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Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone that comes from the adrenal gland. It is also made in the brain. DHEA leads to the production of androgens and estrogens (male and female sex hormones). DHEA levels in the body begin to decrease after age 30. Levels decrease more quickly in women. Lower DHEA levels are found in people with hormonal disorders, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, depression, diabetes, inflammation, immune disorders, and osteoporosis. Corticosteroids, birth control taken by mouth, and agents that treat psychiatric disorders may reduce DHEA levels.
Evidence suggests that DHEA may help treat depression, obesity, and osteoporosis. However, more research is needed to support its use for hormonal disorders, sexual function, and lupus (an autoimmune disorder that affects the skin and organs). DHEA has been studied for the treatment of HIV, schizophrenia, and severe injury.
DHEA may cause side effects related to other hormones. Women may experience symptoms such as oily skin, increased unnatural hair growth, a deep voice, irregular periods, smaller breast size, and increased genital size. Men may experience breast tenderness, urinary urgency, aggression, or reduced size of the testes. Other side effects that may occur in either sex include acne, sleep problems, headache, nausea, skin itching, and mood changes. DHEA may also affect levels of other hormones, insulin, and cholesterol. Safety information is lacking on the long-term effects of DHEA. DHEA may increase the risk of prostate, breast, and ovarian cancers. It is not suggested for regular use without a health professional's care.