What is DHEA?
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a natural steroid hormone and is produced mainly by the adrenal glands. Other parts of the human body that also can produce this steroid hormone include the ovaries, brain, and the testes. DHEA is the most circulating adrenal steroid in the body and is converted into male and female hormones.
The levels of DHEA in our blood change with age. While DHEA levels are highest in our 20s, they can decline up to 90% as we grow older.
DHEA is two steps away from testosterone, which is the male sex hormone. DHEA is first either converted into Androstenediol or Androstenedione and then to testosterone. The conversion process, however, can go further to produce estrogens, estrone, and estradiol.
DHEA supplements are claimed by their makers to reduce body fat, increase muscle mass, and improve overall well being.
Benefits of DHEA supplements
The three most prominent benefits of DHEA supplements according to their makers is that DHEA supplements help in reducing body fat, improving lean muscle mass, and increasing metabolism. The truth, however, is that there is little evidence to support these claims.
The benefits of DHEA supplements that studies show to be true include the following:
- DHEA helps improve sex drive as it increases sex hormone levels.
- DHEA helps in improving overall sense of well being.
Additionally, early research shows that DHEA may help in the treatment of depression, lupus, and adrenal failure.
Side effects of DHEA supplements
Shared below is a list of possible side effects of DHEA supplements:
- DHEA can cause menstrual irregularities in women.
- DHEA can promote hair loss, especially in men.
- DHEA can cause acne problems.
- DHEA can lead to development of unwanted feminine characteristics in men.
- DHEA can accelerate the growth of facial hair.
- Extremely high doses of DHEA can lead to liver damage.
- DHEA can cause prostate enlargement.
The recommended dosage of DHEA varies between 50mg and 100mg daily. Most DHEA supplements in the market contain 50mg or 100mg of DHEA.
What studies say about DHEA
Reducing Body Fat and Increasing Lean Muscle Mass
The Medical College of Virginia conducted a study in which male volunteers weighing 170 pounds with a body fat count of 16% were given a DHEA dose of 1600mg daily for a period of 4 weeks. After 4 weeks, participants did not record any change in weight, but their body fat percentage fell to 14%. This lowered fat count had given way to increased muscle mass in the participants.
A similar study was conducted by the University of Rochester. Again, in this study, male participants were given a daily dose of 1600mg of DHEA for 4 weeks. However, unlike in the first study, no improvement in body fat to lean muscle mass composition was found.
As you can see, in both the above studies, participants were given a dosage of DHEA 16 times more than the recommended dosage to yield noticeable effects of DHEA on body fat and lean muscle mass composition. However, even then the results are contradictory. This suggests that there is no concrete evidence to back up the claim that DHEA supplements are effective in decreasing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass.
Mayo Clinic researchers conducted a study to evaluate the effects that DHEA has on the following markers of aging – muscle strength, muscle mass, peak endurance, glucose tolerance, and fat mass. The participants in this study were older men and women.
The findings of the study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and stated that after the completion of the study, no substantial change was found in any of the markers considered in the study.
Sense of Well Being
University of California conducted a study in which 30 participants were given a daily dose of 50mg of DHEA for a period of 90 days. The average age of the participants was 54 years.
After 3 months, it was found that the participants did not record any change in the composition of body fat or lean muscle mass. Additionally, no improvement in the metabolism was recorded.
However, the majority of participants did record an improved sense of well being. After 3 months, most participants were able to hand stress better, sleep better, and had more energy.
Studies done so far on DHEA suggest that it is certainly not a fountain of youth, and that its ability to reverse aging is overstated. DHEA supplements are also not your best bet if you are looking for a product to decrease your body fat mass, increase lean muscle mass, and improve metabolism.
The brighter side is that DHEA supplements can boost DHEA levels in older individuals and promote an overall sense of well being.