Purported Benefits, Side Effects & More


Purported Benefits, Side Effects & More

Common Names

  • DHEA

For Patients & Caregivers

Tell your healthcare providers about any dietary supplements you’re taking, such as herbs, vitamins, minerals, and natural or home remedies. This will help them manage your care and keep you safe.

What is it?

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) has not been shown effective in treating cancer.

DHEA is the most abundant hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. Clinical trials have shown that DHEA is effective in treating certain forms of depression and anxiety, lupus, sexual dysfunction, and Addison’s disease. High blood levels of DHEA have been associated with increased risk of breast, ovarian cancers; DHEA supplementation also resulted in flare-up of prostate cancer.

What are the potential uses and benefits?
  • Addison’s disease
    Studies have shown that DHEA is effective in treating Addison’s disease.
  • Alzheimer’s disease
    DHEA was not found to be beneficial for patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Cancer treatment
    Although studies have been done to determine DHEA’s benefits for cancer patients, results are not conclusive.
  • Depression
    DHEA has been shown to reduce symptoms of manic depression.
  • Memory loss
    DHEA is not effective in treating memory loss.
  • Schizophrenia
    Studies have shown that DHEA benefits patients with schizophrenia.
  • Sexual performance
    DHEA has been shown to be effective for erectile dysfunction.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
    A few studies have shown that DHEA reduces the number of flare-ups but there was no reduction in overall disease activity.
What are the side effects?
  • Increased acne
  • Mania secondary to supplementation with high doses of DHEA
What else do I need to know?

Do Not Take if:

  • You are taking tamoxifen: Because combination of DHEA and tamoxifen can lead to tamoxifen resistance.

For Healthcare Professionals

Brand Name
Scientific Name
5-androsten-3 beta-ol-17-one, 3 beta-hydroxy-5-androsten-17-one
Clinical Summary

The most abundant hormone secreted by the adrenal glands, DHEA circulates in the blood as the sulfate ester, dehydroepiandrosterone-3-sulfate (DHEA-S). Both are precursors for other hormones, including estrogen and androgens (1). DHEA showed chemopreventive effects (2) (3); blocked the development of tumors (4); and enhanced immune responses following hepatitis (5) and influenza (6) vaccinations in animal models. Although it has been postulated that DHEA may play a role in increasing immune response in acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) (7), no antiviral or immunostimulatory effects were observed in HIV-positive participants receiving DHEA (8)

DHEA was reported effective in treating Addison’s disease (13) (14) (15) (16) (17), major depression (9), schizophrenia-induced anxiety (10), systematic lupus erythematosus (11), erectile dysfunction (13) and osteoporosis (12). Additionally, low serum DHEA-S levels were found to indicate risk of non-vertebral fractures in older men (47). Topical application of DHEA in postmenopausal women increased sebum production and epidermal thickening in the hands and face (18), and oral use increased circulating estradiol levels (52). However, DHEA was ineffective in treating Alzheimer’s disease (19), obesity in adolescents (20), or perimenopausal symptoms (21). It also did not increase muscle mass (22) or physical performance (23), improve cognitive performance (25) , or enhance insulin secretion or action (24) in elderly individuals. Supplementation, believed to enhance physical strength, did not improve physical performance or quality of life in a study done in older men and women (26). Conflicting data, however, suggest improvements in cognitive (43) and physical function (44) in older women. Findings also suggest DHEA may protect against hypoglycemia-associated neuroendocrine and autonomic failure (48) and higher levels were associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular events (53).

Studies on DHEA’s effects on sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women are mixed (28) (29). A review determined DHEA does not improve cognitive performance in this population (54) but improved dyspareunia/genitourinary syndrome in menopausal women (49) (55) and in female cancer survivors (56) (57) , and conferred positive effects on vaginal cytology in postmenopausal women with breast or gynecologic cancers (50). Whether or not DHEA is effective in treating adrenal insufficiency remains unclear (41) (42).

Higher levels of DHEA have been associated with increased risk of ovarian (7) and breast (27) cancers in premenopausal women. Also, elevated DHEA-S levels contributed to tamoxifen resistance and disease progression in breast cancer (28). A case of cancer flare-up was reported in a patient with advanced prostate cancer undergoing DHEA treatment (29). In patients receiving androgen depletion treatment for recurrent prostate cancer, increases in serum DHEA and androsterone (AST) were associated with shorter time to castration-resistant prostate cancer (51).

Purported Uses and Benefits
  • Addison’s disease
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Cancer treatment
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Schizophrenia
  • Sexual performance
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
Mechanism of Action

DHEA is an endogenous hormone secreted by the adrenal cortex in response to adrenocorticotropin. DHEA is metabolized into androstenedione in the body and may be further converted into either testosterone or estrogen. Low levels of endogenous DHEA have been associated with the following disease states: burn trauma, coronary artery disease, non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, obsessive-compulsive disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus (5). Endogenous DHEA concentration peaks around 20 years of age and declines with age.

DHEA has been shown to stimulate insulin growth factor-1 (1). G6PD is necessary for nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) production. DHEA has also been shown to increase levels of interleukin-2 in animal models (7). DHEA reduces the effects of inflammatory cytokines such as interleukin-6, which are thought to reduce flares in systemic lupus erythematosus (11). Numerous studies have reported an inverse relationship between DHEA concentration and cardiovascular disease (5). DHEA administration improved mental function scores in patients with advanced HIV infection (32), enhanced influenza vaccination in elderly patients (6), and decreased oxidative stress markers in patients with type II diabetes in part by negatively influencing TNF-alpha signaling (33). Although DHEA-S concentration does not appear to be correlated with cognitive decline in aging men (34), the anti-depressive effects of DHEA may be mediated by GABAA receptor modulation (35). DHEA has also been shown to affect cytochrome P-450 enzymes in the liver (3). The exact effect that this will have on other drugs remains unclear.

Analogs of DHEA that cannot be converted to androgens and estrogens have been developed and have demonstrated anti-proliferative effects (7) (31). DHEA inhibits glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) in vitro and blocks the development of tumors in mice (4). It was also shown to induce authophagic cell death in human hepatoma cells via a mitogen activated protein kinase (JNK)-transciption factor (Nrf2)-protein complex p62 axis (46).But an increase in concentration of sex hormones including DHEA has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer (30). And prolonged intake of DHEA in postmenopausal women may increase the risk of breast cancer particularly in obese subjects (36). The sulfate ester DHEA-S also stimulates estrogen receptor-positive cell growth (28).

  • DHEA should not be used with tamoxifen as it can lead to tamoxifen resistance (28).
Adverse Reactions
  • Increased acne (11)
  • Mania secondary to supplementation with high doses of DHEA (39) (40)
Herb-Drug Interactions
  • Serum concentrations of DHEA and DHEA-S can be increased by alprazolam, amlodipine, diltiazem, and metformin  (5). Clinical relevance is not known.
  • Serum concentrations of DHEA and DHEA-S can be decreased by dexamethasone, insulin, and morphine  (5)Clinical relevance is not known.
Dosage (OneMSK Only)
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  5. Kroboth PD, Salek FS, Pittenger AL, et al. DHEA and DHEA-S: a review. J Clin Pharmacol. Apr 1999;39(4):327-348.
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  8. Abrams DI, Shade SB, Couey P, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) effects on HIV replication and host immunity: a randomized placebo-controlled study. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. Jan 2007;23(1):77-85.
  9. Wolkowitz OM, Reus VI, Keebler A, et al. Double-blind treatment of major depression with dehydroepiandrosterone. A J Psychiatry. Apr 1999;156(4):646-649.
  10. Strous RD, Maayan R, Lapidus R, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone augmentation in the management of negative, depressive, and anxiety symptoms in schizophrenia. Arch Gen Psychiatry. Feb 2003;60(2):133-141.
  11. Chang DM, Lan JL, Lin HY, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone treatment of women with mild-to-moderate systemic lupus erythematosus: a multicenter randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Arthritis Rheum. Nov 2002;46(11):2924-2927.
  12. Sun Y, Mao M, Sun L, et al. Treatment of osteoporosis in men using dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate. Chin Med J (Engl). Mar 2002;115(3):402-404.
  13. Reiter WJ, Pycha A, Schatzl G, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone in the treatment of erectile dysfunction: a prospective, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Urology. Mar 1999;53(3):590-594; discussion 594-595.
  14. Arlt W, Callies F, van Vlijmen JC, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone replacement in women with adrenal insufficiency. N Engl J Med. Sep 30 1999;341(14):1013-1020.
  15. Callies F, Fassnacht M, van Vlijmen JC, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone replacement in women with adrenal insufficiency: effects on body composition, serum leptin, bone turnover, and exercise capacity. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. May 2001;86(5):1968-1972.
  16. Hunt PJ, Gurnell EM, Huppert FA, et al. Improvement in mood and fatigue after dehydroepiandrosterone replacement in Addison’s disease in a randomized, double blind trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Dec 2000;85(12):4650-4656.
  17. Kim SS, Brody KH. Dehydroepiandrosterone replacement in addison’s disease. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. Jul 2001;97(1):96-97.
  18. Nouveau S, Bastien P, Baldo F, et al. Effects of topical DHEA on aging skin: a pilot study. Maturitas. Feb 20 2008;59(2):174-181.
  19. Wolkowitz OM, Kramer JH, Reus VI, et al. DHEA treatment of Alzheimer’s disease: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Neurology. Apr 8 2003;60(7):1071-1076.
  20. Vogiatzi MG, Boeck MA, Vlachopapadopoulou E, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone in morbidly obese adolescents: effects on weight, body composition, lipids, and insulin resistance. Metabolism. Aug 1996;45(8):1011-1015.
  21. Barnhart KT, Freeman E, Grisso JA, et al. The effect of dehydroepiandrosterone supplementation to symptomatic perimenopausal women on serum endocrine profiles, lipid parameters, and health-related quality of life. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Nov 1999;84(11):3896-3902.
  22. Percheron G, Hogrel JY, Denot-Ledunois S, et al. Effect of 1-year oral administration of dehydroepiandrosterone to 60- to 80-year-old individuals on muscle function and cross-sectional area: a double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Arch Intern Med. Mar 24 2003;163(6):720-727.
  23. Igwebuike A, Irving BA, Bigelow ML, et al. Lack of dehydroepiandrosterone effect on a combined endurance and resistance exercise program in postmenopausal women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Feb 2008;93(2):534-538.
  24. Basu R, Dalla Man C, Campioni M, et al. Two years of treatment with dehydroepiandrosterone does not improve insulin secretion, insulin action, or postprandial glucose turnover in elderly men or women. Diabetes. Mar 2007;56(3):753-766.
  25. Wolf OT, Neumann O, Hellhammer DH, et al. Effects of a two-week physiological dehydroepiandrosterone substitution on cognitive performance and well-being in healthy elderly women and men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Jul 1997;82(7):2363-2367.
  26. Nair KS, Rizza RA, O’Brien P, et al. DHEA in elderly women and DHEA or testosterone in elderly men. N Engl J Med. Oct 19 2006;355(16):1647-1659.
  27. Morris KT, Toth-Fejel S, Schmidt J, et al. High dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate predicts breast cancer progression during new aromatase inhibitor therapy and stimulates breast cancer cell growth in tissue culture: a renewed role for adrenalectomy. Surgery. Dec 2001;130(6):947-953.
  28. Panjari M, Bell RJ, Jane F, et al. A randomized trial of oral DHEA treatment for sexual function, well-being, and menopausal symptoms in postmenopausal women with low libido. J Sex Med. Sep 2009;6(9):2579-2590.
  29. Genazzani AR, Stomati M, Valentino V, et al. Effect of 1-year, low-dose DHEA therapy on climacteric symptoms and female sexuality. Climacteric. Dec 2011;14(6):661-668.
  30. Calhoun K, Pommier R, Cheek J, et al. The effect of high dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate levels on tamoxifen blockade and breast cancer progression. Am J Surg. May 2003;185(5):411-415.
  31. Jones JA, Nguyen A, Straub M, et al. Use of DHEA in a patient with advanced prostate cancer: a case report and review. Urology. Nov 1997;50(5):784-788.
  32. Key T, Appleby P, Barnes I, et al. Endogenous sex hormones and breast cancer in postmenopausal women: reanalysis of nine prospective studies. J Natl Cancer Inst. Apr 17 2002;94(8):606-616.
  33. McNeil C. Potential drug DHEA hits snags on way to clinic. J Natl Cancer Inst. May 21 1997;89(10):681-683.
  34. Piketty C, Jayle D, Leplege A, et al. Double-blind placebo-controlled trial of oral dehydroepiandrosterone in patients with advanced HIV disease. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). Sep 2001;55(3):325-330.
  35. Brignardello E, Runzo C, Aragno M, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone administration counteracts oxidative imbalance and advanced glycation end product formation in type 2 diabetic patients. Diabetes Care. Nov 2007;30(11):2922-2927.
  36. Moffat SD, Zonderman AB, Harman SM, et al. The relationship between longitudinal declines in dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate concentrations and cognitive performance in older men. Arch Intern Med. Jul 24 2000;160(14):2193-2198.
  37. Genud R, Merenlender A, Gispan-Herman I, et al. DHEA Lessens Depressive-Like Behavior via GABA-ergic Modulation of the Mesolimbic System. Neuropsychopharmacology. May 21 2008.
  38. Stoll BA. Dietary supplements of dehydroepiandrosterone in relation to breast cancer risk. Eur J Clin Nutr. Oct 1999;53(10):771-775.
  39. Arlt W, Justl HG, Callies F, et al. Oral dehydroepiandrosterone for adrenal androgen replacement: pharmacokinetics and peripheral conversion to androgens and estrogens in young healthy females after dexamethasone suppression. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Jun 1998;83(6):1928-1934.
  40. Legrain S, Massien C, Lahlou N, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone replacement administration: pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic studies in healthy elderly subjects. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Sep 2000;85(9):3208-3217.
  41. Dean CE. Prasterone (DHEA) and mania. Ann Pharmacother. Dec 2000;34(12):1419-1422.
  42. Markowitz JS, Carson WH, Jackson CW. Possible dihydroepiandrosterone-induced mania. Biol Psychiatry. Jan 15 1999;45(2):241-242.
  43. Gurnell EM, Hunt PJ, Curran SE, et al. Long-term DHEA replacement in primary adrenal insufficiency: a randomized, controlled trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Feb 2008;93(2):400-409.
  44. Labrie F, Belanger A, Belanger P, et al. Metabolism of DHEA in postmenopausal women following percutaneous administration. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. Feb 2007;103(2):178-188.
  45. Christiansen JJ, Andersen NH, Sorensen KE, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone substitution in female adrenal failure: no impact on endothelial function and cardiovascular parameters despite normalization of androgen status. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). Mar 2007;66(3):426-433.
  46. Vegliante R, Desideri E, Di Leo L, Ciriolo MR. Dehydroepiandrosterone triggers autophagic cell death in human hepatoma cell line HepG2 via JNK-mediated p62/SQSTM1 expression. Carcinogenesis. 2016 Jan 13. pii: bgw003. [Epub ahead of print]
  47. Ohlsson C, Nethander M, Kindmark A, et al. Low Serum DHEAS Predicts Increased Fracture Risk in Older Men: The MrOS Sweden Study. J Bone Miner Res. 2017 Aug;32(8):1607-1614.
  48. Mikeladze M, Hedrington MS, Joy N, et al. Acute Effects of Oral Dehydroepiandrosterone on Counterregulatory Responses During Repeated Hypoglycemia in Healthy Humans. Diabetes. 2016 Oct;65(10):3161-70.
  49. Labrie F, Archer DF, Koltun W, et al. Efficacy of intravaginal dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) on moderate to severe dyspareunia and vaginal dryness, symptoms of vulvovaginal atrophy, and of the genitourinary syndrome of menopause. Menopause. 2018 Nov;25(11):1339-1353.
  50. Barton DL, Shuster LT, Dockter T, et al. Systemic and local effects of vaginal dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA): NCCTG N10C1 (Alliance). Support Care Cancer. 2018 Apr;26(4):1335-1343.
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  52. Zhu Y, Qiu L, Jiang F, Găman MA, Abudoraehem OS, Okunade KS, Zhang M. The effect of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) supplementation on estradiol levels in women: A dose-response and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Steroids. 2021 Sep;173:108889.
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  54. Sultana F, Davis SR, Islam RM. Effect of DHEA therapy on cognitive performance among postmenopausal women: a systematic review of randomized clinical trial data. Menopause. 2023 Oct 3. doi: 10.1097/GME.0000000000002251.
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  56. Febrina F, Triyoga IF, White M, Marino JL, Peate M. Efficacy of interventions to manage sexual dysfunction in women with cancer: a systematic review.  Menopause. 2022 May 1;29(5):609-626. 
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