steroid pathway

The Good and The Bad About DHEA and DHEA-S

DHEA is usually praised for its anti-aging properties. It can protect the heart and improve brain function. However, there are some drawbacks to DHEA supplements as well. Read more below to learn all you need to know about DHEA and DHEA-sulfate.

Introduction to DHEA and DHEA-S

steroid pathway

DHEA is a steroid hormone that is produced in the adrenal gland, gonads, and brains. It is a precursor to other hormones, namely estrogen and testosterone. DHEA levels are highest after birth, and continue to lower as you age (R).

DHEA-sulfate (DHEA-S) is a sulfite derivative of DHEA. The body also turns it into androgen hormones. Not a lot of studies have been done on DHEA-S and its long term effects, so it is not recommended for supplementation (R).  

The DHEA Supplement That I Take

When I take DHEA, I get a boost of energy, where I can get even too hyper.  It has some similar effects as pregnenolone, but I don’t notice any negative effects on my sleep. I like it.

DHEA Snapshot

Pros

  • Good for cognitive function
  • Protects the heart by reducing hyptertension
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Prevents osteoporosis
  • Increases REM sleep
  • Helps fertility

Cons

  • Can contribute to substance abuse
  • Might cause cancer
  • Risk factor for psychotic symptoms
  • Can cause anxiety and hyperness for some

Health Benefits of DHEA and DHEA-S

1) DHEA Boosts Hormone Levels

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DHEA levels affect testosterone and estrogen levels. They are precursors to hormones, which means that the body converts DHEA into these hormones (R).

Women can take supplements during menopause to increase their level of estrogen (R).

DHEA can be used to help alleviate sexual dysfunctions that are the result of poor hormone levels (R).

2) DHEA Improves Brain Function

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DHEA improves memory by stimulating neurons and inhibiting cortisol. DHEA increases as more cognitive tasks were performed and working memory increased (R).

DHEA also enhances emotional regulation of memory and the connections between the amygdala and hippocampus (memory center) (R).

In the rat model of Alzheimer’s, DHEA supplement reduced symptoms and improved memory (R).

DHEA levels in the brain controls visual processing. It is involved with the amygdala-dependent changes of the brain and visual awareness and attention (R).

DHEA has anti-cortisol activity and protects against depression (R).

It improved depressive symptoms in young patients (R).

3) DHEA Protects the Heart

Blood Pressure

Low levels of DHEA are associated with heart disease in men (R).

DHEA also reduced high blood pressure and lowered cholesterol (R).

4) DHEA Helps Increase Pregnancy Rate

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Ovarian reserve is the capacity for the ovaries to produce a healthy egg that is ready for fertilization. Women taking DHEA with poor ovarian reserve, who also did not respond well to IVF, had a higher rate of pregnancy and higher ovarian reserve than women who did not take DHEA supplements (R).

5) DHEA and DHEA-S Helps With Weight Problems

DHEA-S only had affected the weight of obese men, but not women. DHEA-S supplementation led to weight loss and reduced blood insulin level (R).

Dogs that took DHEA supplement lost more weight than ones that took a placebo. They also had lower cholesterol (R).

DHEA supplementation led to huge weight loss in rats and also increased their energy usage (R).

On the other hand, women treated with 100 mg of DHEA had better improvements from anorexia than those that took placebos. Their weight increased, as well as their moods (R).

6) DHEA Lowers Insulin Resistance

Elderly humans that underwent six months of DHEA replacement therapy had decreased insulin resistance and improved glucose tolerance (R).

In obese rats, DHEA administration combined with exercise helped lower insulin resistance and increased weight loss.  Blood glucose and insulin sensitivity improved (R).

7) DHEA Helps Protect Against Inflammation

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DHEA stops inflammation and restored normal colon length. It balanced the immune responses that causes damage in bowel diseases (R).

DHEA reduced inflammation due to HIV and prevented neuron degeneration (R).

In the feline model of HIV (called FIV), DHEA also prevented neuron loss (R).

DHEA can prevent symptoms of asthma. It reduces inflammation in the lungs and reduces hyperreactivity of the airways (R).

8) DHEA Improves Sleep

Sleeping

DHEA administration improved sleep in humans. REM sleep increased, which meant better memory storage as well (R).

9) DHEA Improves Bone Health

DHEA increases bone (osteoblast) formation and inhibits bone (osteoblast) cell death. It increases bone volume and bone mineral density. It can also help prevent post-menopausal osteoporosis (R).

In a study done on South Korean men, DHEA was found to have the same positive effect on bone mass and help prevent male osteoporosis (R).

10) DHEA Protects Muscles

DHEA helps protect against muscle dystrophy. It helps protect against cell oxidation and prevents cell death. It increased the effects of antioxidants and stops muscle atrophy (R).

11) DHEA Relieves Problems Resulting from Menopause

After menopause, some women experience vaginal pain during sexual intercourse or severe dryness of the vagina. Intravaginal administration of DHEA administered led to improved vaginal health and lessened pain (R).

12) DHEA May Protect Against Colon Cancer

The spread of cancer to other body organs is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths. DHEA may stop the spreading of cancer by inhibiting certain pathways (R).

13) DHEA Helps with Lupus

DHEA provides a short-term benefit in those with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). It lessened symptoms as well as lowered HDL cholesterol in lupus patients (R).

Other

DHEA helps relieve tuberculosis symptoms in patients.  It clears bacteria and prevents tissue damage (R).

Negative Effects of DHEA

Note: I take DHEA myself, so I’m not concerned about these potential negative effects.

Some side effects of DHEA include acne and excessive hair growth (R).

DHEA-S is not recommended for women because of the lack of studies done on long term effects (R).

Because DHEA can increase testosterone in the body, it is prohibited in some professional sports (R).

1) Excess Levels of DHEA and DHEA-S May Cause Cancer

Post-menopausal women with higher levels of DHEA and DHEA-S in the blood also had higher incidences of breast cancer (R).

An excessive amount of DHEA (more than 50mg daily) can lead to more cancer cells in the body (R – unreliable study).

An overdose of DHEA leads to high incidence of cancer of the prostate gland, breast, colon, lung, and stomach (R – unreliable study).

2) DHEA Is Related to Mental Disorders

Patients with schizophrenia had higher levels of cortisol and DHEA-S compared to healthy patients, but they also were more likely to respond to antipsychotic treatment (R).

A high level might be a risk factor for psychotic symptoms. It was found that a higher number of patients with high levels was found to have a family history of major depressive disorder or psychotic symptoms (R).

3) DHEA Increases Addiction

DHEA might contribute to substance abuse. By responding to emotional and behavioral circumstances, DHEA increases addiction (R).

4) DHEA Aggravates Stress

Increased production of DHEA during high stress levels can cause more psychological problems (R).

Technical Information

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DHEA:

  • Inhibited proliferation of spleen cells and IFN-у production, therefore it’s a Th1 suppressant (R).
  • Decreased expression of IL-6 and TGF (R).
  • Augmented frequency of CD4+IL-4+ cells (Th2), decreased CD4+IFN-ɣ+ (Th1) in spleen and constrained CD4+IL-17+ (Th17) population in the mesenteric lymph nodes (R).
  • Reduces the accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in response to H2O2 and the H2O2-induced phosphorylation of ERK and p38 in a dose-dependent manner (R).
  • stimulated the activation of Nrf2, which led to the expression of an antioxidant response gene, HO-1 (R).
  • treatment reduced inflammatory gene transcripts (IL-1β, TNF-α, CD3ε, GFAP) (R).
  • increased expression levels of the beta 3 adrenergic receptor (beta(3)AR) and PGC-1a (R).
  • Inhibits phosphatase of regenerating liver-3 (PRL-3) (R).
  • Inhibits the three recombinant T-channels (Ca(V)3.1, Ca(V)3.2 and Ca(V)3.3) expressed in NG108-15 cell line and native T-channels in pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells (R).

Buying DHEA

Recommended DHEA supplement:

DHEA on SelfDecode

Comments

  1. carol close

    Here is a link that DHEA supplementation makes women develop Polycystic Ovary Syndrome http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ar.1092310206/abstract 
    Changes in ovarian morphology and serum hormones in the rat after treatment with dehydroepiandrosterone.  
    (Serum androgens, estrogens, and prolactin concentrations are significantly increased in DHEA-treated animals as compared with controls. There was no significant difference in follicle stimulating hormone between those with cysts and rats without cysts after DHEA treatment. After 20 days of DHEA treatment, rats with Corpus Luteals have very high levels of luteinizing hormone. Luteinizing hormone and prolactin levels are significantly higher in rats with cysts than in rats without cysts after 10 days of DHEA treatment. As has been shown in this inquiry, androgens and estradiol levels in rats with cysts after DHEA treatment are higher than those in rats without cysts after DHEA treatment. Therefore, this study suggests that the ovarian cystic condition developed after DHEA treatment in rats, is associated with higher levels of circulating androgens, estradiol, and prolactin.)
     

    • Nattha Wannissorn, PhD

      It’s a rat study, but I agree that DHEA acts like an androgen. I myself had trouble with it because it converted to too much testosterone. Some women may do okay with it, though.

      • carol close

        No, I doubt any woman would be OK on DHEA. We are warning women not to take DHEA! My girlfriends and I believed the hype about DHEA’s anti aging benefits; however, we have personal experience that was extremely detrimental when taking DHEA. One girlfriend had her doctor prescribe DHEA to help her get pregnant which research now shows supplementing with DHEA does the opposite and reduces pregnancy. See the Pubmed research below. This girlfriend never recovered from DHEA’s effects. She lost her boobs, has a deep voice, and looks manly now. I was lucky to just get a couple of whiskers which went away after stopping DHEA as I did not supplement for long. This has happened to many girlfriends taking DHEA- facial hair! Yikes! I am warning every female user of DHEA about what happens to us! You have not read my prior Pubmed research I listed here on this thread. Some information is wrong on this Blog about DHEA and needs to be corrected. DHEA research shows it does NOT improve pregnancy rates! Research suggested it would help in pregnancy, then later research refuted this. DHEA does not decrease weight, but increases weight! BMI decreases in men, but increases in women. and DHEA increases cholesterol levels in women because in women DHEA is potently androgenic! Excess DHEA supplementation causes androgen excess and may cause increased acne, decreased breast size, a deep voice, increased genital size, irregular periods, oily skin, and unnatural hair growth. In women, but not in men, serum androstenedione, testosterone and DHT were increased to levels above gender-specific young adult ranges. SHBG declined and GHBP declined in women even though they were on estrogen replacement therapy at the same time. I wonder what DHEA would be like for women not ovulating or on hormone replacement- It has got to be very scarey to see what they turn into!!

  2. carol close

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23680224 “Efficacy of dehydroepiandrosterone to improve ovarian response in women with diminished ovarian reserve: a meta-analysis.” There was no significant difference in the clinical pregnancy rate and miscarriage rates between women pre-treated with DHEA compared to those without DHEA pre-treatment. The number of oocytes retrieved was significantly lower in the DHEA group. In conclusion, based on the limited available evidence from a total of approximately 200 IVF cycles, there are insufficient data to support a beneficial role of DHEA as an adjuvant to controlled ovarian stimulation in IVF cycle. (My girlfriend who was trying to get pregnant was prescribed DHEA by her doctor. Results: she did not get pregnant. Her voice deepened. She became flat chested and muscular. She has not looked the same since the DHEA supplements, even though she stopped taking the supplements! My sister-in-law and I tried DHEA, but stopped because we both sprouted a whisker on our chin! My cholesterol HDL went down 20 and my LDL cholesterol went up 30 and I gained 10 pounds without changing my diet! We are warning women not to take DHEA!)

  3. carol close

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9876338 “The effect of six months treatment with a 100 mg daily dose of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) on circulating sex steroids, body composition and muscle strength in age-advanced (50-65 year old) men and women.” A daily oral 100 mg dose of DHEA for 6 months resulted in elevation of circulating DHEA and DS concentrations and the DS/cortisol ratio. Biotransformation to potent androgens near and slightly above the range of their younger counterparts occurred in women with no detectable change in men. Given this hormonal milieu, an increase in serum IGF-I levels was observed in both genders but dimorphic responses were evident in fat body mass and muscle strength in favour of men. These differences in response to DHEA administration may reflect a gender specific response to DHEA and/or the presence of confounding factor(s) in women such as oestrogen replacement therapy.

  4. carol close

    DHEAS, the sulfated version of DHEA is the most abundant steroid in the human circulation. DHEA is a precursor to sex hormones. Women have lower levels of DHEA than men. DHEA levels decrease with age, so women at age 70 have levels of only 20% of what they were at age 20. Benefits of DHEA are stronger bones, stopping vaginal atrophy (applying DHEA in the vagina), and stopping muscle loss with age, but beware- sustained DHEA supplements (even when combined with natural estrogen hormone supplement replacement in menopausal women), raises male hormone levels in women to abnormally high levels- (DHEA supplements in women raise androstenedione, testosterone and dihydrotestosterone levels to abnormally high levels). So, DHEA supplement consumption leads to acne, deepened voices, decreased breast size, increased genital size, oily skin, unnatural hair growth, facial hair and negatively interacts with estrogen levels, increases bad cholesterol and decreases good cholesterol, causes tumors, heart rhythm problems, hair loss and insomnia which are signs of androgen excess. Many molecular causes for androgen excess exist, with one possibility- a failure in the sulfation pathway that converts DHEA to DHEAS, the most abundant steroid in the human circulation. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome have excess androgen levels which vitamin D has a positive effect.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4591525/ “The regulation of steroid action by sulfation.”
    http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/dhea/safety/hrb-20059173/ In women, excess DHEA supplementation causes androgen excess and may cause decreased breast size, a deep voice, increased genital size, irregular periods, oily skin, and unnatural hair growth.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9876338 “The effect of six months treatment with a 100 mg daily dose of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) on circulating sex steroids, body composition and muscle strength in age-advanced men and women.” In women, but not in men, serum androstenedione, testosterone and DHT were increased to levels above gender-specific young adult ranges. In men, BMI decreased, but BMI increased in women. In women SHBG declined and GHBP declined in women even though they were on estrogen replacement therapy.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4669857/ “The role of vitamin D in polycystic ovary syndrome. “Vitamin D plays a physiologic role in reproduction including ovarian follicular development and luteinization via altering anti-müllerian hormone (AMH) signalling, follicle-stimulating hormone sensitivity and progesterone production in human granulosa cells1. It also affects glucose homeostasis through manifold roles.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27050252 “The effects of Vitamin D-K-Calcium-Co supplementation on Endocrine, Inflammation, and oxidative stress biomarkers in Vitamin D deficient women with polycystic ovary syndrome: A randomized, double blind, placebo controlled trial.” They found no effect on FSH, prolactin, progesterone, inflammatory markers and glutathione. however, there were improvements in DHEA, testosterone, total antioxidant capacity and malondialdedehyde levels.

  5. Brett

    What about 7-keto-DHEA? It supposedly doesn’t get converted into testosterone. Does anyone have therapeutic experience with 7-keto-DHA?

  6. GM

    I think you need to clean up the negatives section here. The references look weak. They make DHEA look bad (DHEA is a natural bio-ideological hormone, at physiological doses there’s no reason it should cause cancer etc).

  7. One important thing is missing here. Dhea helps people with autoimmune disease to tolerate the heat. Those who have lack of hormones in adrenal glances. That is why I take it. 25 mg daily, but not on cold season. No side effects.

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