Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate. The effectiveness ratings for DHEA are as follows:
Likely effective for…
- Thinning of vaginal tissue (vaginal atrophy). The walls of the vagina can become thinner after menopause. This can cause pain during sex. Using vaginal inserts containing DHEA can reduce pain during sex by up to 15% in women after menopause. A prescription product is available for this condition.
Possibly effective for…
- Aging skin. Some research shows that taking DHEA by mouth or applying it to the skin might improve skin appearance in women after menopause and in people over the age of 60 years.
- Depression. Some research shows that taking 30-500 mg of DHEA by mouth daily improves symptoms of depression. Lower doses do not seem to help. Some experts recommend it for depression if more common medications don’t work.
- Inability to become pregnant within a year of trying to conceive (infertility). Most research shows that taking it for 2 to 3 months before in-vitro fertilization (IVF) might improve the chances of pregnancy and having a baby. However, other research shows that taking DHEA does not seem to prevent miscarriage in women that have had IVF. It isn’t known if taking it helps women get pregnant without IVF.
Possibly ineffective for…
- Aging. Taking DHEA daily for up to 2 years does not seem to improve body shape, bone strength, muscle strength, or quality of life in people older than 60 who have low levels.
- Muscle strength. Most research shows that DHEA does not improve muscle strength in adults.
- Physical performance in elderly adults. Most research shows that DHEA does not improve physical performance in older adults. But it might help frail elderly women.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Early research suggests that taking it does not reduce symptoms of RA in older people.
Likely ineffective for…
- Memory and thinking skills (cognitive function). Most research shows that taking DHEA by mouth does not seem to improve mental function or decrease the mental decline in healthy older people, people with HIV, or in healthy young adults.
- An autoimmune disorder in which the glands that produce tears and saliva are damaged (Sjogren syndrome). Research shows that taking it does not improve symptoms of a condition called Sjögren syndrome that causes dry eyes and dry mouth.
Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for…
- An inherited disorder in which the adrenal glands do not make enough hormones (Addison disease). The effects on the symptoms of Addison disease are not clear. Some early research shows that taking DHEA might improve symptoms such as weight loss and bone density loss. Other research shows that taking it does not improve most symptoms. But it might improve mood and feelings of tiredness.
- A disorder in which the adrenal glands do not make enough hormones (adrenal insufficiency). The effects in women who have symptoms related to a lack of adrenal hormone is not clear. Some research shows that DHEA might improve feelings of well-being and sexuality. Other research shows that it provides no benefit.
- Athletic performance. Early research shows that taking DHEA does not improve sprint performance in female athletes.
- Improving growth and maturation in girls with hormone deficiency (atrichia pubis). Some early reports suggest that DHEA might help growth and maturation in girls with atrichia pubis.
- Heart disease. It isn’t known if taking DHEA can help prevent or treat heart disease. But people with heart disease and low levels in the body seem to be at higher risk for things like a heart attack.
- Abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix (cervical dysplasia). Early research shows that DHEA given as a vaginal insert for 6 months removes abnormal cell growth on the cervix.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Early research shows that taking DHEA reduces symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.
- A lung disease that makes it harder to breathe (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD). Early research shows that taking DHEA might improve lung function and walking distance in people with COPD.
- Cocaine use disorder. Early research shows that taking DHEA does not seem to improve withdrawal symptoms in people who are addicted to cocaine.
- A type of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease). Early research shows that taking DHEA might reduce symptoms in people with Crohn’s disease.
- Erectile dysfunction (ED). Taking DHEA seems to improve symptoms including erectile dysfunction and overall sexual satisfaction in men with some types of erectile dysfunction. However, it does not seem to be helpful if erectile dysfunction is caused by diabetes or nerve disorders.
- Muscle damage caused by exercise. Early research shows that taking it might improve muscle soreness in men completing an exercise program.
- Fibromyalgia. Early research shows that it does not reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia.
- HIV/AIDS. Early studies show that it might improve mood and quality of life in people with HIV.
- Symptoms of the menopause. Early research shows that taking DHEA might reduce hot flashes in postmenopausal women. Some research shows that using DHEA in the vagina might improve sexual function.
- A grouping of symptoms that increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke (metabolic syndrome). There is early evidence that DHEA might lower some of the health risks that put overweight men and women at risk for heart disease and diabetes. Taking it might decrease weight, fat around the waist, and insulin levels.
- A group of inherited disorders that cause muscle weakness and muscle loss (muscular dystrophy). Taking it does not seem to improve muscle strength in people with a type of muscular dystrophy called myotonic dystrophy. However, early research shows that DHEA given by injection might improve daily function, heart function, and muscle strength.
- Obesity. Early research shows that DHEA does not seem to reduce weight in people who are overweight or obese.
- Withdrawal from heroin, morphine, and other opioid drugs. Early research shows that it does not seem to improve withdrawal symptoms in people who are addicted to heroin.
- Weak and brittle bones (osteoporosis). Some research shows that taking DHEA by mouth daily might improve bone strength in older women and men with osteoporosis and in young women with an eating disorder called anorexia nervosa. However, other research shows that DHEA does not improve bone strength in postmenopausal women.
- Low androgen hormone in men (partial androgen deficiency). Early research shows that taking DHEA might improve mood, fatigue, and joint pain in older men with low androgen hormone levels. However, DHEA does not seem to improve sexual dysfunction in men with low levels of androgens.
- Childbirth. Research shows that giving it at 37 or 38 weeks of pregnancy might shorten the time until labor starts and the time a woman is in labor.
- Schizophrenia. The effects on the symptoms of schizophrenia are not clear. Some research shows that taking DHEA by mouth might improve schizophrenia symptoms, however other research shows it does not improve symptoms. DHEA may be more effective in women than men with schizophrenia.
- Sexual problems that prevent satisfaction during sexual activity. DHEA does not seem to improve sexual dysfunction in men with low sexual desire. Some research shows that taking DHEA by mouth might improve sexual function in women with decreased libido or those who are postmenopausal. But not all research agrees. In people with certain types of depression, taking DHEA might improve sexual function.
- An autoimmune disease that causes widespread swelling (systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE). Some early research shows that it does not improve symptoms of lupus. However, when used with usual treatments for lupus, DHEA might help reduce the number of disease flare-ups.
- A type of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis). Early research shows that taking DHEA might reduce symptoms in people with ulcerative colitis.
- Breast cancer.
- Parkinson disease.
More evidence is needed to rate DHEA for these uses.
Side Effects Of DHEA
- When taken by mouth: DHEA is POSSIBLY SAFE when used appropriately. DHEA has been taken by mouth safely for up to 2 years, usually in doses of 50 mg daily. DHEA is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth in high doses or long-term. Do not use DHEA in doses higher than 50-100 mg a day or for a long period of time. Using higher doses or using for a long time period can increase the chance of potentially serious side effects.
- When applied to the skin: DHEA is POSSIBLY SAFE when used appropriately. DHEA cream has been safely applied to the skin for up to 1 year.
- When applied into the vagina: DHEA is POSSIBLY SAFE when used appropriately. DHEA vaginal inserts have been safely used for up to 3 months.
- When given as a shot: There isn’t enough reliable information to know if DHEA is safe.
The most common side effects are generally mild and can include acne and an upset stomach. Acne occurs more in women than in men. Some women can have changes in the menstrual cycle, abnormal hair growth, and a deeper voice. Men can experience breast pain or breast growth.
Warnings & Precautions
- Pregnancy and breast-feeding: DHEA is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken 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. Do not use DHEA if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
- Enlarged Prostate: DHEA might cause difficulty in urinating for people with an enlarged prostate, known as benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH).
- Diabetes: DHEA can affect how insulin works in the body. If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar carefully if you are taking DHEA.
- Hormone-sensitive conditions such as breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, endometriosis, or uterine fibroids: DHEA is a hormone that can affect how estrogen works in the body. If you have any condition that might be made worse by estrogen, do not use DHEA.
- High cholesterol: DHEA might lower “good cholesterol”. If you have high cholesterol or heart disease, talk with your healthcare provider before taking.
- Liver problems: It might make liver problems worse. Do not use DHEA if you have liver problems.
- Depression and mood disorders: DHEA might cause excitability, impulsiveness, and irritability in people with mood disorders. If you have a mood disorder, be sure to discuss DHEA with your healthcare provider before you start taking it. Also, pay close attention to any changes in how you feel.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): Taking DHEA might make this condition worse. Don’t use DHEA if you have PCOS.
Dosage Of DHEA
The following doses have been studied in scientific research:
- For aging skin: 50 mg taken daily for 1 year.
- For depression: 30-500 mg taken daily for 6-8 weeks, either alone or together with antidepressant drugs.
- For inability to become pregnant within a year of trying to conceive (infertility): 75 mg of DHEA taken daily for 2-3 months before and during IVF treatment.
APPLIED TO THE SKIN:
- For aging skin: A 1% cream has been applied to the face and hands twice daily for up to 4 months.
APPLIED INTO THE VAGINA:
- For thinning of vaginal tissue (vaginal atrophy): Vaginal inserts containing 0.25% to 1% have been used once daily for 12 weeks. A specific vaginal insert containing 0.5% DHEA (Intrarosa, Endoceutics Inc.) is a prescription medicine used for this condition.
Consult your doctor or pharmacist.
All information has been provided courtesy of MedLinePlus from the National Library of Medicine and from the FDA.