DHEA is the abbreviated form for a chemical called dehydroepiandrosterone, a hormone produced within the body, according to MedlinePlus. It is also widely available at many retailers in supplement form. As a hormonal precursor responsible for producing both testosterone and estrogen, DHEA has significant potential benefits as well as risks -- and weighing these against one another is vital to your health if you plan on using the supplement.
Promising DHEA Benefits
Although as of March 2011, DHEA is not currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration for health benefits, it may have beneficial effects nonetheless. MayoClinic.com scores DHEA with a letter grade of "B" for treating adrenal insufficiency, alleviating symptoms of depression, functioning as an adjunct treatment for systemic lupus and potentially combating obesity through enhancing fat loss. More research is needed to confirm these beneficial effects of DHEA supplements, as well as to get the supplement approved by the FDA.
Other Potential Benefits
Certain potential benefits of DHEA ranked as "possibly effective" by MedlinePlus are other pros of the supplement to consider when weighing the supplement's benefits against its risks. DHEA is possibly effective for treating schizophrenia, erectile dysfunction not caused by diabetes or nerve disorders, improving the appearance of skin in elderly people, helping to treat osteoporosis, and increasing energy levels of people with HIV. Again, a significant amount of scientific research must confirm these possible benefits of DHEA.
Short-Term Risks of DHEA
The cons of taking DHEA involve the supplement's adverse or unwanted side effects in both men and women. MedlinePlus reports that these risks increase with DHEA doses of more than 50 to 100 mg per day. For both men and women, DHEA may cause irregular heartbeat and elevated blood pressure and bring about insomnia. Men must watch out for certain DHEA-related risks such as testicular wasting, gynecomastia -- the development of breasts due to too much estrogen produced in the body -- and feelings of aggression. Women taking DHEA risk side effects such as hair loss, body hair growth, deepening of the voice and disturbances in the menstrual cycle. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not take DHEA.
Potential Long-Term Risks
Since DHEA supplementation affects the body's balance of hormones -- especially at high doses over a prolonged period of time -- certain serious long-term risks are crucial to examine. DHEA may increase the chances of heart disease later in life, as well as potentially raise the risk of prostate cancer, ovarian cancer and breast cancer. These risks of DHEA, like its benefits, still require more research to establish.
Before you decide whether DHEA's benefits outweight its risks and begin taking the supplement, it is wise to consult your personal physician. If you have any medical conditions or a family history of medical conditions such as liver disease, heart disease or any hormone-related disease such as hyperthyroidism, it is imperative to get your doctor's advice before taking DHEA.