DHEA supplements get a lot of attention in the health and fitness space.

Their fans say they’re the closest thing we have to a “fountain of youth.” At the same time, naysayers argue there’s no solid evidence DHEA offers any benefits. 

In this article, you’ll discover who’s right.

You’ll also learn what DHEA is, what it does in the body, its benefits, side effects, and clinically effective dose, when to take DHEA (morning or night), what the best DHEA supplement is, and more. 

What Is DHEA?

DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, is a steroid hormone primarily produced by the adrenal glands and in smaller amounts by your digestive and reproductive organs and brain.

As with other steroid hormones like testosterone and estrogen, DHEA levels peak in young adulthood and decline with age by around 10% each decade until you reach 70.

Scientists have also created synthetic versions of DHEA from chemicals in wild yam and soy, which supplement manufacturers use to make dietary supplements. When taken regularly, these supplements increase DHEA levels in your body.

Your body can’t make DHEA from these chemicals in their natural state, though, so eating yams and soy won’t raise your body’s level of DHEA.

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What Is DHEA’s Role in the Body?

Scientists discovered DHEA in 1934, yet still understand little about its role in the body. This is primarily because it’s an endogenous metabolite (a substance naturally produced in your body) that cannot be patented and, thus, profited from, which discourages pharmaceutical companies from researching it. 

It’s also largely unique to humans, so studying it in other animals (an important step when researching new substances) is challenging. 

What scientists do know, however, is that the body converts DHEA into testosterone and estrogen. And that’s why many rave about its purported health benefits and why companies have begun marketing DHEA to bodybuilders and athletes.

Benefits of DHEA Supplements

DHEA is often touted as a remedy for various health conditions, including:

It’s also associated with enhanced well-being, sexual function, and anti-aging.

Yet, for every study that supports these benefits, another contradicts them, leading to confusion about the substance’s effectiveness.

One thing research has established is that DHEA effectively increases the production of other steroid hormones. That’s not to say it’s akin to steroids used by pro-bodybuilders, Hollywood actors, and fitness influencers, of course. 

But it does mean that older adults with declining DHEA levels may benefit from DHEA supplements because they can help to improve bone density in women and enhance muscle mass, strength, and cognitive function in both sexes.

For example, a meta-analysis by Maggiore-Bellaria Hospital showed that DHEA supplements positively impact older adults’ body composition

Another study involving “frail” women in their 70s and early 80s showed that those who took DHEA and exercised increased their muscle mass, strength, balance, and mobility more than those who followed the same exercise regimen and didn’t take DHEA.

These findings jive with results from other high-quality, randomized, placebo-controlled studies, which also show DHEA supplements can help improve insulin sensitivity and hormone levels

Therefore, research suggests taking DHEA supplements can counter some of the effects of aging, particularly in older individuals. However, it’s not a catch-all solution.

The best approach to combat aging involves regular exercise (especially strength training), eating a nutritious diet, and getting enough sleep. That said, if you’re already doing all these things, taking DHEA might put a little extra pep in your step.

What Are DHEA Side Effects?

Most research has found that moderate doses of DHEA are safe and produce few to no adverse effects

Large doses of DHEA supplements can increase the risk of 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 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 (around 70 or older) and supplementing with DHEA, it’s sensible to have DHEA and its androgenic and estrogenic metabolite levels checked at least annually to minimize the risks of breast or prostate cancer.

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What Is DHEA’s Clinically Effective Dose?

The amount of DHEA used in clinical studies showing benefits ranges between 50 mg and 200 mg daily.

When to Take DHEA: Morning or Night?

DHEA levels are naturally high in the morning and drop by the evening. As such, it’s best to take one-a-day DHEA supplements in the morning, as this mimics natural DHEA production.

If you need to take more than one dose daily, taking them toward the beginning of the day—in the morning and early afternoon—works well.

The Best DHEA Supplement

For a wellness supplement containing 100 mg of DHEA, as well as clinically effective doses of three other ingredients designed to balance hormones, increase energy levels, and reduce stress and fatigue, try Vitality.

(If you aren’t sure if Vitality is right for you or if another supplement might better fit your budget, circumstances, and goals, then take the Legion Supplement Finder Quiz! In less than a minute, it’ll tell you exactly what supplements are right for you. Click here to check it out.)

DHEA Supplement FAQs

FAQ #1: Is DHEA safe for women?

Yes. In fact, some of DHEA’s potential benefits 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 

FAQ #2: Is DHEA a steroid? 

DHEA isn’t a steroid—it’s a steroid hormone produced naturally by the body. When people talk about steroids in sports or bodybuilding, they usually mean man-made drugs called anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS). These drugs mimic our body’s hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen, but people take them in much higher doses than our bodies naturally produce.

The dose of DHEA in Vitality is similar to what our bodies make on their own and thus bears little resemblance to AAS.

FAQ #3: Is DHEA a banned substance?

For professional athletes, yes; for everyone else, no. DHEA is classified as an “anabolic agent.” Thus, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) prohibit its use by professional athletes in the world’s largest sporting organizations.

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