Today we get to explore the effects, uses, and potential side-effects of the many popular DHEA supplements.
Popular for their anti-aging abilities, the DHEA supplements are commonly used to improve the lifestyle but also the physical and mental health against the effects that the normal aging process has on our bodies.
Let's dive into the most popular uses of DHEA supplements and find out if your unexplained weight gain is caused by the decline in DHEA production itself.
If so, can the DHEA supplements help you fight the weight gain, and how?
Definition of DHEA
DHEA, short for dehydroepiandrosterone, is an endogenous steroid hormone that is naturally produced in the adrenal gland, the gonads, and the brain.
In turn, DHEA is produced only to be later included in the production of other hormones, mainly focusing on the production of the androgen hormones – estrogen and testosterone.[i]
Our body experiences the peak of DHEA production after birth, only to experience how these levels progressively are declining throughout life, as a result of the natural aging process. It has been suggested that the DHEA levels start to decline around the age of 30.[ii]
Signs of low DHEA levels
The decline in the production of DHEA causes certain signs and symptoms to develop.
Everyone needs to be informed about these potential signs in order to be able to recognize them and ask for help as a way to improve his/her lifestyle and general health.
Since DHEA is directly linked to the production of the sex hormones, especially testosterone, any decline in its production will reflect poorly on sexual desire. Because of the decline in the DHEA production, the body faces a decline in the testosterone levels, which results in low libido and a decline in the sexual performance.[iii]
When you are facing a drop in your DHEA levels, you will notice that despite getting the 8 hours of recommended sleep a night, you will still experience fatigue and low energy levels.
Often, individuals have reported feeling tired right after they have woken up. The feelings of fatigue will continue throughout the day and prevent the individual from completing normal everyday activities due to the lack of energy that he/she experiences.
Low levels of DHEA not only do reflect on physical health, but they also cause certain negative effects regarding mental health as well. It is not uncommon for low DHEA levels to be revealed as the cause of depression and common mood swings. It is because of the major hormonal changes in the body and brain that are causing depression to develop.[iv]
Risk of coronary heart disease
For the longest time now, low DHEA levels have been linked to the development of coronary heart disease. However, there had been a lack of scientific proof that can support these sayings.
It was back in 2014 when it was finally decided that low DHEA levels are listed as a significant risk factor for coronary heart disease.[v] However, it is now required to find out the exact link between coronary heart disease and low DHEA levels.
Weak immune system
An array of health issues are expected to occur due to the decline in DHEA levels. It is because of the weakened immune system due to this decline that these health issues start developing.
As a result, common digestive issues are expected to develop, including diarrhea, nausea, and reduced appetite. The individual may show signs of allergies that he/she has not faced before. The body organs will become more susceptible to inflammation, which is a known risk factor for a variety of health issues.
The decline in DHEA production can cause joint pain to occur. It has also been found to worsen the already existing joint pain that has developed due to the aging process that has led to the deterioration process of the fibrous tissue of the joints. Increasing the DHEA levels in the body has caused positive results regarding the health of the joints to develop.
Weight gain due to low DHEA levels
One of the major issues that are happening due to the decline in DHEA levels in the body is weight gain.
Many people struggle with unexplained weight gain until their doctor suggests that it might be their reduced DHEA production that has led to these recent changes. It might come as a surprise, but DHEA is closely related to the metabolism so much so that we can say that the metabolism depends on the normal DHEA production. So, it is only expected that metabolism, as well, is affected by the changes in the DHEA production.
On a daily level, our organs, along with multiple hormones, enzymes, and cell receptors, decide how many calories are being burned, along with where is the accumulated fat being stored. A very important hormone in this process is DHEA itself. In normal circumstances, because of the healthy DHEA production, DHEA influences upon a chain of events regarding the metabolism of fats so that later fewer fats are being stored, especially in the abdominal area.
So, it is expected that the decline in DHEA production would reflect poorly on human metabolism and cause weight gain to happen. This is mainly a recognized problem for menopausal and postmenopausal women who are struggling with additional hormonal changes that often lead to obesity and increased belly fat, which represents a great health issue on its own.
The use of DHEA supplements
As we mentioned earlier, nowadays, there are over-the-counter DHEA supplements that are used to boost the DHEA levels in the body, and with that, to reduce the previously mentioned symptoms.
In the past, DHEA supplements were thought of as diet pills until the FDA decided that they would be available only with a valid prescription. However, in the mid-90s, the DHEA supplements became once again available over-the-counter pills to the public. Today, DHEA supplements are considered to be the anti-aging supplements because of the major positive effects that they have, which are thought to slow down the aging process and all of the changes that come with it.
Because low DHEA levels are suggested to lower the bone density[vi], and with that, to increase the risk of osteoporosis, DHEA supplements are associated with an increase in bone density and prevention of osteoporosis.[vii] DHEA is also believed to be able to increase muscle mass and muscle strength, although more research needs to be done.[viii]
DHEA supplements tend to be widely included in the treatment of mild depression, as well.[ix] The most obvious beneficial effect is, of course, the improved sexual function and libido in both men and women.[x]
DHEA supplements have been included in the treatment of HIV, anorexia nervosa, and adrenal insufficiency, as well as lupus and some types of cancer. The truth is that although we do not know everything about this wondrous supplement, what we do know until now is pretty reassuring.
Dosage and potential side-effects of DHEA supplements
A commonly recommended dose of DHEA supplements is around 25-50 mg on a daily level. It has been suggested that this dosage can be used up to 2 years without any severe side-effects and health issues. It is always recommended to consult a specialist before using this or any other supplement.
Like any other medication and over-the-counter supplement, DHEA supplements are also linked to certain potential side-effects that anyone who is using them needs to watch out for. Although DHEA supplements are considered safe to be used, some mild side-effects can occur, including:
- Oily skin
- Changes in body odor
- Increased hair growth in the armpits and pubic area etc.[xi]
However, DHEA supplements have been known to lead to substance abuse, which is why the recommended dosage has to be respected at all times.[xii] DHEA is also not recommended to be taken during stressful periods in life since it has been found out that it can aggravate stress.[xiii]
DHEA supplements are not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women. These supplements are also not recommended for anyone who is struggling with any psychotic disorders since a high level of DHEA has been found to be a risk factor for certain psychotic symptoms.[xiv]
An overdose of DHEA is suggested to lead to an increased risk of breast, colon, lung, prostate, and stomach cancer; however, more research needs to be done. In the meantime, individuals with a family and/or medical history of any type of cancer are advised against this supplement.
DHEA supplements and their interaction with other medications
DHEA supplements have been noticed to interact with a long list of medications. In most cases, this interaction reduces the DHEA supplements' effectiveness while, in other cases, potential side-effects need to be considered.
If you are using any of the mentioned medications, please contact your healthcare professional. The list of medications with which a potential interaction is possible includes:
- Valproic acid
- Phenothiazines etc.
DHEA supplements, previously thought only as anti-aging and weight loss pills, now find their new purpose in medicine.
Used in a variety of treatment plans, DHEA supplements are thought to help numerous health issues, including HIV, anorexia nervosa, lupus, osteoporosis, and even cancer.
There are more benefits than we can count, and although there is a lack of research that needs to be done, their use in so many areas of medicine has already spoken for itself.
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[ii] Orentreich, N., Brind, J. L., Rizer, R. L., & Vogelman, J. H. (1984). Age Changes and Sex Differences in Serum Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate Concentrations throughout Adulthood. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 59(3), 551–555. doi: 10.1210/jcem-59-3-551
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[iii] Guay, A. T., & Jacobson, J. (2002). Decreased Free Testosterone and Dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate (DHEA-S) Levels in Women with Decreased Libido. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 28(sup1), 129–142. doi: 10.1080/00926230252851258
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[iv] Wong, S. Y., Leung, J. C., Kwok, T., Ohlsson, C., Vandenput, L., Leung, P. C., & Woo, J. (2011). Low DHEAS levels are associated with depressive symptoms in elderly Chinese men: results from a large study. Asian Journal of Andrology, 13(6), 898–902. doi: 10.1038/aja.2011.116
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[v] Tivesten, Å., Vandenput, L., Carlzon, D., Nilsson, M., Karlsson, M. K., Ljunggren, Ö., … Ohlsson, C. (2014). Dehydroepiandrosterone and its Sulfate Predict the 5-Year Risk of Coronary Heart Disease Events in Elderly Men. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 64(17), 1801–1810. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2014.05.076
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[vi] Clarke, B., Ebeling, P., Jones, J., Wahner, H., Ofallon, W., Riggs, B., & Fitzpatrick, L. (2002). Predictors of Bone Mineral Density in Aging Healthy Men Varies by Skeletal Site. Calcified Tissue International, 70(3), 137–145. doi: 10.1007/s00223-001-1072-4
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[vii] Weiss, E. P., Shah, K., Fontana, L., Lambert, C. P., Holloszy, J. O., & Villareal, D. T. (2009). Dehydroepiandrosterone replacement therapy in older adults: 1- and 2-y effects on bone. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(5), 1459–1467. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.27265
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[viii] Corona, G., Rastrelli, G., Giagulli, V. A., Sila, A., Sforza, A., Forti, G., … Maggi, M. (2013). Dehydroepiandrosterone Supplementation in Elderly Men: A Meta-Analysis Study of Placebo-Controlled Trials. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 98(9), 3615–3626. doi: 10.1210/jc.2013-1358
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[ix] Peixoto, C., Cheda, J. D., Nardi, A., Veras, A., & Cardoso, A. (2014).The Effects of Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in the Treatment of Depression and Depressive Symptoms in Other Psychiatric and Medical Illnesses: A Systematic Review. Current Drug Targets, 15(9), 901–914. doi: 10.2174/1389450115666140717111116
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[x] Brooke, A. M., Kalingag, L. A., Miraki-Moud, F., Camacho-Hübner, C., Maher, K. T., Walker, D. M., … Monson, J. P. (2006). Dehydroepiandrosterone Improves Psychological Well-Being in Male and Female Hypopituitary Patients on Maintenance Growth Hormone Replacement. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 91(10), 3773–3779. doi: 10.1210/jc.2006-0316
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[xi] Rutkowski, K., Sowa, P., Rutkowska-Talipska, J., Kuryliszyn-Moskal, A., & Rutkowski, R. (2014). Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA): Hypes and Hopes. Drugs, 74(11), 1195–1207. doi: 10.1007/s40265-014-0259-8
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[xii] Yadid, G., Sudai, E., Maayan, R., Gispan, I., & Weizman, A. (2010). The role of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in drug-seeking behavior. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 35(2), 303–314. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.03.003
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[xiii] Lennartsson, A.-K., Theorell, T., Kushnir, M. M., Bergquist, J., & Jonsdottir, I. H. (2013). Perceived stress at work is associated with attenuated DHEA-S response during acute psychosocial stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 38(9), 1650–1657. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2013.01.010
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[xiv] Buoli, M., Caldiroli, A., Serati, M., Grassi, S., & Altamura, A. C. (2016). Sex Steroids and Major Psychoses: Which Role for DHEA-S and Progesterone. Neuropsychobiology, 73(3), 178–183. doi: 10.1159/000444922
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