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DHEA

What You Need to Know

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Updated April 09, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

DHEA Side Effects and Safety

DHEA is a hormone, so it should only be used under the supervision of a qualified health practitioner. Children and pregnant or nursing women should not use DHEA. There have been no studies on the long-term safety of DHEA.

One of the more common side effects of DHEA supplements is acne. Other side effects include insomnia, fatigue, oily skin, abdominal pain, hair loss, nasal congestion, rapid or irregular heartbeats and heart palpitations.

DHEA supplements may alter liver function, so people with liver disease shouldn't use the hormone. People with mood disorders (such as depression) should only use DHEA under the supervision of their healthcare provider, as DHEA supplementation may worsen mood. High levels of the body's natural DHEA has been associated with psychotic disorders, so people with or at risk for psychotic disorders shouldn't use DHEA unless under the supervision of their healthcare provider.

Since DHEA supplements may influence the production of male and female hormones, acne, greasy skin, facial hair growth, hair loss, weight gain around the waist, a deepening of the voice and other signs of masculinization may occur in women. Men may develop aggressiveness, high blood pressure, male pattern baldness, breast enlargement (gynecomastia), breast tenderness and shrinkage of the testicles.

DHEA supplements may also affect the levels of other hormones, such as insulin and thyroid hormone, as well as affect cholesterol levels. People with diabetes or hyperglycemia, high cholesterol, thyroid disorders, Cushing's disease and other hormonal disorders should be particularly cautious.

DHEA supplements may alter the levels estrogen and testosterone, which can theoretically increase the risk of hormone-sensitive cancers such as breast, prostate and ovarian cancer.

People taking DHEA supplements may be more likely to develop blood clots, so people with clotting disorders, heart disease and those with a history of stroke should avoid DHEA supplements.

It's also not known whether DHEA supplements may inhibit the body's ability to make its own DHEA.

Possible Drug Interactions

Theoretically, DHEA supplements may interfere with the effectiveness of antipsychotic drugs, such as chlorpromazine (Thorazine), fluphenazine (Prolixin) and prochlorperazine (Compazine).

DHEA supplements may increase the effects of the following medications:

  • AZT (Zidovudine) -- HIV medication
  • Barbiturates -- medications for sleep disorders
  • Cisplatic -- cancer medication
  • Estrogen and oral contraceptives
  • Testosterone
  • Benzodiazepines, such as triazolam (Halcion), alprazolam and dizaepam for anxiety and sleeping disorders

DHEA may interact in unpredictable ways with the following drugs:

  • Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, beclomethasone (Beconase, Vancenase), dexamethasone, hydrocortisone, prescribed for inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, asthma and skin infections.
  • Insulin
  • Lithium
  • Prescription drugs that are broken down by the same liver enzymes, including: allergy medication (such as fexofenadine), antifungal drugs (such as itraconazole and ketoconazole), cancer medications (such as etoposide, paclitaxel, vinblastine, or vincristine), cholesterol medications (such as lovastatin) and oral contraceptives.

Should You Use DHEA Supplements?

Although DHEA may help manage certain health conditions, it's crucial to consult your doctor before taking DHEA supplements. Medical experts warn that using DHEA supplements in place of standard care may serious health consequences.

Sources

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Muniyappa R, Wong KA, Baldwin HL, Sorkin JD, Johnson ML, Bhasin S, Harman SM, Blackman MR. Dehydroepiandrosterone secretion in healthy older men and women: effects of testosterone and growth hormone administration in older men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 91.11 (2006): 4445-4452.

National Institutes of Health. "DHEA: MedlinePlus Supplements". April 2011.

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Reiter WJ, Pycha A, Schatzl G, Klingler HC, Märk I, Auterith A, Marberger M. "Serum dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate concentrations in men with erectile dysfunction." Urology. 2000 May;55(5):755-8.

Schmidt PJ, Daly RC, Bloch M, Smith MJ, Danaceau MA, St Clair LS, Murphy JH, Haq N, Rubinow DR. Dehydroepiandrosterone monotherapy in midlife-onset major and minor depression. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 62.2 (2005): 154-162.

Strous RD, Maayan R, Lapidus R, Stryjer R, Lustig M, Kotler M, Weizman A. "Dehydroepiandrosterone augmentation in the management of negative, depressive, and anxiety symptoms in schizophrenia." Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2003 Feb;60(2):133-41.

Sun Y, Mao M, Sun L, Feng Y, Yang J, Shen P. "Treatment of osteoporosis in men using dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate." Chin Med J (Engl). 2002 Mar;115(3):402-4.

Villareal DT, Holloszy JO. Effect of DHEA on abdominal fat and insulin action in elderly women and men: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 292.18 (2004): 2243-2248.

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