Dhea hormone supplement review – Benefit and side effects, interactions with herbal products, testosterone, pregnenolone, cortisol, and prescription medications, interaction with androstenedione, progesterone and estrogen.
Available over the counter in 5 mg, 10, 25, 50 and 100 mg. Caution and danger with high dose use, safety issues.
Is it a treatment for depression, erectile dysfunction, fertility, low libido, menopause, or weight loss?
March 27 2014
DHEA is short for dehydroepiandrosterone, a hormone made by the adrenal glands located just above the kidneys. Scientists have known about this hormone since 1934. More than 150 hormones are made by the adrenal glands. However, the most abundant hormone made by the adrenal glands is DHEA. After it is made by these glands it goes into the bloodstream, and from then on it travels all over the body and goes into our cells where it is converted into male hormones, known as androgens, and female hormones, known as estrogens. Small amounts of the neurosteroid hormone are also made in the brain by neurons (brain cells). DHEA supplements became widely available to the public without a prescription in 1995.
What are the benefits?
DHEA and its sulfate DHEAS are the major circulating adrenal steroids and substrates for peripheral sex hormone biosynthesis. A supplement may benefit those who have adrenal deficiency and low levels. The benefit in those who are deficient include improved sense of wellbeing, more alertness and stamina, and enhanced sexual interest and libido. Women who have low DHEA levels usually have low sex drive and some women notice the benefit of improved libido. Blood levels of all the steroid hormones that derive from DHEA metabolism are often increased when people take a supplement. This may lead to both beneficial and harmful effects. DHEA has been tested in those with HIV (improved mild depression symptoms) and lupus. The overall benefit from a supplement must be balanced against then negative effects.
There is little justification for DHEA supplementation in healthy elderly subjects, except perhaps in tiny doses of 1 or 2 mg. However, more research may provide the answers we currently lack.
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DO NOT EXCEED MORE THAN 5 MG A DAY on a long term basis. Blood and saliva testing are not a reliable way to determine dosage because blood levels do not give a clear view on how DHEA is interacting within each cell in organs and tissues such as brain, skin and hair, liver, breast, prostate, and other parts of the body. It’s better to be safe and proceed with caution. You may consider other options to improve your health instead of taking a DHEA supplement. For instance, for sexual health consider an herbal sexual enhancement product such as Passion Rx. For mental health, there are various brain supplements including Mind Power Rx. For appetite control, consider Diet Rx which works great. To improve muscle tissue, consider creatine. If there are not other good options, and if really you do need to take a DHEA supplement, use the smallest amount that works in order to prevent unpleasant reactions. Most people prefer to take a pill in the morning.
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I am a peri-menopausal female aged 55. I began taking 25mg of DHEA daily in an over-the-counter suppliment about 6 years ago. Within 48 hours I noticed that the cloud of depression that I’d lived under for many, many years (probably since my teens) was completely gone. Instead of waking up every morning fighting a negative, woe-is-me mood, then struggling to behave properly and think positively all day, I was waking up cheerful and positive and remaining that way without effort all day. Suddenly all the problems I thought I had became very minor and not worth fussing over. I continued taking the suppliment for 6 months before consulting my doctor. He ordered blood tests that showed my DHEA levels to be right in the middle of the normal range (while taking it). He said they were probably very low before I began and he encouraged me to continue. I have continued to take 25mg for about 6 years now and have had no adverse reactions at all. No hair loss or acne, no heart palpitations, or any of the other negative symptoms. I would say that my libido is slightly increased, but maybe that’s just because I’m in a better mood generally. I have only felt “depressed” a few times since I began. Each time, when I found myself on the verge of tears over virtually nothing, I thought back and realized that I had forgotten to take my DHEA for the last several days in a row.
DHEA safety and danger, risks, side effects
We do not feel comfortable with the high dosages of DHEA and pregnenolone hormones sold without a prescription. Both have side effects, sometimes serious. A maximum of 5 mg is acceptable when used occasionally. Hormones are powerful substances that have significant short and long term effects. They can be very helpful if used appropriately but can cause serious harm if misused. One of the serious DHEA side effects is heart palpitations or arrhythmias. We have had numerous reports over the years that a DHEA supplement in high doses causes cardiac arrhythmia or skipped heart beats. Use hormones in low doses and for short periods of time.
Dr Ray Sahelian, M.D., author of DHEA: A Practical Guide, has feedback from thousands of people who have taken this supplement and report side effects. Individuals with normal levels who take high doses are likely get side effects. Common adverse effects caused by high doses include:
Acne due to androgens. Either DHEA, or its conversion into androstenedione or testosterone, cause acne pimples to break out, often within days of supplementation.
Increased sweat odor and possible scalp itching
Irritability and restlessness – sometimes low doses can actually lead to calmness
Hair thinning or hair loss
DHEA has not been tested in combination with other medicines, therefore little is known about drug / hormone interactions. For anecdotes relating to the DHEA side effect of hair loss, read the emails below.
High doses could cause heart palpitations or rhythm disturbances.
High dosing for prolonged periods – many years – could theoretically increase the risk for certain cancers such as breast cancer and prostate cancer.
Heart palpitations and arrhythmias, irregular heart beats
This is the most serious and potentially life threatening side effect. High dosages of pregnenolone and DHEA, generally more than 10 mg, cause heart palpitations and irregular beats in some users. The highest dose of these hormones sold over the counter should be no more than 5 or 10 mg, even though they are often available at 10, 25, 50, and even at 100 mg. These hormones are much more powerful that people realize. Just because they are available over the counter does not mean they have been proven to be completely safe.
As of November 2010, even though DHEA has been sold over-the-counter since the mid 1990s, and millions of people have taken it, there have not been any reports in the medical literature indicating that it has caused fatalities. But it is possible that there may have been fatalities from the use of high doses due to cardiac arrhythmias that were not attributed to the hormones.
How does it cause cardiac irregularities? Does it effect catecholamines resulting in extrasystoles?
We don’t know how it influences heart rhythm, perhaps it acts directly on the sinus node?
Just a quick note to validate DHEA does cause heart arrhythmia in some people, and I am one of those. I couldn’t figure out why I started having palpitations and arrhythmia. I went thru all the tests, and nothing mechanically wrong with my heart. The cardiologist said “I just didn’t fit the profile” for anything wrong. So, he wanted to do electrical ablation. I said no, and would wait it out. I stopped taking all my nutritional supplements for 4 months, and the arrhythmia went away. Started taking the DHEA again at 25mg daily, and within 2-3 weeks, the arrhythmia / palpitations had returned. I threw the stuff away! Someone needs to warn people.
DHEA hair loss consequence, is it reversible?
Androgenic hormones, such as DHEA, testosterone and androstenedione can cause hair thinning or hair loss in susceptible individuals. DHEA is likely to raise levels of testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in the hair follicles. Too much DHT will lead to scalp hair loss in some individuals.
Taking DHEA when a person’s body does not need it will lead to excess DHT and cause hair loss in many people probably even in one’s 20s. Too many people are taking high dosages on a regular basis without really needing it. Anyone who wishes to regain their hair growth should discuss with their physician about stopping the hormone. The temporary (2 to 3 month) use of finasteride (Propecia 1 mg) could stop the hair loss and possibly regrow part or all of the lost hair. It is difficult to predict how long a person would need to take finasteride. Whether hair regrows on its own after stopping DHEA or medicines are necessary to help regrow is not clear at this time.
Many people have emailed us that use for several weeks or months led to hair loss. We have had a report from one female user that her hair loss recovered after she stopped the DHEA.
I started taking DHEA a couple days ago because I have an extremely exhausted adrenal level. I was loosing my life, sleeping 18 hours a day and severe depression. So I purchased a bottle of 25 mg, I took one tablet and my LIFE HAS CHANGED, it is awesome, I stay awake, I am not depressed, my life is NEW AGAIN. But I read the hair loss side effects. Will I start to have thinning hair, I am a women, 110 lbs, small frame, is 25mg a day too much to take if I am worried about hair loss?
Hair thinning or hair loss is possible with DHEA in men and women. It is dose dependent and also dependent on how often it is taken. There are many other supplements used for depression and it may be a good idea to use other herbs or supplements while taking a break from the use.
Effect on cancer
I am a 61 yr old female. My neurologist ran some blood work and found that my DHEA level is 46. This result was double checked. She prescribed 25 mg every day. I am seeing her following a concussion resulting in complete amnesia. I have since had difficulties with memory, focus and concentration. I did some research online and found that it should not be taken by someone with a history of breast cancer. I had DCIS 12 yrs ago, which is considered by some as breast CA and others as a precursor to breast CA. I did not differentiate the 2 when I spoke with her and she said to take the supplement only twice a week. I now worry that this is not an adequate dose.
We are not aware of such research. There is a lot that is not known about the long term effects of this natural hormone supplement as it relates to its influence on cancer growth or promotion. There are other non-hormonal ways to treat memory loss and cognitive decline.
Depression and mood
I am a 56 year old mail. Unfortunately, when I was 51, I began suffering from depression. I believe that in my case the depression caused by too much work related stress. Eventually a doctor prescribed Lexapro, but I had an very adverse reaction to this drug, going into a bad state of mind. From there, I went on Paxil, taking it for four years. I can’t say that those 4 years on Paxil give me many fond memories. I learned that doctors really don’t know much about depression and brain chemistry. A person has to be careful about these psycho medications. Unfortunately, these drugs are prescribed as though doctors are cooking with seasoning, trying “a little of this” and “a little of that”. I learned that DHEA hormone has a benefit to some individuals who are depressed. After taking 5 mg, I saw immediate results. I gave up Paxil about a year ago. There is research on this subject that DHEA is beneficial to some individuals who experience moderate depression. In my case, I believe that the hormone pill helped.
Production by the body
Humans are thought to make between 10 and 15 mg of DHEA hormone a day. These numbers are lower in women by about 10 to 20 %.
Testing for blood or saliva DHEA levels
Unless you have a medical condition which leads to very low levels of DHEA, it is very difficult to determine the appropriate dosage based on testing. At this point we do not recommend routine blood or saliva DHEA testing unless it is interpreted by an experienced medical professional or unless there is a strong medical suspicion that symptoms are due to low levels. The interpretation of saliva testing is difficult and different labs may have different ways of testing levels making interpretation even more complicated (and hormone levels could easily vary throughout the day. There is no reason to test for DHEA levels if the hormone is being used occasionally. If a person plans to use it as hormone replacement in low doses, such as 1 to 3 mg, we do not see the need for testing.
What is the role in the human body?
DHEA is converted in the body to androgens (such as testosterone) and estrogens, thus influencing practically every organ and tissue in the body, including the brain. However, the physiological role of DHEA has been studied for over two decades and still eludes final clarification. What we know is that DHEA is secreted by the adrenal cortex, and it exerts its action either indirectly in peripheral tissues after its conversion to androgens and estrogens, or directly as a neurosteroid through the interaction with neuronal receptors.
Cholesterol, lipid levels
If a person takes just 5 mg of dhea is there a danger that he/she will have lower HDL cholesterol? And can this hormone supplement benefit the circulatory system and heart?
Small amounts, such as 5 mg a few times a week are not likely to have a major influence on cholesterol or lipid levels. However, much depends on other factors including diet, activity level, sleep patterns, etc.
Additional human research indicates the following potential DHEA benefits:
May be of benefit in older men and women with osteoporosis.
May benefit those with hypopituitarism, a condition in which the pituitary gland fails to secrete a variety of pituitary hormones into the circulation.
Supplementation improves blood vessel function and insulin sensitivity in middle aged men.
DHEA may benefit patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Supplementation in patients with advanced HIV infection results in improved mental function
There have been dozens of DHEA studies published in the medical literature and the rate of these studies has accelerated ever since supplements became available over-the-counter. For some reason, some of these studies do not mention the DHEA side effects that we have encountered in our clinical experience. Sometimes if you don’t look for a side effect or sign, you don’t find it.
Adrenal deficiency, Addison’s disease
A randomised, controlled trial of long-term DHEA replacement in Primary Adrenal Insufficiency.
J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2007; Departments of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Psychiatry, and Anatomy and Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair; Dept of Endocrinology, Christchurch Hospital, Christchurch, New Zealand.
In Addison’s disease, glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid deficiencies require lifelong replacement, but the associated near-total failure of DHEA synthesis is not typically corrected. In a double-blind trial, we randomised 106 (44 males, 62 females) subjects with Addison’s disease to receive either 50mg daily of micronised DHEA or placebo orally for 12 months, to evaluate its longer-term effects on bone mineral density (BMD), body composition and cognitive function, together with well being and fatigue. Circulating DHEAS and androstenedione rose significantly in both sexes, with testosterone increasing to low normal levels only in females. DHEA reversed ongoing loss of BMD at the femoral neck but not at other sites; DHEA enhanced total body and truncal lean mass significantly with no change in fat mass. There was no significant benefit of treatment on fatigue, cognitive or sexual function. Although further long-term studies of therapy, with dosage adjustment, are desirable, our results support some beneficial effects of prolonged DHEA treatment in Addison’s disease.
Body building, muscle training
There is no evidence that DHEA safely use improves body building or muscle growth. The best supplements for body building are creatine and protein powders.
We don’t think DHEA should be used for diabetes treatment unless all other natural herbs and supplements, along with diet and exercise and weight loss, have first been tried.
DHEA does convert into androstenedione and then to testosterone. As such, DHEA can improve sex drive or libido. However, there are better sexual enhancement options, including an herbal product called Passion Rx and Tribulus Terrestris Extract.
I am 44 yrs old and but lately i am so stressed, my libido is decreasing so bad and lately i started taking Viagra pills, you have erection but you still have low libido. I fell like i am doing something that is not giving me pleasure. It was not like that in the past! i bought a DHEA 50 mg but i did not have courage to take it after reading about adverse effects.
DHEA hormone may increase libido in some users. However, there are herbs that are safer for the long term to increase libido. A low dosage DHEA supplement can be tried for a few days and then stopped for couple of months. In the meantime, sexual herbs to increase libido can be taken in low dosages.
Is there a DHEA study that says this natural hormone improves libido?
Yes, there is more than one study that indicates libido improvement with DHEA supplement use.
DHEA level test
Keep in mind that the range of normal blood DHEA levels vary among different laboratories. A DHEA sulfate blood test measures the amount in the blood. This test is used to evaluate the function of the adrenal glands. DHEA-sulfate is tested in women showing symptoms of virilism (male body characteristics) or hirsutism (excessive hair growth). Levels are also tested in men and women who have signs and symptoms of androgen deficiency.
Normal DHEA level for women are:
Age 18-30: 70-400 ug/dL
Age 31-40: 40-300 ug/dL
Age 41-50: 30-250 ug/dL
Age 51-60: 20-200 ug/dL
Age 61 plus: 13-120 ug/dL
Normal DHEA level for men are:
Age 18-30: 100-650 ug/dL
Age 31-50: 100-550 ug/dL
Age 51-50: 70-300 ug/dL
Age 51-60: 20-200 ug/dL
Age 61 plus: 30-270 ug/dL
If I stop taking DHEA will I suffer withdrawal symptoms? Or, does taking it suppress its release by the adrenals, through negative feedback.
We are not aware of withdrawal symptoms having occurred with stopping its use.
Q. I am a 46 year old woman. My periods stopped when I was almost 44. My doctor had me do blood work that consisted of free t4. free t3. free testosterone, estrodiol. Igf-1 and Dheas. I was within range but low in some testings. This Doctor was not concerned with the standard ranges as she was coming form an anti aging point of view. I was put on Cytomel 50 mcgs a day and DHEA 50 mgs a day for a year. I woke one morning realizing that my hair had had thinned considerably. The whole experience has been extremely upsetting. Needless to say I am off all of the medication prescribed. My Doctor here believes it be an overdose. I have talked to a few other professionals that believe this to be true as well. I had an appointment with a hair specialist. I spent more time with an assistant/intern. The hair specialist did not factor in the DHEA or Cytomel . My TSH levels came back hyperthyroid. He just told me I had androgentic alopecia and gave me a prescription for Rogaine. I have no desire to take it. I of course want my hair to grow back but the side effects of Rogaine are scary to me. I have been off the meds for almost three months. I have some new hair growth. My hair is still much thinner however. I just started taking some natural transdermal progesterone. I did experience weight loss as well while on Cytomel and DHEA. Would 50 mgs of DHEA for a year cause androgenetic alopecia? It just seems suspect that after taking these meds for a year I have now been diagnosed with androgenetic alopecia.
A. DHEA use can lead to accelerated hair loss due to excess androgens. After stopping the DHEA some, most, or perhaps almost all the hair may return but the return of the hair varies among individuals. Please keep us updated on the hair growth return. We don’t have a full understanding yet regarding the influence of progesterone on hair growth or loss. You may wish to inform your doctors regarding this DHEA page so that they are aware of DHEA hair loss side effects.
I recently had my progesterone and DHEA hormone levels tested. Both hormone levels were low. We did not test my pregnenolone or testosterone hormone levels. I am currently taking progesterone and 7-Keto DHEA hormone. If progesterone and DHEA levels are both low, could this possibly mean that pregnenolone may be low also since it converts to progesterone and DHEA? Could simply supplementing with pregnenolone balance levels of both progesterone and DHEA hormone levels?
The whole issue of hormone supplementation is very complicated and there are no simple answers. It is possible that taking pregnenolone hormone could elevate levels of progesterone and DHEA. However one must focus on treating the whole body rather than treating hormone levels. If a person feels well and has no major symptoms, there is no point in taking hormone supplements even if certain blood hormone levels happen to be slightly low. There is a danger supplementing with hormones and it could turn out to be counterproductive in the long run.
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My physician wanted me to use a compounding pharmacy to guarantee the purity of “fillers” used. I thought perhaps I could depend on the purity of your fillers, and not have the additional expense of a compounding pharmacy. Could you please tell me what the DHEA is derived from (if it’s wild yam, does your lab convert it), what the fillers are, and is there a guarantee of purity?
This hormone is quite inexpensive to make and hence it is easy to make it pure. The concern over purity or fillers is not justified. Years ago Dr. Ray Sahelian did an analysis of more than a dozen such products on the market and found them all to be true to their label. Some herbs and nutrients are expensive, such as chondroitin, and hence there is more likelihood for certain vitamin sellers to put less in their products, but that is not the case with this hormone since it is cheap and made easily in the lab. We are not sure exactly all the biochemical steps that are involved in making it.
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