Read This Before You Start Taking A DHEA Supplement

Dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, is a hormone that occurs naturally in the body and is produced in the adrenal glands (via Mayo Clinic). DHEA is known as a precursor hormone, which means that its primary function is to help the body produce certain other types of hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen. Over time, the level of DHEA in your body begins to fall off. This prompts some people to look into DHEA supplements as a way to reverse or fend off certain conditions in the body such as aging, depression, osteoporosis, and vaginal atrophy. 

For instance, women in menopause who experience uncomfortable symptoms might consider DHEA supplements to increase the production of estrogen and testosterone (per Cochrane Library). Some research also indicates that DHEA supplements may help mitigate mild to moderate symptoms of lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease. It is thought by some that increasing the levels of DHEA for people with lupus will reduce inflammation and improve immunity. However, the FDA has not yet approved DHEA supplements as a treatment for lupus given that more studies are needed, according to

You should be wary of DHEA supplements

While those marketing DHEA supplements make claims that DHEA can improve or reverse a variety of issues, experts in the health community are skeptical about the efficacy of DHEA for many of these conditions. For instance, if you are considering taking DHEA supplements as a way to combat aging, the experts at WebMD advise against it. While some studies showed that DHEA has anti-aging effects, a similar number of studies showed no evidence of this. Also, it is not yet known what effects taking DHEA long-term can have on the body. As far as taking DHEA for depression, while there are signs that DHEA has some positive effects, more research is needed for experts to support using DHEA supplements for this purpose.

For any benefit you may gain from taking DHEA supplements, there are numerous possible side effects. Some of these include: acne, hair loss, irregular heartbeat, erratic cholesterol levels, and, in women, facial hair growth and deepening of the voice due to the increase in testosterone levels (via WebMD).

The Mayo Clinic advises that you avoid taking DHEA supplements given the safety concerns, potential adverse side effects, and lack of conclusive research. An article published in the medical journal Drugs echoes the Mayo Clinic's cautionary view of DHEA, concluding that "large-scale randomized controlled trials are needed to fine-tune the indications and optimal dosing protocols before DHEA enters routine clinical practice."