by the body, and thus bears little resemblance to AAS.
For professional athletes, yes. For everyone else, no.
DHEA is classified as an “anabolic agent,” and thus its use by professional athletes in the world’s largest sporting organizations is prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
Some Nutritionists Charge Hundreds of Dollars for This Diet "Hack" . . .
. . . and it's yours for free. Take our 60-second quiz and learn exactly how many calories you should eat, what your "macros" should be, what foods are best for you, and more.Take the Quiz
While DHEA is mostly a dud for younger folks, research shows it offers several benefits for those who’ve had a few more birthdays than the rest of us.
Specifically, it can increase testosterone production in older men and estrogen production in older women, which can increase bone density, fight cognitive decline, and (slightly) improve strength.
Instead of relying on DHEA to boost your well-being significantly, it’s best to take it with other scientifically backed ingredients, like those found in Vitality.
If you’re interested in seeing what DHEA can do for your health and wellbeing, try Vitality today.
What’s your take on DHEA supplements? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!
+ Scientific References
- Labrie, F., Archer, D. F., Koltun, W., Vachon, A., Young, D., Frenette, L., Portman, D., Montesino, M., Côte, I., Parent, J., Lavoie, L., Beauregard, A., Martel, C., Vaillancourt, M., Balser, J., & Moyneur, E. (2016). Efficacy of intravaginal dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) on moderate to severe dyspareunia and vaginal dryness, symptoms of vulvovaginal atrophy, and of the genitourinary syndrome of menopause. Menopause, 23(3), 243–256. https://doi.org/10.1097/GME.0000000000000571
- Brooke, A. M., Kalingag, L. A., Miraki-Moud, F., Camacho-Hübner, C., Maher, K. T., Walker, D. M., Hinson, J. P., & Monson, J. P. (2006). Dehydroepiandrosterone improves psychological well-being in male and female hypopituitary patients on maintenance growth hormone replacement. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 91(10), 3773–3779. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2006-0316
- Genazzani, A. R., Stomati, M., Valentino, V., Pluchino, N., Potì, E., Casarosa, E., Merlini, S., Giannini, A., & Luisi, M. (2011). Effect of 1-year, low-dose DHEA therapy on climacteric symptoms and female sexuality. Climacteric, 14(6), 661–668. https://doi.org/10.3109/13697137.2011.579649
- Barad, D., & Gleicher, N. (2006). Effect of dehydroepiandrosterone on oocyte and embryo yields, embryo grade and cell number in IVF. Human Reproduction, 21(11), 2845–2849. https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/del254
- Van Vollenhoven, R. F., Engleman, E. G., & Mcguire, J. L. (1994). An open study of dehydroepiandrosterone in systemic lupus erythematosus. Arthritis & Rheumatism, 37(9), 1305–1310. https://doi.org/10.1002/art.1780370906
- Rutkowski, K., Sowa, P., Rutkowska-Talipska, J., Kuryliszyn-Moskal, A., & Rutkowski, R. (2014). Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA): Hypes and hopes. In Drugs (Vol. 74, Issue 11, pp. 1195–1207). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40265-014-0259-8
- Villareal, D. T., & Holloszy, J. O. (2004). Effect of DHEA on abdominal fat and insulin action in elderly women and men: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 292(18), 2243–2248. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.292.18.2243
- Morales, A. J., Haubricht, R. H., Hwang, J. Y., Asakura, H., & Yen, S. S. C. (1998). The effect of six months treatment with a 100 mg daily dose of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) on circulating sex steroids, body composition and muscle strength in age-advanced men and women. Clinical Endocrinology, 49(4), 421–432. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2265.1998.00507.x
- Corona, G., Rastrelli, G., Giagulli, V. A., Sila, A., Sforza, A., Forti, G., Mannucci, E., & Maggi, M. (2013). Dehydroepiandrosterone Supplementation in Elderly Men: A Meta-Analysis Study of Placebo-Controlled Trials. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 98(9), 3615–3626. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2013-1358
- Kenny, A. M., Boxer, R. S., Kleppinger, A., Brindisi, J., Feinn, R., & Burleson, J. A. (2010). Dehydroepiandrosterone combined with exercise improves muscle strength and physical function in frail older women. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 58(9), 1707–1714. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1532-5415.2010.03019.x
- Yamada, S., Akishita, M., Fukai, S., Ogawa, S., Yamaguchi, K., Matsuyama, J., Kozaki, K., Toba, K., & Ouchi, Y. (2010). Effects of dehydroepiandrosterone supplementation on cognitive function and activities of daily living in older women with mild to moderate cognitive impairment. Geriatrics and Gerontology International, 10(4), 280–287. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1447-0594.2010.00625.x
- Von Mühlen, D., Laughlin, G. A., Kritz-Silverstein, D., Bergstrom, J., & Bettencourt, R. (2008). Effect of dehydroepiandrosterone supplementation on bone mineral density, bone markers, and body composition in older adults: The DAWN trial. Osteoporosis International, 19(5), 699–707. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00198-007-0520-z
- Liu, T. C., Lin, C. H., Huang, C. Y., Ivy, J. L., & Kuo, C. H. (2013). Effect of acute DHEA administration on free testosterone in middle-aged and young men following high-intensity interval training. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 113(7), 1783–1792. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-013-2607-x
- Omura, Y. (2005). Beneficial effects & side effects of DHEA: True anti-aging & age-promoting effects, as well as anti-cancer & cancer-promoting effects of DHEA evaluated from the effects on the normal & cancer cell telomeres & other parameters. Acupuncture and Electro-Therapeutics Research, 30(3–4), 219–261. https://doi.org/10.3727/036012905815901226
- Panjari, M., & Davis, S. R. (2007). DHEA therapy for women: effect on sexual function and wellbeing. Human Reproduction Update, 13(3), 239–248. https://doi.org/10.1093/humupd/dml055
- Brooke, A. M., Kalingag, L. A., Miraki-Moud, F., Camacho-Hübner, C., Maher, K. T., Walker, D. M., Hinson, J. P., & Monson, J. P. (2006). Dehydroepiandrosterone Improves Psychological Well-Being in Male and Female Hypopituitary Patients on Maintenance Growth Hormone Replacement. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 91(10), 3773–3779. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2006-0316
- Abrams, D. I., Shade, S. B., Couey, P., Mccune, J. M., Lo, J., Bacchetti, P., Chang, B., Epling, L., Liegler, T., & Grant, R. M. (2007). Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) effects on HIV replication and host immunity: A randomized placebo-controlled study. AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses, 23(1), 77–85. https://doi.org/10.1089/aid.2006.0170
- Pan, X., Wu, X., Kaminga, A. C., Wen, S. W., & Liu, A. (2019). Dehydroepiandrosterone and Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate in Alzheimer’s Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 11, 61. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2019.00061
- Peixoto, C., Grande, A. J., Mallmann, M. B., Nardi, A. E., Cardoso, A., & Veras, A. B. (2018). Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) for Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. CNS & Neurological Disorders - Drug Targets, 17(9), 706–711. https://doi.org/10.2174/1871527317666180817153914
- Reiter, W. J., Pycha, A., Schatzl, G., Pokorny, A., Gruber, D. M., Huber, J. C., & Marberger, M. (1999). Dehydroepiandrosterone in the treatment of erectile dysfunction: A prospective, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Urology, 53(3), 590–594. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0090-4295(98)00571-8
- Panjari, M., & Davis, S. R. (2011). Vaginal DHEA to treat menopause related atrophy: A review of the evidence. In Maturitas (Vol. 70, Issue 1, pp. 22–25). Elsevier Ireland Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2011.06.005
- Stein, D., Maayan, R., Loewenthal, R., & Weizman, A. (2008). Neurosteroid derangement in women diagnosed with eating disorders. In Neuroactive Steroids in Brain Function, Behavior and Neuropsychiatric Disorders: Novel Strategies for Research and Treatment (pp. 493–507). Springer Netherlands. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-6854-6_24
- Takayanagi, R., Goto, K., Suzuki, S., Tanaka, S., Shimoda, S., & Nawata, H. (2002). Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) as a possible source for estrogen formation in bone cells: Correlation between bone mineral density and serum DHEA-sulfate concentration in postmenopausal women, and the presence of aromatase to be enhanced by 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 in human osteoblasts. Mechanisms of Ageing and Development, 123(8), 1107–1114. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0047-6374(01)00394-3
- Aoki, K., & Terauchi, Y. (2018). Effect of Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) on Diabetes Mellitus and Obesity. In Vitamins and Hormones (Vol. 108, pp. 355–365). Academic Press Inc. https://doi.org/10.1016/bs.vh.2018.01.008
- Savineau, J. P., Marthan, R., & Dumas De La Roque, E. (2013). Role of DHEA in cardiovascular diseases. In Biochemical Pharmacology (Vol. 85, Issue 6, pp. 718–726). Elsevier Inc. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bcp.2012.12.004
- Jankowski, C. M., Gozansky, W. S., Van Pelt, R. E., Wolfe, P., Schwartz, R. S., & Kohrt, W. M. (2011). Oral dehydroepiandrosterone replacement in older adults: Effects on central adiposity, glucose metabolism and blood lipids. Clinical Endocrinology, 75(4), 456–463. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2265.2011.04073.x
- Corrigan, B. (2002). DHEA and sport. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 12(4), 236–241. https://doi.org/10.1097/00042752-200207000-00006
- Basch, E., Ulbricht, C., Sollars, D., Hammerness, P., & Hashmi, S. (2003). Wild Yam (Dioscoreaceae). Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy, 3(4), 77–91. https://doi.org/10.1300/J157v03n04_08
- Libè, R., Barbetta, L., Dall’Asta, C., Salvaggio, F., Gala, C., Beck-Peccoz, P., & Ambrosi, B. (2004). Effects of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) supplementation on hormonal, metabolic and behavioral status in patients with hypoadrenalism. Journal of Endocrinological Investigation, 27(8), 736–741. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03347515
- Sahu, P., Gidwani, B., & Dhongade, H. J. (2020). Pharmacological activities of dehydroepiandrosterone: A review. In Steroids (Vol. 153). Elsevier Inc. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.steroids.2019.108507
- Orentreich, N., Brind, J. L., Rizer, R. L., & Vogelman, J. H. (1984). Age changes and sex differences in serum dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate concentrations throughout adulthood. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 59(3), 551–555. https://doi.org/10.1210/jcem-59-3-551
- Prough, R. A., Clark, B. J., & Klinge, C. M. (2016). Novel mechanisms for DHEA action. In Journal of Molecular Endocrinology (Vol. 56, Issue 3, pp. R139–R155). BioScientifica Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1530/JME-16-0013