DHEA or Dehydroepiandrosterone is..
a steroid hormone produced mostly by the adrenal glands that is a precursor to male and female sex hormones (androgens and estrogens). DHEA levels in the body begin to decrease after age 30.The exact role DHEA plays in the body is unclear but is believed to have links to mood and energy and possibly immune competence.
DHEA and Disease
Reduced levels of DHEA and DHEA-S have been associated with adrenal insufficiency, coronary artery disease, memory impairment, and type 2 diabetes.
Studies have examined the effects of DHEA supplementation in over 25 disorders including adrenal insufficiency, depression, cancer, AIDS and CFS. DHEA has been of some benefit in treating depression, obesity, Addison’s disease and lupus. The benefit in lupus may derive from DHEA’s ability to counteract some effects of steroid administration.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) and FM Studies
At least 8 studies have measured DHEA/DHEA-S levels in CFS. Overall study quality is not reported to be high. Study results have been inconsistent with a tendency towards reduced DHEA levels. Citing the need for more research the Mayo Clinic gives DHEA a ‘C’ grade in treating CFS and a ‘D’ in treating FM.
Because it is a powerful hormone WholeHealth MD recommends DHEA only be taken under the care of physician. They give the following recommendation:
“Before starting to take DHEA supplements, have a blood test to determine your present level of this hormone. Only proceed if your level is low; healthy people under age 50 rarely need to take this supplement. Have another blood test three weeks after taking DHEA to determine if a satisfactory DHEA blood level has been reached. Once within the normal range, revert to a maintenance dose (typically 5 to 10 mg a week).”
Dr. Ray Sahelian, M.D., the author of DHEA: A Practical Guide, Mind Boosters, and Natural Sex Boosters recommends that more than 5 mg./day of DHEA should not be taken on a long term basis. Many supplements contain more than 5 mgs. of DHEA.
Because DHEA is a hormone it could theoretically increase the risk of hormone sensitive cancers if supplementation increases DHEA levels higher than normal. Because DHEA could possibly increase the risk of prostate, breast, and ovarian cancers, the Mayo clinic does not recommend its use without the supervision by a licensed health professional. WebHealthMD recommends DHEA not be taken if you are risk for prostate or breast cancer.
One analysis of DHEA supplements found that only 7 out of the 16 assayed products contained DHEA within a 10% variation of the labeled content. Some products contained no detectable DHEA at all.
High levels of DHEA can cause very oily skin, acne, increased facial hair in women, deepening of the voice, and mood swings and theoretically cancer.
(This and all sections of the Phoenix Rising website are compiled by a layman. They are not a substitute for a physician and are for informational uses only. Please discuss any treatments in these pages with your physician.)
Mayo Clinic: DHEA
The neuroendocrinology of chronic fatigue syndrome. Endocr Rev., Cleare AJ. 2003 Apr;24(2):236-52. Review.
Quality control of dehydroepiandrosterone dietary supplement products. Parasrampuria J, Schwartz K, Petesch R. JAMA 1998;280:1565.