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Proponents argue that there are many health benefits of DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, including improved immunity, relief from symptoms of certain diseases, and anti-aging properties. DHEA is a hormone manufactured from cholesterol by the adrenal glands that the body then converts into testosterone and estrogen. The levels of this hormone naturally begin to decline in most people as they approach 30, and low levels of this hormone are associated with several medical conditions, like diabetes. The effects of this decline are not well understood and, as a result, certain ascribed benefits of DHEA have been researched more substantially than others.
Some of the potential benefits of DHEA have been more extensively researched than others. It is a potentially effective treatment for schizophrenia, especially if the patient is male. DHEA may also relieve symptoms of lupus and increase bone density in people with osteoporosis or anorexia nervosa. Men with erectile dysfunction not caused by nerve disorders or diabetes may experience improved performance after taking the hormone. DHEA can possibly improve the thickness and moisture of a person’s skin and thus reduce the appearance of age spots.
Other ascribed benefits of DHEA are not as well supported by empirical studies, although there may be anecdotal evidence. For example, it is not clear if DHEA is effective for Alzheimer’s disease, and studies have been mixed regarding this supplement’s effect on a woman’s libido. Some evidence indicates that weight loss could be one of the benefits of DHEA and that the supplement may lessen the symptoms of menopause, chronic fatigue syndrome, and Addison’s disease.
It is possible that patients with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) can enjoy improved mental health thanks to DHEA. This hormone does not seem to impact the immune function of these patients, however. Inflammatory bowel disease, infertility, and heart disease are other conditions that might be helped by DHEA. In most cases, larger studies and more evidence are still needed to determine this hormone’s effectiveness for a particular condition.
To obtain any of the possible benefits of DHEA, people should consider taking a low-dose capsule once daily for no longer than a few months. The dosage recommendation varies depending on the benefits sought. Synthetic DHEA can be created from wild yam and soy, but there are no food sources that the human body can use to directly manufacture this hormone.
DHEA is considered to be possibly safe when taken for less than a few months at a low dose. As it can affect the amount of estrogen in the body, people suffering from hormone-sensitive conditions should avoid taking this hormone. DHEA may also worsen liver problems, diabetes, and polycystic ovary syndrome. It can also reduce the amount of high lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL), or good cholesterol, in the blood, a potential problem for those who already have low levels of HDL. Individuals with depression or similar mood disorders should use DHEA with caution, as it can cause mania among other mental changes.
Despite some of the benefits of DHEA, consumers should be vigilant when purchasing this supplement. Quality control problems, including misleading labeling and dosage information, have been reported. As with any dietary supplement, people are encouraged to speak with their doctors or health care providers prior to starting any regimen.