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As defined by The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a natural hormone produced by the adrenal glands that is known to act as a precursor of androgens, which are male sex hormones, as well as estrogens, or female sex hormones 14. DHEA is one of the hormones that can be synthesized, and it is available in over the counter supplements. DHEA supplements are widely used to improve mood, immunity, sense of well-being and athletic performance. However, DHEA also tends to cause some harmful effects.
Reduced High Density Lipoproteins (HDL)
The prolonged consumption of DHEA may result in a decrease of the level of high density lipoproteins, states MayoClinic.com. High density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol is generated by the intestine and liver to help transport cholesterol in the body. High HDL levels are noted to protect the individual against numerous cardiovascular diseases. MayoClinic.com recommends the use of DHEA only under the supervision of a registered medical practitioner.
- The prolonged consumption of DHEA may result in a decrease of the level of high density lipoproteins, states MayoClinic.com.
DHEA for Muscle Growth
According to MayoClinic.com, allergic reactions may occur in some individuals taking DHEA. Allergic reactions are characterized by the presence of redness on the skin, itching, swelling, blistering, rashes, shortness of breath, runny nose, hives and sneezing. MayoClinic.com strictly advises such individuals to avoid DHEA products.
- According to MayoClinic.com, allergic reactions may occur in some individuals taking DHEA.
The University of Maryland-Medical Center reports that long term use of DHEA may cause cancer 4. Because DHEA is a precursor of androgens and estrogens, injesting it leads to increased levels of these hormones. The long term use of DHEA may increase the risk of developing hormone related cancer like breast cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, adrenal cancer, and testicular cancer. DHEA may also contribute to the development of drug resistance in breast cancer. The University of Maryland Medical Center advises individuals with a family history of any cancerous conditions to avoid the use of DHEA 4.
Herbal Testosterone Blocker
As stated by MayoClinic.com, DHEA use may enhance the hormonal effects in both males and females. DHEA may increase the production of testosterone, the male hormone, thus increasing a woman’s risk of developing signs of masculinization. Masculinization is characterized by the development of abnormal male sexual characteristics in women, like loss of hair on the head, deepening of the voice, weight gain around the waist, increased acne, and facial hair growth. However, males are at greater risk of developing gynecomastia, or breast enlargement, breast tenderness, shrinkage of testicles and increased aggressiveness.
- As stated by MayoClinic.com, DHEA use may enhance the hormonal effects in both males and females.
- DHEA may increase the production of testosterone, the male hormone, thus increasing a woman’s risk of developing signs of masculinization.
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- The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library: Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA): Dietary Supplements
- Mayo Clinic: DHEA: Evidence for anti-aging claims is weak
- Mayo Clinic: DHEA
- The University of Maryland-Medical Center: Dehydroepiandrosterone
- National Instutites of Health MedlinePlus. Wild yam. Updated April 18, 2018.
- National Institutes of Health MedlinePlus. DHEA. Updated May 29, 2019.
- Park SG, Hwang S, Kim JS, Park KC, Kwon Y, Kim KC. The association between dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) and bone mineral density in Korean men and women. J Bone Metab. 2017;24(1):31–36. doi:10.11005/jbm.2017.24.1.31
- von Mühlen D, Laughlin GA, Kritz-Silverstein D, Bergstrom J, Bettencourt R. Effect of dehydroepiandrosterone supplementation on bone mineral density, bone markers, and body composition in older adults: the DAWN trial. Osteoporos Int. 2008;19(5):699–707. doi:10.1007/s00198-007-0520-z
- Peixoto C, Devicari Cheda JN, Nardi AE, Veras AB, Cardoso A. The effects of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in the treatment of depression and depressive symptoms in other psychiatric and medical illnesses: A systematic review. Curr Drug Targets. 2014;15(9):901-14.
- Cleveland Clinic. Prasterone, DHEA tables or capsules (Dietary supplements).
- Archer DF. Dehydroepiandrosterone intra vaginal administration for the management of postmenopausal vulvovaginal atrophy. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2015 Jan;145:139-43. doi:10.1016/j.jsbmb.2014.09.003
- Freitas RP, Lemos TM, Spyrides MH, Sousa MB. Influence of cortisol and DHEA-S on pain and other symptoms in post menopausal women with fibromyalgia. J Back Musculoskelet Rehabil. 2012;25(4):245-52. doi:10.3233/BMR-2012-0331.
- Gómez-Santos C, Hernández-Morante JJ, Tébar FJ, et al. Differential effect of oral dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate on metabolic syndrome features in pre- and postmenopausal obese women. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2012;77(4):548-54. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2265.2011.04306.x.
- Panjari M, Davis SR. DHEA for postmenopausal women: a review of the evidence. Maturitas. 2010;66(2):172-9. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2009.12.017
Helen Nnama has six years of writing experience. She is a health contributor to TBR Journal, editor of fertility confidential manuals, published poet, and a greeting card writer. She has a B.S. in microbiology, an M.S. in epidemiology, and is an M.D. candidate. A former state HIV/AIDS epidemiologist and NIA fellow at Johns Hopkins, she has research experience with published work.