DHEA (and its sulfate ester DHEAS) is the most abundant steroid in the human body. It is produced by the adrenal glands. These are the triangular-shaped glands that sit on top of the kidneys, which are responsible for releasing hormones in response to stress. They make corticosteroids (cortisol) and catecholamines (adrenaline or epinephrine).
DHEA is sometimes referred to as a pro-hormone because it is the substance from which the body makes sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, etc.).
Women with polycystic ovary syndrome will have elevated levels of DHEAS.
There have been many reported benefits from higher levels of DHEA, many of which have been long disputed:
- Improved memory
- Muscle building
- Performance enhancement
- Lower risk of death from heart disease
- Improved oxidative balance in diabetics
- Decreased lipoprotein (LDL)
In the human body, DHEAS is converted to androstenedione, and then to testosterone. Testosterone can be converted by a process called aromatization, into estrogen. Therefore, excessive use of DHEA could result in increased levels of estrogen (estrone from aromatization of androstenedione and estradiol from testosterone). This can pose a particular problem for men who use excessive amounts of DHEA supplement with the intention of increasing testosterone levels – and all that is associated with increased testosterone. Excessive levels of estrogen have been associated with heart palpitations.
It has been found that reduced calorie intake naturally increases levels of DHEA in the body. This may be a reason why people who maintain a strict calorie restricted diet may have longer lives.
DHEA is available without a prescription in the United States. It requires a prescription in Canada. It is a prohibited substance in some athletic endeavors, particularly international cycling.
Common dosing of DHEA is 25mg to 50mg for men and 5mg to 10mg for women. It is usually taken late in the day, at bedtime. Some people convert DHEA to estrogen quickly and they can be awakened during the night because of increased estrogen. If this occurs, the person is advised to either reduce the dose or take it early in the day.