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DrSugar Answers: What Is DHEA?

DrSugar is in the house and he's answering your health questions.

Dear DrSugar,
My mom was very fatigued most days, having to take naps between basic activities like shopping and putting away the groceries, until she started taking a DHEA supplement. Now she has more energy and makes it through multiple activities with no naps. I've started taking it the last few days and I feel much more alert and active. I also think you should know we have both suffered from depression and are being treated by a medical doctor for it. What exactly is it and why does it have this effect? Thanks in advance.
— DHEA User

To learn what DHEA is and how it is used medically,


Secreted by adrenal gland, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) serves as a precursor to hormones such as testosterone and estrogen, and around age 30 the body produces less of it. Using DHEA as medication first became popular in the 1990s with hopes that it would be cure-all and antiaging drug. The drug did not live up to these high expectations; however, there are studies supporting DHEA for use in a variety of illnesses. Scientific evidence supports the use of DHEA in adrenal insufficiency as well as lupus and depression. It sounds like this medication has benefited your mother in terms of increasing her energy levels. The decrease could be related to depression, therefore it would make sense that she would benefit from DHEA. It's likely increasing the levels of certain hormones in her body, leading to higher energy levels.

Although DHEA shows promise in the treatment depression and other diseases, it also comes with potential side effects. Some that have been observed in higher doses include heart arrythimias, acne, and male-pattern hair growth. Because DHEA can elevate levels of testosterone and estrogen, this can also theoretically increase the risk of breast cancer or prostate enlargement. There is debate as to whether DHEA should be a prescription-only medication, and I recommend using it only in the setting of physician supervision.

Have a question for DrSugar? Send it by private messaging me here, and I will forward it to the good doctor.

DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.

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