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DHEA- Does it Live up to the Hype?



DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a hormone that occurs naturally in your body. It's believed to be a precursor hormone that's easily converted into other hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen.

DHEA levels in your body increase sharply at puberty, peak during early adulthood, then drop gradually. Levels are quite low at old age. But no one knows for sure what supplemental DHEA does, how it works, how it may interact with other drugs, and what the long-term effects may be.

What about the claims for DHEA and famous athletes who use it?

According to the advertising hype, DHEA supplement pills will slow aging, burn fat, build muscle and strengthen your immune system. The supplements are also supposed to ward off heart disease, cancer, noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (Type II), Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. In addition, popularity was boosted upon learning that home run king Mark McGuire used supplements similar to DHEA.

Despite being a hormone precursor to testosterone it is unclear that DHEA would even work when taken orally. Most anabolic (muscle building) hormones must be injected because they are inactivated during digestion. Oral anabolic hormones must be chemically processed to resist inactivation in the digestive system. It is known that long term use of oral anabolic steroids is associated with increased risk of liver cancer and other medical problems.

Persons using DHEA for muscle building purposes also may use other growth promoting substances as well as good diet and hard physical exercise. The important point is that just because a person is muscular and fit does not mean that a supplement, such as DHEA, was responsible for this.

None of these claims has been proven. While research continues, most studies so far have involved only animal research or very limited human clinical trials. Long term benefits and risks have not been evaluated. DHEA deficiency is not known to cause any disease, and no medical uses for the supplements have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

If DHEA is a anabolic steroid then why can I buy it?

The FDA banned over-the-counter sales of DHEA in 1985. Since then, it's reappeared as a "dietary supplement," which doesn't require FDA approval.

Are there risks taking DHEA?

Yes, large doses could potentially cause menstrual irregularities and even masculinization in women. In men, it's possible that too much DHEA could aggravate benign prostate enlargement, or even promote prostate cancer.

Bottom Line

We do not recommend use of DHEA for any purpose. If you think you have symptoms related to hormone deficiencies see your physician- he/she can see if some underlying disease is causing your symptoms. If you desire to build strength and muscle mass we recommend finding a qualified trainer and dietitian to assist in designing an acceptable training and dietary regimen.

No studies have been done to verify DHEA works (remember the problem with steroids getting broken down during digestion). If DHEA were to have beneficial strength and muscle growth effects then it would certainly be due to anabolic steroid effects and have the risks associated with anabolic steroid use.

DHEA use is banned by most professional sports leagues (NFL, NBA) with the exception of baseball. It is banned for all Olympic events.


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