DHEA - Elixir of life?
Hormone Replacement Therapy

Author: Elisabetta Robba
Date: 22/02/2012



5-Dehydroepiandrosterone (5-DHEA) is a 19-carbon endogenous steroid hormone.

It is the major steroid produced by the adrenal zona reticularis and is also produced by the gonads and the brain. DHEA is the most abundant circulating steroid in humans.

DHEA is produced from cholesterol through two cytochrome P450 enzymes. Cholesterol is converted to pregnenolone by the enzyme P450 scc (side chain cleavage); then another enzyme, CYP17A1, converts pregnenolone to 17α-Hydroxypregnenolone and then to DHEA.

DHEA has been implicated in a broad range of biological effects in humans and other mammals. It acts on the androgen receptors both directly and through its metabolites, which include androstenediol and androstenedione, which can undergo further conversion to produce the androgen testosterone and the estrogens, including estrone, estradiol, and estriol. It is considered a neurosteroid. Dehydroepiandrosterone and its metabolites: differential effects on androgen receptor trafficking and transcriptional activity.


Secretion of dhea, in contrast to cortisol and aldosterone, declines with ageing; This has generated major interest in its putative role as an 'anti-ageing' hormone. However, it is not clear that the age-associated, physiological decline in DHEA secretion represents a harmful deficiency. "_Arlt, W (2004 Sep). Dehydroepiandrosterone and ageing. Best practice & research. Clinical endocrinology & metabolism 18 (3): 363–80._ PMID 15261843


DHEA is a naturally occurring inactive steroid which may possess disease activity modifying properties as well as the ability to reduce flares and may allow a reduction in the dose of prescription drugs needed. DHEA may also help SLE symptoms such as muscle ache and mouth ulcers. DHEA also seems to strengthen bones in SLE patients being treated with high-dose steroids (corticosteroids). Studying effectiveness of DHEA for SLE is difficult, but there is evidence that DHEA has a modest but clinically significant impact on health related quality of life in the short term. Long term outcomes and safety remain unstudied. Crosbie, D; Black, C, McIntyre, L, Royle, PL, Thomas, S (2007 Oct 17). Dehydroepiandrosterone for systemic lupus erythematosus. Cochrane database of systematic reviews (Online) (4): CD005114. PMID 17943841


p<>. The present findings suggest that, in men, low serum levels of DHEAS may be associated with coronary heart disease. However, whether DHEA supplementation has any cardiovascular benefit is not clear. Data from prospective randomised trials are needed. Thijs L, Fagard R, Forette F, Nawrot T, Staessen JA. Are low dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate levels predictive for cardiovascular diseases? A review of prospective and retrospective studies. Acta Cardiol. 2003 Oct;58(5):403-10. PMID 14609305


Studies have provided evidence that both estrogens and androgens can play a protective role against Alzheimer's disease (AD) related neurodegeneration. Males who become hypogonadal in later life often report problems with their memory. The results of some small clinical trials suggest that testosterone can improve cognitive function in andropause. In contrast, there is no clinical evidence to date which suggest that the hormone dihydroepiandrosterone can improve cognitive function. Fuller, SJ; Tan, RS, Martins, RN (2007 Sep). Androgens in the etiology of Alzheimer's disease in aging men and possible therapeutic interventions. Journal of Alzheimer's disease : JAD 12 (2): 129–42. PMID 17917157


Dehydroepiandrosterone is known to have antiproliferative effects. DHEA induces growth inhibition and apoptosis in BV-2 cells and these effects are inversely associated with glucose concentrations in the medium. The incubation of BV-2 cells with DHEA under glucose deprivation (G0) led to dose- and time-dependent decrease in cellular ATP levels. The decrease in ATP preceded growth inhibition and apoptosis induced by DHEA and all these effects of DHEA were prevented by glucose added during incubation. Yang, N. C.; Jeng, K. C.; Ho, W. M.; Hu, M. L. (2002). ATP depletion is an important factor in DHEA-induced growth inhibition and apoptosis in BV-2 cells. Life Sci. 70 (17): 1979–88. doi:10.1016/S0024-3205(01)01542-9. PMID 12148690
Some in vitro studies have found DHEA to have apoptotic effect on cancer cell lines. Schulz, S.; Klann, R. C.; Schönfeld, S.; Nyce, J. W. (1992). Mechanisms of cell growth inhibition and cell cycle arrest in human colonic adenocarcinoma cells by dehydroepiandrosterone: role of isoprenoid biosynthesis. Cancer Res. 52 (5): 1372–6. PMID 1531325


Early evidence suggests that DHEA seems to help overweight older people who are likely to get metabolic syndrome to lose weight. But it’s not known if DHEA helps younger people to lose weight.

There is evidence that DHEA might lower some of the health risks that make overweight men and women more likely to develop metabolic syndrome. The risk factors that DHEA seems to lower are obesity, fat around the waist, and high insulin levels. There is some evidence that DHEA might improve Chronic Fatigue Syndrome symptoms.
For Schizophrenia, DHEA may be more effective in women than men.
Athletes and other people use DHEA to increase muscle mass, strength, and energy, but DHEA, classified as a controlled substance under the category of anabolic steroids S. 762: A bill to include dehydroepiandrosterone as an anabolic steroid
Is a prohibited substance under the World Anti-Doping Code of the World Anti-Doping Agency
There is some early evidence that DHEA might improve symptoms of Addison’s disease.


As a hormone precursor, there has been a smattering of reports of side effects possibly caused by the hormone metabolites of DHEA
Some of these include possibly serious cardiovascular effects such as heart palpitations and increased blood pressure. Sahelian, M.D., Ray (2005). Honest DHEA Supplement Information. DHEA: A Practical Guide, Mind Boosters, and Natural Sex Boosters..
DHEA is possibly unsafe when taken by mouth during pregnancy or breast-feeding. It can cause higher than normal levels of a male hormone called androgen. This might be harmful to the baby.

Women with polycystic ovary syndrome tend to have elevated levels of DHEAS; so taking DHEA might make this condition worse.


Blood measurements of DHEAS/DHEA are useful to detect excess adrenal activity as seen in adrenal cancer or hyperplasia, including certain forms of congenital adrenal hyperplasia.

Regular exercise is known to increase DHEA production in the body.

Some theorize that the increase in endogenous DHEA brought about by calorie restriction is partially responsible for the longer life expectancy known to be associated with calorie restriction. _19Roberts, E. (1999). The importance of dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate in the blood of primates: a longer and healthier life? Biochemical Pharmacology 57 (4): 329–346. _doi:10.1016/S0006-2952(98)00246-9 PMID 9933021


DHEA plasma levels are so low in most animals that they are difficult to measure, hindering studies on DHEA and aging. DHEA had not yet, at the time of writing, been linked to any specific health disorder. Side effects are linked to its androgenic effects, unfavorable lipid metabolism effects, and "possible growth-stimulating effect" on hormone dependent malignancies (prostate, breast). In practice, there is currently no scientific reason to prescribe DHEA for any purpose whatsoever.


DHEA: the last elixir, 2002

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