This article is a condensed version of Dr. Zarkov’s summary of medical research into DHEA supplementation.
DHEA is a substance produced by the adrenal glands, brain, skin, and other tissues. From it the body makes various hormones,
including testosterone and estradiol. The body’s DHEA production peaks at puberty in women and at about age 20 in men, then
decreases with age.
What we can’t tell you
In the U.S. and some other industrialized countries, government agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have adopted
censorship as a method for intensifying their control over the supplement industry and its customers. Thus, FDA regulations
prohibit us from telling you that any of our products are effective as medical treatments, even if they are, in fact, effective.
Accordingly, we will limit our discussion of DHEA to a brief summary of recent DHEA research, and let you draw your own conclusions
about what medical conditions it may be effective in treating.
Reviews on the subject of DHEA as a supplement
For general information about DHEA see the reviews by Thorne, Binello, Saad, Legrain, Labrie/Luu,, and Bovenberg.
Let’s take a brief look at what researchers have reported about DHEA’s potential medical uses. (For more details, see Zarkov’s original article.)
Fat and obesity
In a small clinical trial in 1988, healthy men consumed 1600 mg/day of DHEA for 28 days. The astonishing result was an average
loss of bodyfat of 31%, and a corresponding increase in muscle mass. Two other small studies at the same dosage showed no such improvements. The discrepancies between these three studies has never been explained, but could have involved
the formulations used, or dietary, genetic, or other differences between the groups of subjects.
All later studies of the effects of DHEA on fat and muscle used far lower doses than the 1988 study and had less dramatic
results (some positive, some null).
DHEA supplementation reduces the lipodystrophy caused by HIV drugs, and it lowers circulating cortisol levels. (The hormone cortisol promotes the storage of visceral fat — the fat that surrounds the digestive tract and can cause the belly to protrude.)
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
In patients with impaired adrenal glands, DHEA supplementation elevates the body’s production of testosterone and estrogens.
Age-related declines in DHEA levels can be corrected with DHEA dosages of about 50 mg/day for women, 100 mg/day for men. Higher doses may be required for other purposes. Age-related declines in estrogens and testosterone can sometimes be corrected by DHEA supplementation. Low-dose studies in subjects 40-70 years of age showed that 50 mg/day
restored estrogen and testosterone to youthful levels in women, and restored estrogen levels (but not testosterone) in men.
Both sexes experienced an increase in the tissue-building hormone ‘IGF-1’ (insulin-like growth factor) and “a remarkable increase
in perceived physical and psychological well-being”. Testosterone levels in elderly men increased 46% with 6 months of DHEA supplementation at 50 mg/day.
In a 2006 study of HIV patients with testosterone deficiencies, 100-400 mg/day of DHEA resulted in significant increases in
testosterone and other steroid hormone levels.
In their 1988 paper, Nestler, et al., reported that oral doses of 1600 mg/day of DHEA caused LDL levels to fall by 7.5% in
4 weeks. Later studies showed lesser effects, but most of these studies used doses of only 20 to 100 mg/day. The last word is not
yet in — some reviewers now consider DHEA to be of proven benefit to the cardiovascular system.
Cortisol levels (which correlate with heart disease) can be reduced in both sexes by DHEA supplementation at 200 mg/day. Indirect evidence even suggests that DHEA may lower the incidence of atherosclerosis.
DHEA treatment appears to inhibit cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, liver, and skin. Most of the evidence comes from animal experiments — few clinical studies have addressed the issue in humans.
Does DHEA supplementation increase the size and strength of muscles? The answer will probably be “no” if you ask sports nutritionists, War-On-Drugs supporters, or the physicians’ lobby. But it will probably be “yes” if you ask medical researchers fortunuate
enough to have funding sources and social environments that allow them to study the matter objectively.
Most research into DHEA’s muscle-building capabilities has been done in elderly subjects. In a 1994 study, 50 mg/day of DHEA
for six months resulted in a 16% increase in blood levels of the hormone IGF-1 in men, and a 31% increase in women. (IGF-1 is a tissue-building hormone that promotes muscle growth.) Another study at the
same dosage showed increases in IGF-1 of 32% and muscular increases of about 2.5%.
At 100 mg/day DHEA increased muscular strength in men by 15%. Nestler’s 1988 study reported a significant increase in muscle mass in men taking 1600 mg/day.
Bone and osteoporosis
In elderly women and men, bone density increases were seen with DHEA supplementation at 50 mg/day. A 2000 study, for example, showed 1.6-2.5% increases in bone mineral density after six months of DHEA usage. Even at 25 mg/day, significant reductions in joint pain occurred in men.
When DHEA was applied to the buttock skin of volunteers 12 times during 4 weeks it promoted the synthesis of procollagen and
protein, suggesting that DHEA could be an anti-aging agent for skin. Improvement in skin pigmentation took place in elderly women given DHEA at 50 mg/day.
DHEA levels correlate strongly with protection against chronic venous ulceration in humans. DHEA accelerates healing in wounded mouse skin.
Anti-aging and longevity
No clinical studies have tried to determine whether longevity is increased by DHEA use. But if DHEA ameliorates killer-diseases
(such as heart disease and cancer), then it is logical to expect an increase in longevity.
Energy and fatigue
DHEA supplementation at 200-500 mg/day significantly reduced fatigue in HIV patients. It had a similar effect in non-HIV subjects, and produced an increase in stamina in women with androgen deficiency.
DHEA protects mice from viral, bacterial and parasitic infections by enhancing immunity. Immunity enhancement has also been been reported in humans. In a 20-week experiment, men in their 60s who were given 50 mg/day of DHEA saw major increases in measures of immunity.
Although significant cognitive benefits have been seen in animal studies of DHEA, most human studies have produced null results. However, patients with advanced HIV disease experienced significant improvement in cognition when they were given 50 mg/day
of DHEA for 4 months.
Mood and depression
When people with midlife-onset depression were given DHEA (3 weeks at 90 mg/day followed by 3 weeks at 450 mg/day), half of
the patients achieved a 50% reduction in depression score. In depressed schizophrenic patients, DHEA at 100 mg/day improved depression and anxiety. Dosages of DHEA in the range of 100-500 mg/day resulted in improved mood and less depression in HIV patients.
Women with low hormone levels experienced higher alertness, stamina, and initiative after using DHEA. In aging men with low androgen levels, 25 mg/day of DHEA caused a “progressive improvement in mood”.
At 200 mg/day, DHEA reduced the incidence of lupus flares. Other studies have shown similar results.
In menopausal women DHEA has been reported to reduce vasomotor symptoms, increase sexual arousal, and improve cognitive performance.
Clinical trials have shown that DHEA supplementation improves libido and other sexual functions in elderly women, men and women with sexual dysfunction, and younger men and women with hormone deficiencies. DHEA also decreases erectile dysfunction.
DHEA supplementation at 80 mg/day improved lackluster responses to ovarian stimulation.
Studies in humans, monkeys, and rodents suggest other possible uses for DHEA:
- reducing incidence and severity of multiple sclerosis
- inhibiting progression or reducing symptoms of Parkinson’s
- ameliorating allergies such as atopic dermatitis and allergy-induced asthma
- preventing herpes virus type 2 encephalitis
- preventing diabetes, and increasing insulin sensitivity in diabetics
- increasing neuronal growth and survival
Because its areas of application are so broad, DHEA is used by many people for general health.
LifeLink’s DHEA is micronized to improve absorption. A dose of piperine (Bioperine®) taken with, or up to an hour before, a DHEA dose may further improve bioavailability.
Are DHEA supplements useful for the conditions and purposes mentioned above? We aren’t allowed to tell you, so you should
take a look at some of the references cited here, and then decide for yourself.