Sold in many U.S. pharmacies and nutrition stores, dehydroepiandrosterone is a supplement that currently has no approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its proposed benefits. However, many and varied potential health benefits of DHEA are being researched by the scientific community, and the Mayo Clinic indicates some of these appear to be promising. Examining DHEA's benefits, as well as its recommended dosages, is essential if you plan on taking the supplement.
Many DHEA supplement labels advertise their product for beneficial functions such as enhancing vitality, boosting the immune system and improving overall energy levels. The National Institutes of Health reports that many people find DHEA beneficial for treating erectile dysfunction, alleviating depression associated with HIV and even promoting weight loss. Some athletes take DHEA as a performance-enhancer, because it produces excess testosterone and -- in theory -- promotes lean muscle mass. However, none of these potential benefits has been approved by the FDA, and DHEA -- as with other steroids, such as androsterone -- is banned from the Olympics and most professional sports.
Benefits Under Scrutiny
DHEA is being studied for legitimate health benefits, and as the evidence continues to stack up, so does the potential for DHEA's future use to treat certain medical conditions. DHEA is under consideration for FDA approval to treat systemic lupus, reports the NIH. In addition, the Mayo Clinic ranks DHEA with an academic-style grade of "B" for that purpose, as well as for treating adrenal insufficiency, combating obesity and potentially alleviating symptoms of depression. More scientific research, however, is needed to confirm these significant potential benefits of DHEA.
Brain Cell Growth
DHEA may affect brain cell growth in a beneficial way, reports the University of Wisconsin's Waisman Center. In a 2004 study on DHEA's effects on the human nervous system, scientists found that DHEA both increased the amount of neurons produced by stem cells and increased cell division in the brain. The UW study also reports that DHEA is the only steroid that has this particular property, although scientists are unsure as to whether the improved cell division and increase in neurons is due to DHEA itself or a metabolite of the hormone. Again, more research is needed to confirm this brain-beneficial potential property of DHEA.
Adults age 18 and older can take between 50 and 200 mg of DHEA daily, reports the Mayo Clinic; however, regular supplementation with DHEA is not recommended for younger adults, because our bodies produce plenty of it before middle age. Natural DHEA levels begin to decline into later adulthood, so these dosages are more suitable for older adults whose adrenal glands have slowed production of DHEA. You should consult your doctor before taking the supplement to determine the correct dosage for your body's needs.
Side effects of DHEA may include increased aggression and breast growth in men, as well as possible development of male characteristics and disruption of the menstrual cycle in women. Children under 12 years of age and pregnant or nursing mothers should not take DHEA. If you are considering taking DHEA, make sure your physician helps you determine what dosage -- if any -- is best for you.