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DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone)

Be aware that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration do not strictly regulate herbs and dietary supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products containing or claiming to contain DHEA. Decisions to use herbs or supplements should be carefully considered. Individuals using prescription drugs should discuss taking herbs or supplements with a pharmacist or health care professional before starting.


Scientists have studied DHEA for the following health problems:

Adrenal insufficiency, Addison's disease
Several studies suggest that DHEA improves well-being, exercise capacity, sex drive and hormone levels in people with insufficient adrenal function (Addison's disease). These studies have been small, and better research is needed to provide more definitive answers. Adrenal insufficiency is a serious medical condition and should be treated under the supervision of a qualified health care professional.
Atherosclerosis (cholesterol plaques in the arteries), cardiovascular health
Initial studies report possible benefits of DHEA supplementation in patients with cholesterol plaques ("hardening") of the arteries. However, better-quality research is necessary to make a clear conclusion. Other therapies are more proven in this area, and patients with cholesterol, atherosclerosis or heart disease should discuss treatment options with a primary health care professional.

Studies of DHEA supplementation for cardiovascular health are only preliminary.
Cervical dysplasia
Initial research reports that the use of intravaginal DHEA may be safe and may promote regression of low-grade cervical lesions. However, further study is necessary to make a firm conclusion. Patients should not substitute the use of DHEA for more established therapies, and they should discuss management options and follow-up with a health care professional or gynecologist.
Chronic fatigue syndrome
The scientific evidence is unclear regarding the effects of DHEA supplementation in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Better research is necessary to make a clear conclusion.
Critical illness
Unclear scientific evidence exists surrounding the safety or effectiveness of DHEA supplementation in critically ill patients. At this time, it is recommended that severe illness in the intensive care unit be treated with more proven therapies.
Crohn's disease
Initial research reports that DHEA supplements are safe for short-term use in patients with Crohn's disease. Preliminary research suggests possible beneficial effects, although further research is necessary to make a clear conclusion.
Results of studies on the use of DHEA supplements in depression do not agree with each other, with some results suggesting benefits, and others reporting no effects. Better research is necessary to make a clear conclusion.
Heart failure
There is conflicting scientific evidence regarding the use of DHEA supplements in patients with heart failure or diminished ejection fraction. Other therapies are proven in this area, and patients with heart failure or other types of heart disease should discuss treatment options with a cardiologist.
Although some studies suggest that DHEA supplementation may be beneficial in patents with HIV, results from different studies do not agree with each other. Most research in area is not well designed or reported. There is currently not enough scientific evidence to recommend DHEA for this condition, and other therapies are more proven in this area.
Menopausal disorders
Many different aspects of menopause have been studied using DHEA as a treatment. When DHEA is applied as a cream, it may improve vaginal pain and discomfort associated with menopause. However, it is not clear whether DHEA cream has any benefits in treating osteoporosis after menopause.

Early evidence suggests that DHEA may not be an effective treatment for hot flashes or emotional disturbances such as fatigue, irritability, anxiety, depression, insomnia, difficulties with concentration or decreased sex drive, which may occur near the time of menopause. However, some study results disagree.
Bone density
The ability of DHEA to increase body density is under investigation. Effects are not clear at this time.
Muscle mass
DHEA has been studied for improving body mass index, decreasing body fat and increasing muscle mass. Early research reports that muscle mass is not increased when adding DHEA supplements to compensate for the natural decrease in dehydroepiandrosterone levels that occurs with aging (in otherwise healthy adults). It is not known if there are medical conditions in which DHEA supplementation may contribute to the preservation or improvement of muscle.
Myotonic dystrophy
There is conflicting scientific evidence regarding the use of DHEA supplements for myotonic dystrophy. Better research is necessary to make a clear conclusion.
Ovulation disorders
Low-quality studies suggest that DHEA supplements may benefit women with ovulation disorders. However, results of research in this area are conflicting, and safety is not established.
Initial research reports benefit of DHEA supplementation in the management of some schizophrenia symptoms. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
Severe bacterial infections of the blood (septicemia)
Unclear scientific evidence exists surrounding the safety and effectiveness of DHEA supplementation in patients with severe bacterial infections in their blood. More proven therapies are recommended at this time.
Sexual function, libido, erectile dysfunction
The results of studies vary on the use of DHEA in erectile dysfunction and sexual function in men and women. Better research is needed to draw firm conclusions.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
Most research of DHEA supplementation in patients with SLE (lupus) is not well designed or reported. Conflicting study results exist, and further research is necessary to draw firm conclusions.
Alzheimer's disease
Initial research reports that DHEA does not significantly improve cognitive performance or change symptom severity in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Additional study is warranted.
Brain function and well-being in the elderly
DHEA has been suggested to improve brain function, memory and overall feelings of well-being in the elderly. However, most studies have shown that DHEA does not offer any benefits in these areas.
Immune system stimulant
Although it has been suggested that DHEA may stimulate the immune system, current scientific evidence does not support this claim.
Partial androgen efficiency
Restoring DHEA levels to young adult values seems to benefit the age-related decline in physiological functions, but, however promising, placebo-controlled trials are required to confirm these preliminary results.
Cognitive function
Studies of the effects of DHEA on cognition have produced complex and inconsistent results.
Sjögren's syndrome
DHEA showed no evidence of efficacy in Sjögren’s syndrome in preliminary study. Without evidence for efficacy, patients with Sjögren’s syndrome should avoid using unregulated DHEA supplements, because long-term adverse consequences of exposure to this hormone are unknown.
Skin aging
Prelimindary study suggests the possibility of using DHEA topically as an anti-skin aging agent. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
Cocaine dependence
Preliminary study shows that DHEA is not beneficial in treating cocaine dependence.

Unproven Uses

DHEA has been suggested for many other uses, based on tradition or on scientific theories. However, these uses have not been thoroughly studied in humans, and there is limited scientific evidence about safety or effectiveness. Some of these suggested uses are for conditions that are potentially very serious and even life-threatening. You should consult a health care professional before using DHEA for any unproven use.

Allergic disorders
Amenorrhea associated with anorexia
Andropause, adrenopause
Bladder cancer
Bone disease
Bone loss associated with anorexia
Breast cancer
Colon cancer
Heart attack
High cholesterol
Huntington's disease
Joint disease
Lipodystrophy in HIV
Liver protection
Movement disorders
Multiple sclerosis
Pancreatic cancer
Parkinson's disease
Performance enhancement
Polycystic ovarian syndrome
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Premenstrual syndrome
Prostate cancer
Raynaud's phenomenon
Rheumatic diseases
Skin graft healing
Sleep disorders
Ulcerative colitis
Viral encephalitis
Weight loss

Potential Dangers    


Side Effects

Pregnancy And Breast-Feeding


Interactions with drugs, herbs and other supplements have not been thoroughly studied. The interactions listed below have been reported in scientific publications. If you are taking prescription drugs, speak with a health care professional or pharmacist before using herbs or dietary supplements.

Interactions With Drugs

Interactions With Herbs And Dietary Supplements

In theory, DHEA may increase the blood levels of herbs broken down by the liver, such as chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus). DHEA may raise blood sugar levels. People using herbs or other supplements that may alter blood sugar levels, such as bitter melon (Momordica charantia), should be monitored closely by a health care professional while using DHEA. Dosing adjustments may be necessary. In theory, DHEA may increase the risk of blood clotting. If you take supplements that thin the blood and may reduce the risk of clotting, such as Ginkgo biloba and garlic (Allium sativum), and you are considering using DHEA, discuss this with a health care professional. Coenzyme Q10 and Panax ginseng may increase clotting risk associated with DHEA.

Although not studied in humans also using other supplements that affect hormones, such as red clover (Trifolium pratense), simultaneous use may cause more side effects. There is also a possibility that DHEA may alter heart rates or rhythms. People taking hawthorn (Crataegus oxycantha) or other agents that may alter conduction properties of the heart should use caution.

Chromium picolinate may increase DHEA levels. Carnitine and DHEA may have additive effects. Based on animal study, DHEA may increase melatonin secretion and prevent breakdown of vitamin E in the body.


The doses listed below are based on scientific research, publications or traditional use. Because most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly studied or monitored, safety and effectiveness may not be proven. Brands may be made differently, with variable ingredients even within the same brand. Combination products often contain small amounts of each ingredient and may not be effective. Appropriate dosing should be discussed with a health care professional before starting therapy; always read the recommendations on a product's label. The dosing for unproven uses should be approached cautiously, because scientific information is limited in these areas.

Adults (Aged 18 Or Older)

Children (Younger Than 18): The dosing and safety of DHEA have not been studied thoroughly in children. In theory, DHEA could interfere with normal hormone balance and growth in children.


Although DHEA has been suggested for many conditions, the best evidence supports its use to improve symptoms associated with adrenal insufficiency or Addison's disease. Adrenal insufficiency is a serious medical condition and should be treated under the supervision of a qualified health care professional. DHEA should be avoided in pregnant or breast-feeding women, children and those with allergy to DHEA supplements. DHEA may alter blood sugar levels, increase the risk of blood clots, alter cholesterol or hormone levels and affect heart rate or rhythm. DHEA may cause liver problems or psychological effects, such as agitation or mania. Consult a health care professional immediately if you experience side effects.

The information in this monograph was prepared by the professional staff at Natural Standard, based on thorough systematic review of scientific evidence. The material was reviewed by the Faculty of the Harvard Medical School with final editing approved by Natural Standard.


  1. Natural Standard: An organization that produces scientifically based reviews of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) topics
  2. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM): A division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services dedicated to research

Selected Scientific Studies: DHEA

Natural Standard reviewed more than 815 articles to prepare the professional monograph from which this version was created.

Some of the more recent studies are listed below:

  1. Achermann JC, Silverman BL. Dehydroepiandrosterone replacement for patients with adrenal insufficiency. Lancet 2001;357(9266):1381-1382.
  2. Andus T, Klebl F, Rogler G, et al. Patients with refractory Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis respond to dehydroepiandrosterone: a pilot study. Aliment Pharmacol Ther 2003;17(3):409-414.
  3. Angold A. Adolescent depression, cortisol and DHEA. Psychol Med 2003;33(4):573-581.
  4. Assies J, Haverkort EB, Lieverse R, Vreken P. Effect of dehydroepiandrosterone supplementation on fatty acid and hormone levels in patients with X-linked adrenoleucodystrophy. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 2003;Oct, 59(4):459-466.
  5. Baulieu EE, Thomas G, Legrain S, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), DHEA sulfate, and aging: contribution of the DHEAge study to a sociobiomedical issue. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2000;97(8):4279-4284.
  6. Brown RC, Han Z, Cascio C, et al. Oxidative stress-mediated DHEA formation in Alzheimer's disease pathology. Neurobiol Aging 2003;24(1):57-65.
  7. Callies F, Fassnacht M, van Vlijmen JC, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone replacement in women with adrenal insufficiency: effects on body composition, serum leptin, bone turnover, and exercise capacity. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2001;86(5):1968-1972.
  8. Calhoun K, Pommier R, Cheek J, et al. The effect of high dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate levels on tamoxifen blockade and breast cancer progression. Am J Surg 2003;185(5):411-415.
  9. Gebre-Medhin G, Husebye ES, Mallmin H, et al. Oral dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) replacement therapy in women with Addison's disease. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 2000;52(6):775-780.
  10. Genazzani AR, Inglese S, Lombardi I, et al. Long-term low-dose dehydroepiandrosterone replacement therapy in aging males with partial androgen deficiency. Aging Male 2004;Jun, 7(2):133-143.
  11. Hunt PJ, Gurnell EM, Huppert FA, et al. Improvement in mood and fatigue after dehydroepiandrosterone replacement in Addison's disease in a randomized, double blind trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2000;85(12):4650-4656.
  12. Huppert FA, Van Niekerk JK. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) supplementation for cognitive function (Cochrane Review). Cochrane Database (Issue 2) 2001;2:CD000304.
  13. Johannsson G, Burman P, Wiren L, et al. Low dose dehydroepiandrosterone affects behavior in hypopituitary androgen-deficient women: a placebo-controlled trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2002;87(5):2046-2052.
  14. Kawano H, Yasue H, Kitagawa A, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone supplementation improves endothelial function and insulin sensitivity in men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2003;Jul, 88(7):3190-3195.
  15. Kim SS, Brody KH. Dehydroepiandrosterone replacement in Addison's disease. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol 2001;97(1):96-97.
  16. Knopman D, Henderson VW. DHEA for Alzheimer's disease: a modest showing by a superhormone. Neurology 2003;60(7):1060-1061.
  17. Marcelli C. Can DHEA be used to prevent bone loss and osteoporosis? Joint Bone Spine 2003;70(1):1-2.
  18. Marx C, Petros S, Bornstein SR, et al. Adrenocortical hormones in survivors and nonsurvivors of severe sepsis: diverse time course of dehydroepiandrosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate, and cortisol. Crit Care Med 2003;31(5):1382-1388.
  19. Munarriz R, Talakoub L, Flaherty E, et al. Androgen replacement therapy with dehydroepiandrosterone for androgen insufficiency and female sexual dysfunction: androgen and questionnaire results. J Sex Marital Ther 2002;28(Suppl 1):165-173.
  20. Oelkers W. Dehydroepiandrosterone for adrenal insufficiency. N Engl J Med 1999;341(14):1073-1074.
  21. Percheron G, Hogrel JY, Denot-Ledunois S, et al. Effect of 1-year oral administration of dehydroepiandrosterone to 60- to 80-year-old individuals on muscle function and cross-sectional area: a double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Arch Intern Med 2003;163(6):720-727.
  22. Pillemer SR, Brennan MT, Sankar V, et al. Pilot clinical trial of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) versus placebo for Sjogren's syndrome. Arthritis Rheum 2004;Aug 15, 51(4):601-604.
  23. Shin MH, Rhie GE, Park CH, et al. Modulation of collagen metabolism by the topical application of dehydroepiandrosterone to human skin. J Invest Dermatol 2005;Feb, 124(2):315-323.
  24. Shoptaw S, Majewska MD, Wilkins J, et al. Participants receiving dehydroepiandrosterone during treatment for cocaine dependence show high rates of cocaine use in a placebo-controlled pilot study. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol 2004;May, 12(2):126-135.
  25. Stomati M, Monteleone P, Casarosa E, et al. Six-month oral dehydroepiandrosterone supplementation in early and late postmenopause. Gynecol Endocrinol 2000;14(5):342-363.
  26. Strous RD, Maayan R, Lapidus R, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone augmentation in the management of negative, depressive, and anxiety symptoms in schizophrenia. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2003;60(2):133-141.
  27. Suh-Burgmann E, Sivret J, Duska LR, et al. Long-term administration of intravaginal dehydroepiandrosterone on regression of low-grade cervical dysplasia: a pilot study. Gynecol Obstet Invest 2003;55(1):25-31.
  28. Trichopoulou A, Bamia C, Kalapothaki V, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone relations to dietary and lifestyle variables in a general population sample. Ann Nutr Metab 2003;47(3-4):158-164.
  29. Van Vollenhoven RF. Dehydroepiandrosterone for the treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus. Expert Opin Pharmacother 2002;3(1):23-31.
  30. Villareal DT, Holloszy JO. Effect of DHEA on abdominal fat and insulin action in elderly women and men: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2004;Nov 10, 292(18):2243-2248.
  31. Villareal DT, Holloszy JO, Kohrt WM. Effects of DHEA replacement on bone mineral density and body composition in elderly women and men. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 2000;53(5):561-568.
  32. Wolkowitz OM, Kramer JH, Reus VI, et al. DHEA treatment of Alzheimer's disease: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Neurology 2003;60(7):1071-1076.

Last updated July 14, 2005