Will DHEA make me live forever?
Well, no. However, it might help increase your metabolism, help you lose weight, support your immune system, improve fatigue, strengthen your bones, improve healing, help with depression, and improve memory! Surprisingly, it is only FDA approved to improve symptoms of painful intercourse due to vaginal atrophy, which is common in older women.
DHEA is a hormone that is made mostly in the adrenal glands, but smaller amounts are made in the brain and gonads. It is also a precursor to several other hormones such as testosterone and estrogen. Natural DHEA levels peak in early adulthood and then slowly fall as you age.
The full name is
dehydroepiandrosterone, but I will refer to it simply as DHEA through the rest of this post.
DHEA has been touted as something to take for anti-aging. We need to go ahead and get this out of the way now. There is nothing that stops or reverses aging. We are all going to age, and this is a continuous process. We can, however, optimize our health. If we can improve our health then we should have a much more fruitful life without suffering from as many diseases, which we associate with aging. We can think of it more like age management rather than anti-aging. There is no such thing as anti-aging. In functional or preventive medicine, we hope to maximize what many people call our health span. The goal of improving the health span is to avoid a steady decline in our health with a frequently long and drawn-out period of suffering near the end. Instead, the goal is to stay near our optimal health as long as possible and then have a relatively rapid decline at the very end without a great deal of pain and suffering. And hopefully we can add a few years on to our life in the process. We just can’t go backwards. Below is a graphic of what we mean when we refer to improving our health span rather than steadily growing old with steadily worsening health.
So, why would people say that DHEA is good for “anti-aging”? Keep in mind there is really no such thing. Well, it is because of the benefits shown in many studies. Just Google search “DHEA benefits” and you will see over 10 MILLION results. Some studies do not show a benefit but many of them do. I have listed several references of randomized placebo controlled trials and meta-analysis studies below so that you can do your own research. So, if you are getting older, say over age 40 and are interested in supporting your bone health, memory, healing, mood, and immune system you will probably want to learn more about DHEA.
A synthetic version of DHEA is available as a tablet, capsule, powder, topical cream, and gel. The brand name is “Prasterone”. Feel free to look this up. I do not promote any one brand or type of dosing. You want to find the best option for you, and this is always an individual decision. Most people simply take DHEA from a reputable supplement provider as it does not require a prescription. It is over the counter and found in many combination supplements as well. While I am not opposed to most healthy people taking DHEA, I do recommend you discuss this with your doctor before starting it. It can raise some other hormone levels, and this can cause some side effects or other problems. These can be serious problems for some people. I would also recommend you buy it from a trusted pharmacy or healthcare provider as those products are typically more consistent in their manufacturing and do not contain as many inactive or unwanted ingredients.
Below are some quotes from studies and the references for them are at the end of the post. There are also additional references listed but if you look you will find thousands of studies on the benefits of DHEA. There are some that do not show a benefit, but it definitely seems more positive than negative.
“In fact, the improvements of bone mineral density (BMD) in response to Prasterone are accompanied not only by suppression of bone resorption but more importantly, stimulation of bone formation.”1
“DHEA replacement therapy can partially increase bone mineral density of the hip and trochanter in women.”2
“Human supplementation studies, which have focused on post-menopausal females, older adults, or adrenal insufficiency have shown that restoring the cortisol: DHEA-S ratio improves wound healing, mood, bone remodeling and psychological well-being.”4
“DHEA replacement therapy for 1-year improved hip BMD in older adults and spine BMD in older women.”3
And yes, it can even help you lose weight! “DHEA therapy compared with placebo induced significant decreases in visceral fat area and subcutaneous fat. The insulin area under the curve (AUC) during the OGTT was significantly reduced after 6 months of DHEA therapy compared with placebo. Despite the lower insulin levels, the glucose AUC was unchanged, resulting in a significant increase in an insulin sensitivity index in response to DHEA compared with placebo.”5 In case you didn’t know it already, insulin sensitivity is a very good thing. The hallmark of type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance, which is the opposite of insulin sensitivity.
And one more thing. It can also help prevent and treat non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, NASH for short, also known as Fatty Liver.8
1. Villareal, Dennis T. “Effects of dehydroepiandrosterone on bone mineral density: what implications for therapy?.” Treatments in endocrinology vol. 1,6 (2002): 349-57.
2. Lin, H., Li, L., Wang, Q., Wang, Y., Wang, J., & Long, X. (2019). A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials of DHEA supplementation of bone mineral density in healthy adults. Gynecological endocrinology: the official journal of the International Society of Gynecological Endocrinology, 35(11), 924–931.
3. Jankowski, Catherine M et al. “Effects of dehydroepiandrosterone replacement therapy on bone mineral density in older adults: a randomized, controlled trial.” The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism vol. 91,8 (2006): 2986-93.
4. Bentley, Conor et al. “Dehydroepiandrosterone: a potential therapeutic agent in the treatment and rehabilitation of the traumatically injured patient.” Burns & trauma vol. 7 26. 2 Aug. 2019.
5. Villareal, Dennis T, and John O Holloszy. “Effect of DHEA on abdominal fat and insulin action in elderly women and men: a randomized controlled trial.” JAMA vol. 292,18 (2004): 2243-8.
6. Himmel, P. B., & Seligman, T. M. A pilot study employing Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome. Journal of clinical rheumatology. (1999) 5(2), 56–59.
7. Taylor MK, Padilla GA, Hernandez LM. Anabolic hormone profiles in elite military men: Robust associations with age, stress, and fatigue. Steroids. (2017) 124:18–22.
8. Li, Longlong et al. “The sex steroid precursor dehydroepiandrosterone prevents nonalcoholic steatohepatitis by activating the AMPK pathway mediated by GPR30.” Redox biology, vol. 48 102187. 12 Nov. 2021.