Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

Hormone

What is Dehydroepiandrosterone? 

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is an important precursor hormone. Precursors are substances that are converted by the body into hormones. DHEA is the highest circulating steroid present in the human body. It does not have much biological effect on its own but is powerful when converted into hormones such as testosterone and estradiol. DHEA is produced from cholesterol by the outer layer of the adrenal glands. It is also produced in small amounts by the ovary and testes. DHEA is an important source of estrogen for women. DHEA production gradually increases from age 10, peaks during the 20s, and slowly decreases into old age. 

How Does Your Body Use DHEA? 

Your brain controls the production of DHEA. Your body uses a unique mechanism known as negative feedback to control the production of DHEA. Negative feedback tells your brain that once DHEA levels drop in your body, the mechanism is switched “on” and begins to produce more of the hormone. Once DHEA levels begin to rise, negative feedback is switched “off”. 

DHEA and Anti-Aging

There are many rumors and claims that taking DHEA can also help slow down the process of aging. Claims include that DHEA can also increase energy and muscle strength, boosts immunity, and decrease body weight. However, these claims have yet to be medically proven. 

Does DHEA have a role in treating certain health problems?

Some researchers have suggested that DHEA might be used to treat:

DHEA has not yet been approved by the FDA as a treatment for these health problems. More research is needed to study the potential benefits and the long-term risks of DHEA.

What Problems Can Occur with DHEA? 

Research has shown that women with hirsutism and polycystic ovary syndrome may have higher levels of DHEA. Children diagnosed with congenital adrenal hyperplasia also have high levels of DHEA, as well as some cancer patients. 

Lower levels of DHEA have been linked to a decreased life span in men. In women, low DHEA levels are often associated with a lower libido and osteoporosis.

Some people use DHEA hoping it will increase endurance and muscle strength, increase energy, decrease fat, and boost immunity, but these effects have not been proven. Some athletes use DHEA but it is banned by the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the Olympics, and other athletic organizations.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • Can lifestyle changes encourage healthy production of DHEA?
  • Are my DHEA levels a possible cause for my current hormonal conditions?
  • Are my DHEA levels too high or too low? Are hormone therapy treatments available?

 

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The Hormone Health Network is the public education affiliate of the Endocrine Society dedicated to helping both patients and doctors find information on the prevention, treatment and cure of hormone-related conditions.

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