Dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, is a hormone the body produces naturally and that also can be synthesized in the laboratory for an over-the-counter supplement. DHEA has many potential benefits, although research is insufficient to support many of the proposed uses, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health at its MedlinePlus website. DHEA has side effects involving both hair growth and hair loss.
The adrenal glands produce DHEA, and in men, the testes do as well. DHEA converts to a hormone known as androstenedione, which then is changed into androgens and estrogens, the major male and female hormones. DHEA decreases as people age, according to MedlinePlus.
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DHEA has many potential benefits, as noted by MedlinePlus. Some athletes and other physically active people use DHEA to increase muscle mass, energy and strength, and its effectiveness is indicated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association banning its use. DHEA may improve cognition in older people and slow the worsening of Alzheimer's disease. DHEA is being investigated as a prescription medication for lupus and for increasing bone mineral density in women taking steroid medication for lupus symptoms. Women also take DHEA to relieve symptoms of menopause and to improve well-being and sexuality.
Not only do DHEA levels go down after early adulthood, DHEA levels also seem to be lower in people with certain health conditions, according to MedlinePlus. Signs of a DHEA deficiency as listed by Riverhill Wellness Center include depression, anxiety, persistent fatigue, hypersensitivity to noise and low sex drive. People with low DHEA levels also may experience dry eyes and skin, dry hair and loss of body hair. The Center cautions that many other health disorders can cause these symptoms.
MedlinePlus does not list DHEA as a solution for hair loss in women. The hair growth it causes in women as a side effect is typically unwanted hair, such as facial hair growth, and DHEA actually causes hair loss in some people. Women also can experience changes in menstruation and a deeper voice after taking DHEA. The Riverhill Wellness Center notes that excessive doses of DHEA can lead to new facial and body hair in women, as well as greasy hair and skin, acne and increased body odor.
Using high doses of DHEA or taking it on a long-term basis increases the risk of side effects, including those involving hair. MedlinePlus recommends not taking more than 100 mg of DHEA daily and only using it for a few months at a time for most purposes, while noting that health care practitioners often prescribe a higher dosage for lupus treatment.