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Dangers of DHEA

Dangers of DHEA

DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) is a naturally-occurring steroid hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. DHEA supplements might be recommended for individuals affected by the deficiency of sex hormones. This write-up provides information on the adverse effects associated with its use.
Kanika Khara
Last Updated: Apr 22, 2018
DHEA is an endogenous hormone which serves as a precursor to the androgens and estrogens, which are male and female sex hormones respectively. It is regarded as a neurosteroid that affects the gene expression through intracellular steroid hormone receptors. Its levels begin to decrease precipitously after the age of 30, and its deficiency might be observed in individuals affected by end-stage kidney disease, anorexia, type 2 diabetes, AIDS, or some adrenal insufficiency. Its levels could decrease due to the intake of some drugs like corticosteroids, danazol, insulin, and opiates. Low levels can cause headaches, chronic fatigue, infections, and depression.
This hormone is known for its anti-cancer and anti-obesity influence. It stabilizes nerve cell growth and has beneficial effects in many chronic conditions like Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and disorders of the immune system. It preserves the normal sex hormone levels, subdues the effects of stress, and enhances the generation of antioxidant enzymes in the liver. It improves the immune system of the body and helps fight diseases and infections. It also assists the body in burning calories for energy, rather than storing them as fat.
Side Effects
  • Individuals who take these supplements have experienced unusual cardiac symptoms like palpitations, abnormal heartbeat, skipped beats, or high blood pressure. These symptoms are often observed in people taking high doses, i.e., more than 10 mg per day.
  • Some consumers have experienced hormonal changes. In women, these changes can be masculine traits like hair loss, mood changes, breast enlargement or tenderness, facial hair, menstrual changes, chest hair, deeper voice, and increased sweating. In men, there have been reports of reduced sperm count and infertility. Both men and women might experience hormone-related headaches and acne.
  • It has been observed that DHEA interrupts the liver's ability to process some drugs and medicines, which in turn might lead to the release of drugs into the bloodstream. These medications include glucose-lowering medications, birth control pills, cancer medications, heart medications, blood clot medications like aspirin and heparin, HRT (hormone replacement therapy), and herbal supplements. Hence, you should always consult a doctor or pharmacist before using the supplements with any other medication.
  • The supplements must not be taken by children, as they naturally have a high level of DHEA in their bodies. These supplements abnormally increase the level of DHEA and sex hormones in the body, which can lead to stunted growth, premature puberty, increased risk for cancer of the ovaries, breast, uterus, or the prostate.
  • Its supplementation is not recommended during pregnancy, as it increases the risks of miscarriage. Since it is not safe for infants, it should not be taken by breastfeeding mothers.
Though these supplements are easily available over-the-counter in doses up to 100 mg, it is always advisable to consult a doctor before taking these supplements as they are not safe in the long run. According to research, 5 mg to 10 mg per day is the maximum recommended dose for an adult.
DHEA supplements are available in the form of pills, creams, and even tea, and are often prescribed for people affected by depression, adrenal insufficiency, lupus, etc. Though the supplementation can improve the quality of life by delaying some of the effects of aging and generating a sense of well-being in people affected by its deficiency, it must be taken only as per the recommended dosage to avoid the side effects.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.