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.

What are 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).  

DHEA Snapshot

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

Pros

  • Good for cognitive function
  • Protects the heart by reducing hypertension
  • 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 hyperactivity for some

Health Benefits of DHEA and DHEA-S

1) DHEA Boosts Hormone Levels

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

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 the 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 control 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).

A meta-analysis (of 22 studies) showed that it improved depressive symptoms in both old and young patients. However, only 3 studies were focused on young patients (R).

3) DHEA Protects the Heart

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

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

DHEA stops inflammation and restored normal colon length. It balanced the immune responses from bowel disease that cause damage (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

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).

Conventional doctors will look at high or low DHEA levels and not mention anything, but these can indicate that certain processes in the body aren’t optimal.

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 disorders 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

DHEA:

  • Inhibited proliferation of spleen cells and IFN-у production, therefore it’s a Th1 suppressant (R).
  • Decreased expression of IL-6 and TGF-β (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).

Irregular DHEA Levels?

If you have not yet tested your DHEA levels, I recommend that you ask your doctor to do it. If you already have your blood test results and you’re not sure what to make of them, you need to check out Lab Test Analyzer. It does all the heavy lifting for you. No need to do thousands of hours of research on what to make of your various blood tests.

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