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Dhea

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What other names is Dhea known by?

3b-Hydroxy-Androst-5-Ene-17-One, 3BetaHydroxy-Androst-5-Ene-17-One, Androstenolone, Dehydroepiandrosterone, Déhydroépiandrostérone, DHEA-S, GL701, Prasterone, Prasterone.

What is Dhea?

DHEA is a hormone that is naturally made by the human body. It can also be made in the laboratory from chemicals found in wild yam and soy. However, the human body cannot make DHEA from these chemicals, so simply eating wild yam or soy will not increase DHEA levels. Don't be misled by wild yam and soy products labeled as "natural DHEA." DHEA serves as a precursor to male and female sex hormones (androgens and estrogens). DHEA levels in the body begin to decrease after age 30. This decrease occurs more quickly in women than men.

DHEA is taken by mouth for slowing or reversing aging, improving thinking skills in older people, and slowing the progress of Alzheimer's disease.

Athletes and other people take DHEA by mouth to improve physical performance. But DHEA use is banned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and Olympic Committee.

DHEA is also taken by mouth for sexual dysfunction, and to improve well-being and sexuality in men and women. It is also used for preventing clogged arteries, breast cancer, infertility, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

Some people take DHEA by mouth to treat systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), an immune condition characterized by dry mouth and dry eyes (Sjögren's syndrome), weak bones (osteoporosis), a form of muscular dystrophy called myotonic dystrophy, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis (MS), low levels of steroid hormones (Addison's disease), depression, schizophrenia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), muscle damage from exercise, inflammatory bowel disease, to slow the progression of Parkinson's disease, for withdrawal symptoms, and for a condition called atrichia pubis.

DHEA is taken by mouth for weight loss, decreasing the symptoms of menopause, rheumatoid arthritis, and aging skin.

People with HIV sometimes take DHEA by mouth to ease depression and fatigue.

Women sometimes use DHEA inside the vagina for strengthening the walls of the vagina, for increasing bone mineral density, sexual dysfunction, and for a precancerous condition called cervical dysplasia.

Some people use DHEA intravenously (by IV) to induce labor and for a form of muscular dystrophy called myotonic dystrophy.

Some people inject DHEA as a shot for psoriasis.

DHEA is applied to the skin for aging skin and to strengthen the walls of the vagina.

Like many dietary supplements, DHEA has some quality control problems. Some products labeled to contain DHEA have been found to contain no DHEA at all, while others contained more than the labeled amount.

Is Dhea effective?

There is some scientific evidence that taking DHEA supplements might help some people with depression; improve the appearance of older peoples' skin; reduce vaginal dryness in older women, and improve some men's ability to achieve an erection.

There is also some evidence that DHEA can help decrease the symptoms of lupus.

Although older people sometimes try DHEA for improving thinking, it doesn't seem to work for this use.

There isn't enough information to know if DHEA is effective for the other conditions people use it for including: prevention of heart disease, breast cancer, preventing aging, and diabetes; and treatment of Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

Likely Effective for...

  • Vaginal thinning. The walls of the vagina can become thinner after menopause. This can cause pain during sex. Using vaginal inserts containing DHEA can reduce pain during sex by up to 15% in women after menopause. A specific DHEA product (Intrarosa, Endoceutics Inc.) is a prescription medicine used for this condition.

Possibly Effective for...

  • Aging skin. Some research shows that taking DHEA by mouth increases the thickness and hydration of the top layer of the skin in elderly people. Also, early research shows that applying DHEA to the skin for 4 months improves the appearance of skin in postmenopausal women.
  • Depression. Most research shows that taking 30-500 mg of DHEA by mouth daily improves symptoms of depression. However, using lower doses of 5-20 mg daily over three weeks does not appear to improve depression.

Possibly Ineffective for...

  • Aging. Taking DHEA daily for up to 2 years does not seem to improve body shape, bone strength, muscle strength, insulin sensitivity, or quality of life in people older than 60 who have low DHEA levels.
  • Physical performance. Some research suggests that older adults who take DHEA have increased muscle strength. However, most research shows that DHEA does not improve muscle strength in younger or older adults.
  • Psoriasis. Early research suggests that injecting 300 mg of DHEA as a shot weekly does not improve symptoms of psoriasis in most people.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. Early research suggests that taking 200 mg of DHEA by mouth for 16 weeks does not reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in older people.
  • Withdrawal symptoms. Early research shows that taking 100 mg of DHEA daily together with standard therapy for 12 months does not improve symptoms of drug withdrawal in people addicted to heroin. Also, taking 100 mg of DHEA daily for 12 weeks does not appear to improve symptoms of cocaine withdrawal.

Likely Ineffective for...

  • Mental function. Most research shows that taking DHEA by mouth does not seem to improve mental function or decrease mental decline in healthy older people, patients with HIV, or in healthy young adults. However, some early research suggests that taking 50 mg of DHEA daily for 4 weeks might improve vision and memory in middle-aged and older women.
  • Dry mouth (Sjögren's syndrome). Research suggests that taking 50-200 mg of DHEA daily for 4-12 months does not improve a condition called Sjögren's syndrome that causes symptoms including dry mouth.

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...

  • Addison's disease. Research about the effects of DHEA on Addison's disease is conflicting. There is some early research that taking 50 mg of DHEA by mouth daily for 12 months might improve symptoms of Addison's disease, including weight loss and bone density loss, but it does not appear to improve mental function. Other research shows that taking 50 mg of DHEA daily for 12 weeks does not improve mental function, sexual function, body weight, or bone mineral density in patients with Addison's disease. However, it might improve mood and feelings of tiredness.
  • Adrenal insufficiency. There is conflicting research about the effects of DHEA on feelings of well-being, sexuality, depression, anxiety, and other symptoms in people with this hormone deficiency. Some research suggests that DHEA might improve these symptoms, while other research suggests that DHEA provides no benefit.
  • Improving growth and maturation in girls with hormone deficiency (atrichia pubis). Some early reports suggest that DHEA might help growth and maturation in girls with atrichia pubis.
  • Abnormal cell growth on the cervix (cervical dysplasia). Early research shows that administering 150 mg of DHEA through the vagina for up to 6 months reverses abnormal cell growth on the cervix.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Early research suggests that taking 25-100 mg of DHEA daily for 6 months reduces symptoms of CFS.
  • Lung disease (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)). Early research suggests that taking 200 mg of DHEA daily for 3 months improves lung function and walking distance in people with COPD.
  • Clogged arteries. Population research shows that having low blood levels of DHEA is linked to an increased risk for clogged arteries in men. However, it's not clear if taking DHEA might help lower the risk of clogged arteries.
  • Muscle damage from exercise. Early research shows that taking DHEA twice daily for 5 days improves muscle soreness in men competing in an exercise program.
  • Fibromyalgia. Early research shows that taking 50 mg of DHEA daily for 3 months does not reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia.
  • HIV/AIDS. Research shows that people with HIV tend to have lower levels of DHEA. Also, lower levels of DHEA appear to be linked with HIV disease severity. As a result, there is interest in using DHEA in people with HIV/AIDS. Early studies suggest that taking DHEA might improve HIV patients' mental health and quality of life. However, DHEA does not seem to actually impact the HIV disease process itself.
  • Infertility. Research on the effectiveness of DHEA for infertility is conflicting. Some population research suggests that taking DHEA by mouth daily for at least 2 months reduces the risk for miscarriage. Other research suggests that taking 75 mg of DHEA daily before in vitro fertilization (IVF) increases the chance of getting pregnant in women who are infertile, including those with reduced ovarian function. However, other research suggests that this dose of DHEA does not increase pregnancy rates.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease. Early research shows that taking 200 mg of DHEA by mouth daily for 8 weeks reduces symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease in patients with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.
  • Menopausal symptoms. Evidence about the effects of DHEA on menopausal symptoms is inconsistent. Some research suggests that taking 10-25 mg of DHEA by mouth daily for 12 months reduces symptoms, including hot flashes. Also, inserting a DHEA product (Vaginorm, Recipharm, Karlskoga, Sweden) into the vagina for 12 weeks seems to increase strength in the vaginal wall and improve sexual activity in postmenopausal women. But other evidence suggests that taking DHEA daily does improve psychological symptoms of menopause.
  • Metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions that put people at high risk for heart disease). There is early evidence that DHEA might lower some of the health risks that make overweight men and women more likely to develop metabolic syndrome. The risk factors that DHEA seems to lower are obesity, fat around the waist, and high insulin levels.
  • Inherited condition with many symptoms including muscle wasting (myotonic dystrophy). Taking 100 to 400 mg of DHEA daily for 12 weeks might not affect muscle strength in people with myotonic dystrophy. However, administering DHEA through injections seems to improve daily function, heart function, and muscle strength.
  • Osteoporosis. Research on the effects of DHEA for osteoporosis is conflicting. Taking DHEA by mouth daily seems to improve bone mineral density (BMD) in older women and men with osteoporosis or osteopenia (pre-osteoporosis). DHEA may also increase BMD in young women with the eating disorder called anorexia nervosa. However, analysis of clinical research suggests that DHEA does not improve bone strength in postmenopausal women.
  • Hormone deficiency in men (partial androgen deficiency). Early research suggests that taking 25 mg of DHEA daily for one year improves mood, fatigue, and joint pain in older men with hormone deficiency.
  • Childbirth. Research suggests that giving DHEA or DHEA sulfate (DHEA-S) intravenously (by IV) beginning at 37 or 38 weeks gestation shortens the time until labor onset.
  • Schizophrenia. Evidence on the effectiveness of DHEA for schizophrenia is unclear. Some research shows that taking DHEA by mouth improves schizophrenia symptoms. DHEA may be more effective in women than men. Other research shows it provides no benefit.
  • Sexual dysfunction. Research about the effects of DHEA for sexual dysfunction is conflicting. Taking DHEA by mouth for 24 weeks seems to improve symptoms including erectile dysfunction and overall sexual satisfaction in men with some types of erectile dysfunction (ED). However, it does not seem to be helpful if erectile dysfunction is caused by diabetes or nerve disorders. Also, DHEA does not seem to improve sexual dysfunction in men with low levels of the hormone androgen or those with low sexual desire. Some research shows that taking DHEA by mouth might improve sexual function in women with decreased libido or those who are postmenopausal. Also, some research suggests that inserting DHEA into the vagina (Vaginorm, Recipharm, Karlskoga, Sweden) daily for 12 weeks might improve sexual function in postmenopausal women. But other research shows the taking DHEA does not improve sexual function in postmenopausal or premenopausal women. In male or female patients with certain types of depression, taking DHEA by mouth might improve sexual function.
  • Improving symptoms of lupus (SLE). Evidence on the effectiveness of DHEA for SLE is inconsistent. Some research suggests it provides no benefits. Other research suggests that taking DHEA by mouth along with conventional treatment might help reduce the number of times symptoms flare up and may allow a reduction in the dose of prescription drugs needed. DHEA might also help SLE symptoms such as muscle ache and mouth ulcers.
  • Weight loss. Research about the effects of DHEA on weight loss is conflicting. Early research suggests that DHEA helps overweight older people who are likely to get metabolic syndrome to lose weight. It is not known if DHEA helps younger people to lose weight. Other early research suggests that taking DHEA by mouth or under the tongue does not affect body weight or shape in obese adults.
  • Breast cancer.
  • Diabetes.
  • Heart disease.
  • Parkinson's disease.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate DHEA for these uses.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).


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