As defined by The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a natural hormone produced by the adrenal glands that is known to act as a precursor of androgens, which are male sex hormones, as well as estrogens, or female sex hormones. DHEA is one of the hormones that can be synthesized, and it is available in over the counter supplements. DHEA supplements are widely used to improve mood, immunity, sense of well-being and athletic performance. However, DHEA also tends to cause some harmful effects.
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Reduced High Density Lipoproteins (HDL)
The prolonged consumption of DHEA may result in a decrease of the level of high density lipoproteins, states MayoClinic.com. High density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol is generated by the intestine and liver to help transport cholesterol in the body. High HDL levels are noted to protect the individual against numerous cardiovascular diseases. MayoClinic.com recommends the use of DHEA only under the supervision of a registered medical practitioner.
According to MayoClinic.com, allergic reactions may occur in some individuals taking DHEA. Allergic reactions are characterized by the presence of redness on the skin, itching, swelling, blistering, rashes, shortness of breath, runny nose, hives and sneezing. MayoClinic.com strictly advises such individuals to avoid DHEA products.
The University of Maryland-Medical Center reports that long term use of DHEA may cause cancer. Because DHEA is a precursor of androgens and estrogens, injesting it leads to increased levels of these hormones. The long term use of DHEA may increase the risk of developing hormone related cancer like breast cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, adrenal cancer, and testicular cancer. DHEA may also contribute to the development of drug resistance in breast cancer. The University of Maryland Medical Center advises individuals with a family history of any cancerous conditions to avoid the use of DHEA.
As stated by MayoClinic.com, DHEA use may enhance the hormonal effects in both males and females. DHEA may increase the production of testosterone, the male hormone, thus increasing a woman’s risk of developing signs of masculinization. Masculinization is characterized by the development of abnormal male sexual characteristics in women, like loss of hair on the head, deepening of the voice, weight gain around the waist, increased acne, and facial hair growth. However, males are at greater risk of developing gynecomastia, or breast enlargement, breast tenderness, shrinkage of testicles and increased aggressiveness.