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What other names is Dhea known by?

3b-Hydroxy-Androst-5-Ene-17-One, 3BetaHydroxy-Androst-5-Ene-17-One, Androstenolone, Dehydroepiandrosterone, Déhydroépiandrostérone, DHEA-S, GL701, Prasterone, Prastérone.

What is Dhea?

DHEA is a hormone that is naturally made by the human body. It can be made in the laboratory from chemicals found in wild yam and soy. However, the human body cannot make DHEA from these chemicals, so simply eating wild yam or soy will not increase DHEA levels. Don't be misled by wild yam and soy products labeled as "natural DHEA."

DHEA is used for slowing or reversing aging, improving thinking skills in older people, and slowing the progress of Alzheimer's disease.

Athletes and other people use DHEA to increase muscle mass, strength, and energy. But DHEA use is banned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

DHEA is also used by men for erectile dysfunction (ED), and by healthy women and women who have low levels of certain hormones to improve well-being and sexuality.

Some people try DHEA to treat systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), weak bones (osteoporosis), multiple sclerosis (MS), low levels of steroid hormones (Addison's disease), depression, schizophrenia, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and to slow the progression of Parkinson's disease. It is also used for preventing heart disease, breast cancer, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

DHEA is used for weight loss, for decreasing the symptoms of menopause, and for boosting the immune system.

People with HIV sometimes use DHEA to ease depression and fatigue.

Women who have passed menopause sometimes use DHEA inside the vagina for strengthening the walls of the vagina and for increasing bone mineral density.

Like many dietary supplements, DHEA has some quality control problems. Some products labeled to contain DHEA have been found to contain no DHEA at all, while others contained more than the labeled amount.

DHEA is being investigated and may eventually be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a prescription drug for treating systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and improving bone mineral density in women with lupus who are taking steroid drugs for treatment. The FDA is still studying the pharmaceutical company's application for approval.

Is Dhea effective?

There is some scientific evidence that taking DHEA supplements might help some people with depression; improve the appearance of older peoples' skin; reduce vaginal dryness in older women, and improve some men's ability to achieve an erection.

There is also some evidence that DHEA can help decrease the symptoms of lupus.

Although older people sometimes try DHEA for improving thinking, it doesn't seem to work for this use.

There isn't enough information to know if DHEA is effective for the other conditions people use it for including: prevention of heart disease, breast cancer, preventing aging, and diabetes; and treatment of Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

Possibly Effective for...

  • Aging skin. Some research shows that taking DHEA by mouth increases the thickness and hydration of the top layer of the skin in elderly people. Early research shows that applying DHEA to the skin for 4 months improves the appearance of skin.
  • Depression. Most research shows that taking 30-500 mg of DHEA by mouth daily improves symptoms of depression. However, other early research shows that using lower doses of 5-20 mg daily over three weeks does not improve depression.

Possibly Ineffective for...

  • Withdrawal symptoms. Early research shows that taking 100 mg of DHEA daily together with standard therapy for 12 months does not improve symptoms of drug withdrawal in people addicted to heroin. Taking 100 mg of DHEA daily for 12 weeks also did not improve symptoms of cocaine withdrawal.
  • Psoriasis. Early research suggests that injecting 300 mg of DHEA as a shot weekly might not improve symptoms of psoriasis in most people.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. Early research suggests that taking 200 mg of DHEA by mouth for 16 weeks might not reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in older people.

Likely Ineffective for...

  • Mental function. Most research shows that taking DHEA by mouth does not seem to improve mental function or decrease mental decline in healthy older people. However, some early research suggests that taking 50 mg of DHEA daily for 4 weeks might improve vision and memory in middle-aged and older women..
  • Dry mouth (Sjogrens syndrome). Research suggests that taking 50-200 mg of DHEA daily for 4-12 months does not improve a condition called Sjogrens syndrome that causes symptoms including dry mouth.

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...

  • Addison's disease . Evidence on the effectiveness of DHEA for treating Addison's disease is inconsistent. There is some early evidence that DHEA might improve symptoms of Addison's disease, including weight loss, but might not improve mental function.
  • Adrenal insufficiency. There is contradictory information about whether taking DHEA can improve feelings of well-being, sexuality, depression, anxiety, and other symptoms in people with this hormone deficiency. Some research suggests that DHEA might improve these symptoms, while other research suggests that DHEA provides no benefit.
  • Aging. Taking DHEA does not seem to improve body shape, bone strength, muscle strength, insulin sensitivity, or quality of life in people older than 60 who have low DHEA levels.
  • Improving growth and maturation in girls with hormone deficiency (atrichia pubis). There is some evidence that DHEA might help growth and maturation in these girls.
  • Abnormal cell growth on the cervix (cervical dysplasia). Early research shows that administering 150 mg of DHEA through the vagina for up to 6 months reverses abnormal cell growth on the cervix.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Early evidence suggests that taking 25-100 mg of DHEA daily for 6 months reduces chronic fatigue.
  • Lung disease (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)). Early research suggests that taking 200 mg of DHEA daily for 3 months appears to improve lung function in people with COPD.
  • Fibromyalgia. Early research shows that taking 50 mg of DHEA daily for 3 months does not reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia.
  • HIV/AIDS. Early studies suggest that taking DHEA might improve HIV patients' mental health and quality of life. However, DHEA does not seem to actually impact the HIV disease process itself.
  • Infertility. Evidence on the effectiveness of DHEA for infertility is inconsistent. Early research suggests that taking 75 mg of DHEA before in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments appears to improve the success rates of IVF. However, other research suggests it does not increase pregnancy rates.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease. Early research shows that taking 200 mg of DHEA by mouth daily for 56 days reduces symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Inducing labor. Research suggests that administering DHEA through IV twice weekly until the start of labor after 38 weeks of pregnancy or daily for 3 days shortens the time before labor and the length of labor.
  • Menopausal symptoms. Evidence on the effects of DHEA on menopausal symptoms is inconsistent. Some research suggest that taking 10-25 mg of DHEA by mouth daily reduces symptoms including hot flashes. Other evidence suggests DHEA might provide no benefit.
  • Metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions that put people at high risk for heart disease). There is early 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.
  • Inherited condition with many symptoms including muscle wasting (myotonic dystrophy). Taking 100 to 400 mg of DHEA daily for 12 weeks might not affect muscle strength in people with myotonic dystrophy. However, administering DHEA through injections seems to improve daily function, heart function and muscle strength.
  • Weak bones (osteoporosis). Evidence on the effects of DHEA for weak bones is inconsistent. Taking DHEA by mouth daily seems to improve bone mineral density (BMD) in older women and men with osteoporosis or osteopenia (pre-osteoporosis). DHEA may also increase BMD in young women with the eating disorder called anorexia nervosa.
  • Hormone deficiency in men (partial androgen deficiency). Early research suggests that taking 25 mg of DHEA daily for one year might improve mood, fatigue and join pain in older men with hormone deficiency.
  • Physical performance. Some research shows that older adults who take DHEA have improved measures of muscle strength. However, other research has found no effect of taking DHEA on muscle strength.
  • Schizophrenia. Evidence on the effectiveness of DHEA for schizophrenia is unclear. Some research shows that taking DHEA by mouth improves schizophrenia symptoms. DHEA may be more effective in women than men. Other research shows it provides no benefit.
  • Sexual dysfunction. Evidence on the effectiveness of DHEA for sexual dysfunction is inconsistent. Taking DHEA by mouth for 24 weeks seems to improve symptoms including erectile dysfunction and overall satisfaction in men. However, it does not seem to be helpful if erectile dysfunction is caused by diabetes or nerve disorders. Some research shows that it might improve sexual function in women, while also research suggests no benefits.
  • Improving symptoms of lupus (SLE). Evidence on the effectiveness of DHEA for SLE is inconsistent. Some research suggests it provides no benefits. Other research suggests that taking DHEA by mouth along with conventional treatment might help reduce the number of times symptoms flare up and may allow a reduction in the dose of prescription drugs needed. DHEA might also help SLE symptoms such as muscle ache and mouth ulcers.
  • Vaginal weakness (vaginal atrophy). Applying 3.25 to 13 mg of a specific DHEA product (Vaginorm) to the vagina daily for 12 weeks seems to benefit elderly women with vaginal atrophy.
  • Weight loss. Early evidence suggests that DHEA seems to help overweight older people who are likely to get metabolic syndrome to lose weight. It is not known if DHEA helps younger people to lose weight.
  • Heart disease.
  • Breast cancer.
  • Diabetes.
  • Parkinson's disease.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate DHEA for these uses.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).

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