Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone that your body naturally produces in the adrenal gland. DHEA helps produce other hormones, including testosterone and estrogen. Natural DHEA levels peak in early adulthood and then slowly fall as you age.
A synthetic version of DHEA is available as a tablet, capsule, powder, topical cream and gel.
People use DHEA as an anti-aging therapy and to improve physical performance. DHEA is also used to treat depression and symptoms of menopause.
Research on DHEA for specific conditions includes:
- Aging. In theory, taking DHEA supplements to maintain DHEA levels could slow the aging process, possibly improving well-being, cognitive function and body composition. But so far research hasn’t proved this to be true. More studies are needed to better understand whether DHEA supplementation can counteract some of the effects of aging. A small study suggested that taking DHEA supplements might improve skin hydration and firmness, and decrease aging spots in elderly adults.
- Depression. DHEA might be more effective at treating depression than placebo, especially in people with low DHEA levels.
- Osteoporosis. Study findings on the effects of DHEA supplementation in the treatment of osteoporosis are mixed. More research is needed to determine whether taking DHEA supplements improves bone density in older adults with low DHEA.
- Vaginal atrophy. Limited research suggests that DHEA might improve vaginal dryness in postmenopausal women.
Research on the effects of DHEA on muscle strength and physical performance had mixed results, but most studies indicate DHEA supplementation has no effect on muscle strength in younger or older adults. The National Collegiate Athletic Association has banned DHEA use among athletes.
DHEA might eventually prove to have benefits in treating people diagnosed with certain conditions, such as adrenal insufficiency and lupus. However, further studies are needed.
Studies have shown quality control of this supplement to often be low.
While some research suggests that DHEA might be slightly helpful in treating depression and v