DHEA is one of many “anti-aging” supplements that we can conveniently buy over the counter. It claims to help everything from menopause to memory loss. Does it work—and is it safe?
DHEA is a hormone produced by our adrenal glands. Our body converts DHEA to testosterone and estrogen. DHEA starts declining for people in their late 20’s (which is very unfair!), and many scientists associate that drop with increased body fat, decreased bone mass, higher cholesterol, memory loss, fatigue and reduced labido.
Proponents claim there are studies that show DHEA’s anti-aging effects. Critics caution that more research is needed and that the long-term effects are unknown. Some doctors speculate that long-term effects may lead to liver damage and breast and prostate cancers.
I find many women benefit from using DHEA. The only time women have side effects from DHEA is if the dose is too high, or if the quality of the supplement is not pure. I ALWAYS measure DHEA-S levels.
It is true that companies distributing DHEA products (as well as other dietary supplements) are not required to prove their safety or effectiveness to the Food and Drug Administration. It may not be 100% pure. You need to make sure your supplements come from a reputable company name that preferably standardizes their products. This assures the same dose with each pill, capsule or serving.
I also prescribe pharmaceutical-grade DHEA that are individually compounded by a pharmacist. An outside company verifies their purity and dose. It’s the best way to individualize a dose that is not available over the counter.
A recent study presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology showed that women with severely diminished ovarian reserve experienced dramatic improvements in ovarian function and pregnancy rates when treated with DHEA. The doses used were very high (75mg/day) compared to 10-25mg/day used for health maintenance. More research is being done with DHEA!
The jury is still out –especially on the long term-effects of DHEA. I believe this hormone has more benefits than risk as long as it is monitored like any other hormone. I also feel it should not be sold over the counter as too many supplement companies are taking advantage of people who are not savvy with reading labels and discerning how the product should be used. Talk to your practitioner before starting DHEA and insist on a level before starting, and 3 months after using it to make sure your levels are not too high. More research will continue on this ant-aging hormone. This is one supplement I believe does work and can be used safely.