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Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)


Laura Shane-McWhorter

, PharmD, University of Utah College of Pharmacy

Last full review/revision Jul 2020| Content last modified Jul 2020

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a steroid produced in the adrenal glands and converted into sex hormones ( estrogens and androgens). DHEA’s effects on the body are similar to those of testosterone. DHEA can be synthesized from some ingredients in the Mexican yam, but eating this plant is not recommended, because the human body cannot convert the ingredients to DHEA.

(See also Overview of Dietary Supplements.)

Medicinal claims

People take DHEA supplements to improve mood, energy, sense of well-being, and the ability to function well under stress. Other uses include increasing sex drive, deepening nightly sleep, lowering cholesterol levels, increasing muscle strength and bone mineral density, and decreasing body fat. In older men, body fat may be reduced. In older women with decreased adrenal gland function, DHEA may improve quality of life and depression, although there are probably more effective complementary and alternative medicine treatments. It is also claimed to reverse aging, improve brain function in people with Alzheimer disease, and decrease symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus). The medicinal claims of DHEA have not been proved. Many athletes claim that DHEA builds muscle and enhances athletic performance, but the use of DHEA is banned by numerous professional sports organizations.

Possible side effects

Theoretically, DHEA may result in acne, breast enlargement in men, and hairiness in women. It also may stimulate the growth of prostate and breast cancers. However, these effects have not been substantiated. DHEA should not be used by children.

More Information about DHEA

The following is an English-language resource that may be useful. Please note that THE MANUAL is not responsible for the content of this resource.

  • National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: General information for patients about complementary health practices for menopausal symptoms

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