Encyclopedia / D / DHEA



Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a steroid hormone made from cholesterol by the adrenal glands.


The adrenal glands are located on top of each kidney. The outer region of the adrenal gland, called the adrenal cortex, secretes corticosteroid hormones that have important effects on the body's metabolism (the process by which foods are transformed into basic elements which can be utilized by the body for energy or growth), on chemicals in the blood and on bodily characteristics such as hair and body shape.

The smaller, inner region of the gland is called the adrenal medulla, and it functions as the body's first line of response and defense against physical and emotional stresses.

DHEA is called the "mother hormone" because it acts as a precursor to other hormones in the body such as estrogen, progesterone, cortisone, androgen and testosterone, to name a few. The fetus manufactures DHEA, which stimulates the placenta to form estrogen, thus keeping a pregnancy going. Production of DHEA stops at birth, then begins again around age seven and peaks when a person is in their mid-20s. From the early 30s on there is a steady decline (about 2 percent each year) until around age 75 and older when the level of DHEA in the body is about 5 percent of peak.

Claims about DHEA

In the 1970s and 1980s, DHEA was being sold as a weight-loss aid. In 1985 the FDA banned over-the-counter sale of DHEA due to unsubstantiated claims and lack of data on safety and effectiveness for weight loss. Today it is back as a "dietary supplement."

DHEA has been touted as an "antidote for aging" and a "superhormone" that can help burn fat, build muscle mass, boost libido, strengthen the immune system, prevent heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis and non-insulin dependent diabetes, ease the effects of menopause, retard memory loss, help in the treatment of lupus, limit burn damage, combat stress and prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer and Parkinson diseases.

Preliminary Research

There is much interest in the physiology and use of DHEA "replacement" in men and menopausal women. The scientific community and the public await the results of these investigations, but in the meantime, DHEA and/or DHEA-Sulfate (DHEAS) supplementation is not recommended as a therapeutic option in menopause outside of clinical trials.

Research data in the elderly on both hormonal and immunologic effects suggest that DHEA may become a supplemental treatment for lupus patients.

Side Effects

DHEA may have the following side effects:

In women:

  • Increased growth of body and facial hair
  • Masculinization
  • Menstruation stops before age 50
  • Decreases levels of HDL cholesterol
  • Increases the risk of heart disease
  • Increases risk of ovarian cancer

In men:

  • Possible growth of a prostate tumor
  • Prostate enlargement

In both sexes:

  • Development of liver cancer (in mice)
  • Increases insulin resistance


There are two types of DHEA available: pharmaceutical grade DHEA supplements and DHEA extracts.

Only a doctor can prescribe pharmaceutical grade DHEA. Synthetic or pharmaceutical grade DHEA is produced from pharmaceutical grade ingredients. This form is molecularly identical to the DHEA that we produce.

DHEA extracts are available over-the-counter and are made from the Mexican yam called Dioscorea that contains a sterol called diosgenin which contains about 5 to 10 percent of true DHEA. The other 90 percent of the drug ingredients include varying amounts of other hormones.


Do you recommend DHEA?

What are the short-term and long-term side effects?

Are there any DHEA clinical trials in this area? Do you recommend participation?

Do you have other patients on DHEA? What changes, if any, have occurred with them?