Is DHEA Safe?

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by Nils Osmar. January 1, 2022

I take a number of different anti-aging supplements. They include some:

  • NAD boosters
  • hGH boosters
  • supplement for healthy blood sugar, and
  • testosterone boosters.

I take DHEA as part of the last group because it’s a precursor to testosterone and some other hormones. I’ve found it to be an effective component of my anti-aging protocol. But is it actually safe to take long range? Let’s look into the evidence in both directions.

Why Some People Take It

DHEA is naturally high when we’re young, but begins dropping in both males and females when we pass the age of 25. In the elderly, levels can drop as low as 10%–20% of those found in young adults. Having high DHEA does have some anti-aging effects. They include:

  • It improves insulin sensitivity and has been shown to inhibit metabolic syndrome.
  • It increases the production of collagen, making skin appear smoother and younger looking. (We may not live longer as a result of taking it, but we may have better skin and look younger if we do.)
  • Some studies show that it can reduce inflammation in the arteries and reduce arterial stiffness.
  • It appears to increase bone mass and bone strength, which may help prevent osteoarthritis.
  • Having healthy levels of DHEA enhances memory.
  • Daily intake of 90 mg per day and higher has been shown to improve cognitive function and alleviate depression both in the elderly and among individuals suffering from debilitating mental illness.
  • It’s a pro-hormone, meaning that the body uses it to create other hormones. Taking it can increase the levels of sex hormones which decline with age, including both testosterone and estrogen.
  • One study found that DHEA helped men with erectile dysfunction get and sustain an erection.
  • Several studies suggest that DHEA may help improve sex drive in older women.
  • Some studies suggest that it may be protective against prostate cancer in males.

So it has definite known benefits. But it can also have side effects, which can include:

  • A reduction in HDL levels. HDL is high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol, which we generally want to be high.
  • Oily skin and acne, as well as skin thickening.
  • Hair loss.
  • Fatigue.
  • Increased sweating and weight gain.
  • Increased emotional volatility. According to a recent study, taking supplemental DHEA can sometimes exacerbate mania, irritability and aggression. 
  • It’s associated with high blood pressure, and with heart palpitations.
  • Most important to my mind, both men and women taking a high dose of DHEA for an extended period had a greater incidence of cancer of the colon, lung, and stomach, and some other cancers.

Side effects specific to women can include

  • Changes in the menstrual cycle.
  • Deepening of the voice.
  • Unwanted, male-pattern hair growth, including growth of facial hair in women
  • DHEA may increase the risk of developing breast, ovarian, uterine, or cervical cancer.

Side effects specific to men can include

  • An increased risk of prostate cancer and other hormonally-affected cancers.
  • I should say though that its relationship to cancer is a little iffy. For example, some studies show that it increases the risk of prostate cancer; others show it may have a protective effect against that type of cancer.
  • Because it’s a prohormone, one possible side effect is that men who take it hoping that their testosterone levels will go up may find their estrogen levels increasing instead.
  • I am still taking it, but I recently reduced my dose from 100 mg to 50 mg/day, and may reduce it further. My gut-level feeling about it is that it may be wise to find the smallest possible dose that gives the desired effect, rather than seeing how much you can “get away with” taking.

For more, here’s a video I made recently:

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