DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, is a hormone produced by the body and secreted by the adrenal glands. DHEA functions as a biological precursor to androgens and estrogens, the male and female sex hormones. DHEA levels in the body decline after the age of about 25, and lower levels of the hormone have been associated with osteoporosis, heart disease, memory loss and breast cancer, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. As such, people often look to augment their levels of the hormone with supplements. Persons with anorexia, type 2 diabetes, AIDS, adrenal deficiencies and those in the end-stages of kidney disease may also be interested in taking DHEA supplements to improve their health and quality of life.
Uses of DHEA
People often use DHEA to slow the aging process, improve cognition and delay the progression of Alzheimer's disease, notes the National Institutes of Health. Athletes use the hormone to increase their energy and muscle mass, but its use is banned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, as of 2010. Others may use the hormone for weight loss, to mitigate the symptoms of menopause and improve the immune system, among other functions.
While health professionals have proposed DHEA as a treatment for a variety of conditions ranging from obesity to HIV, Mayo Clinic reports that insufficient evidence supports claims of the efficacy of a synthetic form of the hormone in improving all of these illnesses. With conditions like depression, for which DHEA appears to be a promising treatment, the clinic notes that further studies are necessary to confirm the efficacy of DHEA. As is the case with any supplement, it is important to talk with your doctor if you decide to begin a regimen of synthetic DHEA.
As cited by the University of Maryland Medical Center, a DHEA supplement is not recommended for persons under the age of 40, unless their DHEA levels are low. In women, levels below 130 mg/dl are considered low, and levels below 180 mg/dl are considered low in men. Furthermore, individuals below the age of 18 should not take a DHEA supplement without a doctor's supervision.
For adult males above the age of 19, the recommended daily dosage of DHEA is 50 mg, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. For females above the age of 19, the recommended daily dosage is 25 mg. The center recommends that females with anorexia and adrenal insufficiency take 50 mg of the hormone daily.
According to Mayo Clinic, side effects are generally few if you take a DHEA supplement in the recommended dose. If you take a higher than recommended dose, you may experience fatigue, nasal congestion, headache, acne and irregular heartbeat. Women taking elevated levels of the hormone may also experience abnormal menstrual cycles, changes in mood and insomnia. Other possible side effects may include masculinization or feminization in women and men, respectively.