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Home > Living Well > Health Library > DHEA for Sports & Fitness
Some athletes say that DHEA promotes the loss of body fat.
Since it is a precursor to testosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) may help build muscle mass. However, it is unusual for anyone under the age of 35 or 40 to have low DHEA levels. As we age, the body's production of DHEA declines, so people over 40 should ask their doctors to check their DHEA levels. Although it is sold over the counter, it's best to take DHEA only with a doctor's supervision.
One hundred mg per day of DHEA was effective in one double-blind trial for improving strength in older men,1 but 50 mg per day was ineffective in a similar study of men and women.2 DHEA has not been effective for women or younger men in other studies.3, 4
Experts have concerns about the use of DHEA, particularly because long-term safety data do not exist.
Side effects at high intakes (50–200 mg per day) appear to be acne (in over 50% of people), increased facial hair (18%), and increased perspiration (8%). In a preliminary trial, DHEA was also reported to induce less common side effects, including breast tenderness, weight gain, mood alteration, headache, oily skin, and menstrual irregularity in some people.5 Since this trial was not controlled, some of these less common "side effects" might have occurred even with a placebo. A case of mania has been reported in an older man who took 200–300 mg of DHEA per day for six months.6 However, in that case report, other causes of mania could not be ruled out.
Significant increases in testosterone levels in both men and women have been reported in some trials.7, 8 Other reports have found this change in women but not in men.9 An increase in testosterone might increase the risk of several cancers, and high amounts of DHEA have caused cancer in animals.10, 11 Moreover, a possible link between higher DHEA levels and risks of prostate cancer in humans has been reported.12 At least one person with prostate cancer has been reported to have had a worsening of his cancer, despite feeling better, while taking very high amounts (up to 700 mg per day) of DHEA.13
While younger women with breast cancer may have low levels of DHEA, postmenopausal women with breast cancer appear to have high levels of DHEA, which has researchers concerned.14, 15 Most,16, 17, 18, 19, 20 but not all, studies21, 22, 23 have found that as DHEA blood levels increase, so does the risk of breast cancer.
Supplementation with high levels of DHEA (100 mg per day) has adversely affected other indicators of cancer risk in both women and men.24, 25 Elevated DHEA levels have been reported to be associated with both higher,26 and lower risk for ovarian cancer.27 The reason for this discrepancy is unknown.
The lack of knowledge about how DHEA supplementation might affect cancer risks provides a reason for caution. Until more is known, people with breast or prostate cancer or a family history of these conditions should avoid supplementing with DHEA.
Although anticancer effects of DHEA have also been reported,28 they involve trials using animals that do not process DHEA the way humans do. Therefore, these positive effects may have no relevance for people.
Some doctors recommend that people taking DHEA have liver enzymes measured routinely. Anecdotes of DHEA supplementation (of at least 25 mg per day) leading to heart arrhythmias have appeared.29
The relationship between DHEA, blood pressure, and heart disease is poorly understood. Increased blood levels of DHEAS have been associated with increased blood pressure30 and other cardiovascular risk factors in some,31 but not all,32 studies. One study found that people with hypertension had significantly decreased blood levels of DHEA.33 Until clinical trials clear up these inconsistencies and confirm its safety, people with hypertension should avoid using DHEA, except under the close supervision of a doctor.
At only 25 mg per day, DHEA has lowered HDL cholesterol while increasing insulin-like growth factor (IGF).34 Decreasing HDL could increase the risk of heart disease. Increasing IGF might increase the risk of breast cancer.
Certain medicines interact with this supplement.
A group of women with asthma who had been taking inhaled beclomethasone were shown to have low levels of DHEA compared to women with asthma who were not taking beclomethasone. The authors speculated that this effect may partially explain how corticosteroids can cause osteoporosis. However, more research is needed to confirm these suspicions and to evaluate whether supplemental DHEA is beneficial to patients taking inhaled corticosteroids.
Insulin has been shown to decrease the levels of DHEA and DHEA-sulfate in the blood. More research is needed to determine the significance of this finding.
DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) supplementation (50 mg per day) has been shown to restore the response of beta-endorphin (a brain chemical involved in pain and pleasure sensations) to clonidine.
DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) supplementation (50 mg per day) has been shown to restore the response of beta-endorphin, a brain chemical involved in pain and pleasure sensations, to fluoxetine. Further research is needed to determine if this drug combination is safe for long-term use.
Diltiazem has been shown to raise blood levels of DHEA and DHEA-sulfate in insulin-resistant, obese men with high blood pressure.
Amlodipine has been shown to raise blood levels of DHEA-sulfate in insulin-resistant, obese men with high blood pressure.
Metformin has been reported to increase blood levels of DHEA-sulfate in at least two studies.
DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) supplementation has been shown to increase blood levels of testosterone, as does methyltestosterone. No studies have investigated the possible additive effects of taking DHEA and methyltestosterone, but either increased drug effectiveness or more severe side effects are possible. Until more is known, these agents should be combined only under the supervision of a doctor.
DHEA is produced by the adrenal glands. A synthetic form of this hormone is also available as a supplement in tablet, capsule, liquid, and sublingual form. Some products claim to contain "natural" DHEA precursors from wild yam. However, the body cannot convert these substances into DHEA35 (although a series of reactions in a laboratory can make the conversion).
Last Review: 06-05-2015
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