How to Use It
Most people do not need to supplement DHEA. The question of who should take this hormone remains controversial. Some experts believe that daily intakes of 5–15 mg of DHEA for women and 10–30 mg for men are appropriate amounts for people with deficient blood levels of DHEA or DHEAS.65 While a few researchers suggest supplementation with as much as 50 mg per day in postmenopausal women,66 others consider this level excessive.67 People should consult a doctor to have DHEA levels monitored before and during supplementation. Healthy people with normal blood levels of DHEA or DHEAS should not take this hormone until more is known about its effects. However, some doctors recommend DHEA supplementation for selected people with depression, autoimmune diseases, or other problems, even if their blood levels are normal.
People with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) have been shown to improve after taking 100–200 mg per day of DHEA. Such large amounts should never be taken without medical supervision.
Discrepancies between label claims and actual DHEA content of DHEA supplements have been reported.68 Regrettably, the authors of this report failed to identify which brands were properly labeled and which were not.
Where to Find It
DHEA is produced by the adrenal glands. A synthetic form of this hormone is also available as a supplement in tablet, capsule, liquid, and sublingual form. Some products claim to contain “natural” DHEA precursors from wild yam. However, the body cannot convert these substances into DHEA69 (although a series of reactions in a laboratory can make the conversion).
Meaningful levels of DHEA do not appear in food, and therefore dietary deficiency does not exist. Some people, however, may not synthesize enough DHEA. DHEA levels peak in early adulthood and then start a lifelong descent. By the age of 60, DHEA levels are only about 5–15% of what they were at their peak at younger ages.70 Whether the lower level associated with age represents a deficiency or a normal part of aging that should not be tampered with remains unknown.
People with true adrenal insufficiency (i.e., Addison’s Disease; not the hypothetical adrenal “fatigue” or “burnout” that is sometimes incorrectly referred to as “insufficiency”) have below normal levels of DHEA. When women with adrenal insufficiency were treated with 50 mg of DHEA every morning for three or four months, their DHEA and DHEAS levels returned to normal, with a simultaneous improvement in well-being and sexuality.71, 72
Some studies have reported lower DHEA levels in groups of depressed patients.73, 74 However, in one trial, severely depressed people were reported to show increases in blood levels of DHEA.75 Despite these contradictory findings, a few clinical trials suggest that at least some people who are depressed may benefit from DHEA supplementation. (See “What does it do?” above for more information about use of DHEA supplements in the treatment of depression.)
People with multi-infarct dementia (deterioration of mental functions resulting from multiple small strokes) may have lower than normal DHEAS levels, according to a preliminary trial.76 In this trial, intravenous injection of 200 mg per day of DHEAS for four weeks increased DHEAS levels and improved some aspects of mental function and performance of daily activities.
People infected with HIV77 and those with insulin-dependent diabetes,78 congestive heart failure,79multiple sclerosis, 80asthma,81, 82chronic fatigue syndrome,83, 84rheumatoid arthritis,85, 86, 87osteoporosis, and a host of other conditions have been reported to have low levels of DHEA in most,88 but not all, studies.89, 90 In most cases, the meaning of this apparent deficiency is not well understood.
Men under 60 years of age with erectile dysfunction have been found to have lower DHEAS levels than men without the condition.91 (See “What does it do?” above for more information about use of DHEA supplements in the treatment of men with erectile dysfunction.)
Most,92, 93, 94, 95 but not all, 96, 97 studies have found that people with Alzheimer’s disease have lower blood DHEAS levels than do people without the condition.
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The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2015.