DHEA: Evidence for anti-aging claims is weak

If you're considering taking DHEA, get the facts. Research doesn't necessarily support the supplement's anti-aging claims.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

DHEA is often touted as an anti-aging therapy, used to ward off chronic illness and improve physical performance. However, most research doesn't back up these claims. Here's what you need to know about DHEA.

What is DHEA?

Your body naturally produces the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in the adrenal gland. In turn, DHEA helps produce other hormones, including testosterone and estrogen.

A synthetic version of DHEA is available in pill form. It's sold as a dietary supplement in the United States. Studies have shown quality control of this supplement to often be low.

What does DHEA have to do with aging?

Natural DHEA levels peak in early adulthood and then slowly fall as you age. 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.

Limited research suggests that DHEA might improve vaginal dryness in postmenopausal women and that the supplement 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. 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.

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

Oct. 05, 2017 See more In-depth