Overview

Your body naturally produces the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in the adrenal gland. In turn, DHEA helps produce other hormones, including testosterone and estrogen. Natural DHEA levels peak in early adulthood and then slowly fall as you age.

A synthetic version of DHEA is available for oral use, as a tablet, and a topical cream.

Often touted as an anti-aging therapy, DHEA is also claimed to ward off chronic illness and improve physical performance.

Evidence

Research on DHEA for specific conditions includes:

  • Aging. In theory, taking DHEA supplements to maintain DHEA levels could slow the aging process, possibly improving well-being, cognitive function and body composition. But research hasn't proved this to be true.
  • Depression. DHEA might be more effective at treating depression than placebo.
  • Osteoporosis. Research suggests DHEA might improve bone mineral density in elderly people with low DHEA. But improvements in bone density were small compared with those seen after treatment with approved osteoporosis medications.
  • Vaginal atrophy. Limited research suggests that DHEA might improve vaginal dryness in postmenopausal women.

Research on the effects of DHEA on well-being and body composition has had mixed results, and most studies indicate no effect of DHEA on cognitive function or on muscle size or strength. The National Collegiate Athletic Association has banned DHEA use among athletes.

DHEA might eventually prove to have benefits in treating people diagnosed with certain conditions, such as adrenal insufficiency and lupus. However, further studies are needed.

Studies have shown quality control of this supplement to often be low.

Our take

Red light: Avoid

Avoid

While some research suggests that DHEA might be slightly helpful in treating osteoporosis, depression and vaginal atrophy, there's little evidence to support anti-aging claims. Also, DHEA use can cause serious side effects. Avoid using this supplement.

Oct. 19, 2017