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DHEA appears to be safe when taken in therapeutic doses, at least in the short term. One study found no significant side effects in 50 women who took up to 200 mg daily for up to 1 year. 1 And, in another study, 93 postmenopausal women who took 50 mg of DHEA daily, also for 1 year, experienced no adverse changes in their uterine lining, blood lipids (cholesterol), or insulin sensitivity. 2 However, in two other studies DHEA, at doses as low as 25 mg per day, decreased levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol. 3 In addition, in women, DHEA may increase levels of male sex hormones along with estrogens and progesterone. 4 This could lead to acne and growth of facial and body hair. 5 Effects on hormones in men may be less significant, 6 although one study in HIV-infected men found that DHEA supplements increase level of testosterone, dihydrotestosterone, androstenedione, and estrone. 7 Concerns have been raised by one study in rats and another in trout that linked DHEA to liver cancer. 8 However, at least four other animal studies suggest that DHEA may have some anticancer effects. 9 A 15-year human observational trial looking for a connection between naturally occurring DHEA levels and breast cancer found no relationship, either positive or negative. 10 However, another study found a relationship between higher levels of DHEA and ovarian cancer. 11 Overall, the long-term safety of DHEA supplements remains unknown. This is the case with many supplements, but because there are animal studies suggesting that DHEA might increase the risk of liver cancer, caution is warranted. Estrogen is one example of a hormone that increases the risk for certain forms of cancer, and it took years for researchers to discover that risk. Keep in mind also that the body converts DHEA into other hormones, including estrogen and testosterone. This could be dangerous for women with hormone-influenced diseases, such as breast cancer.
We also don't know whether DHEA interacts with other hormone treatments, such as estrogen, although it certainly stands to reason that it might. The safety of DHEA in young children, pregnant or nursing women, and people with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.
- van Vollenhoven RF, Morabito LM, Engleman EG, McGuire JL. Treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus with dehydroepiandrosterone: 50 patients treated up to 12 months. J Rheumatol. 25(2):285-9.
- Panjari M, Bell RJ, Jane F, Adams J, Morrow C, Davis SR. The safety of 52 weeks of oral DHEA therapy for postmenopausal women. Maturitas. 63(3):240-5.
- Casson PR, Santoro N, Elkind-Hirsch K, Carson SA, Hornsby PJ, Abraham G, Buster JE. Postmenopausal dehydroepiandrosterone administration increases free insulin-like growth factor-I and decreases high-density lipoprotein: a six-month trial. Fertil Steril. 70(1):107-10.
- Genazzani AD, Stomati M, Bernardi F, Pieri M, Rovati L, Genazzani AR. Long-term low-dose dehydroepiandrosterone oral supplementation in early and late postmenopausal women modulates endocrine parameters and synthesis of neuroactive steroids. Fertil Steril. 80(6):1495-501.
- Mease PJ, Merrill JT, Lahita R, et al. GL701 (prasterone, dehydroepiandrosterone) improves or stabilizes disease activity in systemic lupus erythematosus. Presented at: The Endocrine Society's 82nd Annual Meeting; June 21-24, 2000; Toronto, Canada.
- Acacio BD, Stanczyk FZ, Mullin P, Saadat P, Jafarian N, Sokol RZ. Pharmacokinetics of dehydroepiandrosterone and its metabolites after long-term daily oral administration to healthy young men. Fertil Steril. 81(3):595-604.
- Poretsky L, Brillon DJ, Ferrando S, Chiu J, McElhiney M, Ferenczi A, Sison MC, Haller I, Rabkin J. Endocrine effects of oral dehydroepiandrosterone in men with HIV infection: a prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Metabolism. 55(7):858-70.
- Gatto V, Aragno M, Gallo M, Tamagno E, Martini A, Di Monaco M, Brignardello E, Boccuzzi G. Dehydroepiandrosterone inhibits the growth of DMBA-induced rat mammary carcinoma via the androgen receptor. Oncol Rep. 5(1):241-3.
- Shibata MA, Hasegawa R, Imaida K, et al. Chemoprevention by dehydroepiandrosterone and indomethacin in a rat multiorgan carcinogenesis model. Cancer Res. 1995;55:4870-4874.
- Barrett-Connor E, Friedlander NJ, Khaw KT. Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate and breast cancer risk. Cancer Res. 50(20):6571-4.
- Helzlsouer KJ, Alberg AJ, Gordon GB, Longcope C, Bush TL, Hoffman SC, Comstock GW. Serum gonadotropins and steroid hormones and the development of ovarian cancer. JAMA. 274(24):1926-30.