Report on DHEA Side Effects and Usage


Natural health supplements sometimes have unexpected side effects or interactions with medication that can lead to adverse reactions that are sometimes life threatening. The following is a list of cautions that you should be aware of before using DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone). These are referred to as drug/herb interactions. DHEA is sold as an herbal supplement in the U.S. but is available only by prescription in most other countries.

Warning 1 – Contraindications: Men with prostate cancer or significant prostate problems should not use DHEA at all, since it is a precursor to testosterone, it may cause tumors to grow.

Women who have been diagnosed with estrogen-dependent cancers should avoid DHEA entirely or consult with a healthcare provider before taking it.

Pregnant or nursing women should avoid DHEA entirely.

For those with liver problems, diabetes, depression and mood disorders, or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), taking DHEA might make these conditions worse.

Warning 2 – Hormone Replacement Therapy: DHEA may interfere with estrogen and androgen therapy. Since DHEA is a hormone, taking it in supplement form has some risks. Blood tests to determine current levels of DHEA-S should be taken before anyone considers using this supplement. DHEA therapy should be considered only when blood levels are low.

Warning 3 – Increased Cancer Risk: According to the Mayo Clinic DHEA supplements may increase your risk of developing breast, prostate cancer, and other types of cancer that are affected by hormone levels.

Warning 4 – Mood management medications: Taking DHEA supplements while on mood managing medication may produce sexually aggressive behavior in inappropriate situations.

Used as a natural health supplement: DHEA is still controversial. It is used internally for the following benefits and conditions:

  • DHEA may be useful in the management of schizophrenia. Human trials suggest it can improve attention and visual/movement skills, reduce some of the side effects of anti-psychotic medications and improve overall neurological function.
  • For some, DHEA has been favorable for improving fatigue and other symptoms of lupus. For other patients with lupus, DHEA treatment decreased HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.
  • In the study, 50mg per day of DHEA improved insulin sensitivity.
  • May aid in building muscle mass and strength (It appears that the modest improvements in body composition and strength are limited to elderly men and women with low levels of DHEA-S (DHEA sulfate-the form in which most DHEA in the body is found))
  • May aid in weight loss
  • May enhance mood
  • May help reduce the risk of post-menopausal osteoporosis
  • May improve concentration and memory in women
  • May improve hipbone mineral density in both men and women
  • May improve spine bone mineral density
  • May reduce bone loss
  • May reduce depression
  • May reduce fatigue
  • Preliminary research indicates that DHEA supplementation may alleviate some of the symptoms of Addison’s Disease (primary adrenal insufficiency).

When used externally in a topical cream DHEA has demonstrated the following benefits:

  • DHEA stimulates collagen production, which may have beneficial effects on aging skin.
  • Intra-vaginal application alleviates age/menopause-associated vaginal atrophy and improves sexual function, without altering serum hormone levels.

There are many DHEA-related studies out there, but the results are conflicting and unclear. In healthy people, oral DHEA certainly raises serum levels of DHEA-S, but there’s no consensus on whether this is useful or desirable.

Side Effects of DHEA

It appears that doses of DHEA below 200 mg daily are generally well tolerated by most people. Doses of 200 mg daily and higher have been reported to cause a variety of different side effects. These possible DHEA side effects include:

  1. Abdominal pain (stomach pain)
  2. Acne
  3. Decreased levels of HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol)
  4. Facial or body hair growth
  5. Fatigue
  6. Hair loss
  7. Headaches
  8. High blood pressure (hypertension)
  9. Insomnia (with long-term use)
  10. Liver dysfunction (which might cause problems such as yellow eyes or skin, dark urine, or upper right abdominal pain)
  11. Mania symptoms (such as racing thoughts, careless spending, or risky sexual activity)
  12. Mood Swings
  13. Nasal congestion
  14. Some women can have facial hair growth, a deeper voice, and changes in menstrual cycle after taking DHEA.
  15. Stomach upset

Other side effects may also occur when using DHEA. (See form below)

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