Is DHEA Safe?
Preparing for a healthy pregnancy
If you are trying to get pregnant, you might have heard of the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). You might also have heard that taking a daily supplement of DHEA could be a way to support your ovarian health and female reproductive health.
While scientists still have much to discover about the functions of this hormone, we have learned enough about it to understand that healthy DHEA hormone levels are incredibly important for many of our body’s systems. One of those is the reproductive system, which means that healthy levels of dehydroepiandrosterone can support female reproductive health and ovarian health.
So what exactly is DHEA, and how can you ensure that you have enough of it in your body? Continue reading to learn more about how DHEA works, how to know if you are low, and how you might supplement to support healthy levels.
What is DHEA?
Dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, is a steroid hormone that naturally occurs in your body. Your adrenal glands produce DHEA. It is also produced in smaller amounts in the female ovaries, male testes, and the brain.
After the adrenal cortex synthesizes DHEA into androgen from cholesterol, your body carries the hormone to various organs that need it. Most importantly, for our purposes, it is metabolized into female and male sex hormones in your reproductive organs.
How does DHEA work?
DHEA interacts with cholesterol and adrenaline and plays a critical role in the production of sex hormones. Even though we do not fully understand how DHEA works, we know that it is necessary for the production of estrogens and androgens. Because these hormones are involved in various aspects of reproductive processes, the levels of DHEA in your body can affect your reproductive health.
Your body produces DHEA regularly but then holds it in reserve until it needs a specific hormone, such as estrogen and testosterone. Research also indicates that your body produces the highest levels of DHEA in your 20s and 30s.
Healthy levels of DHEA can support your ovarian health and overall female reproductive health. DHEA naturally decreases in older women. You may benefit from a DHEA supplement as it can support the regulation and production of reproductive hormones - testosterone, to be specific.
Is it safe to take DHEA daily?
Yes, it is generally very safe to take DHEA daily.
Studies have shown that it is generally safe to take 25 mg of a DHEA supplement daily for up to two years. It is also generally safe to take a 50 mg dose short-term for up to one year. In reproductive health settings, women typically take 75 mg of DHEA per day, and studies that use this dose report no serious side effects. It is possible to take this common dose for up to two years without major or severe side effects of DHEA supplements.
That said, you might experience some minor side effects, especially at higher doses. More common minor side effects of the use of DHEA include acne, oily skin, and increased facial hair growth. You should monitor these side effects as you figure out the appropriate dosage of a DHEA supplement.
How do I know if I have low DHEA?
There are some signs that you have low DHEA levels, but the best way to find out is to take a blood test. Your doctor can measure the amount of DHEA-S (DHEA sulfate) in your blood to determine if you have a healthy level of DHEA. DHEA-S is a “storage” form of DHEA that’s more stable than DHEA. Here’s more on the difference between DHEA and DHEA-S.
What causes a DHEA deficiency?
Studies show that DHEA levels naturally decrease with age. The hormone levels peak in men and women between the ages of 20 and 24. After that, DHEA declines more rapidly at first in women. So, lower levels of DHEA could simply be a part of the body’s natural aging process.
Because DHEA is produced primarily in the adrenal glands, a deficiency could also result from a disorder of the adrenal glands (adrenal insufficiency).
Your doctor can help you determine whether or not your adrenal system is affected and the potential causes and treatments.
Who shouldn’t take DHEA?
While DHEA supplements are generally safe for most people, a few health conditions may put you at risk for adverse side effects. While DHEA is available in the US as a supplement without a prescription, it’s still a hormone. Whether or not you have the following conditions, you should speak with your healthcare provider before starting a DHEA supplement.
People with psychiatric disorders
If you experience symptoms of a psychiatric disorder such as schizophrenia, increasing your DHEA levels through a supplement might adversely affect your mood and worsen your disorder. The same is true for bipolar disorder, as DHEA has been known to exacerbate the highs and lows of this condition.
People with heart conditions
Heart conditions related to your cholesterol level or the supply of blood to your heart may be affected by taking a DHEA supplement. If you have high cholesterol or heart disease, taking a supplement might reduce the production of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is the kind of cholesterol your heart needs to thrive. It is essential to work with your healthcare provider when choosing supplements.
People who take certain medications
If you take medication for another medical condition, DHEA might interact with that medication and make it less effective. Doctors generally agree that you should avoid DHEA supplements if you take the following medications (not a complete list):
- Barbiturates: Studies show that DHEA supplements may intensify the strength of sleep sedatives such as mephobarbital, butabarbital, phenobarbital, and pentobarbital. Use caution and consult with a doctor before combining these medications.
- Corticosteroids: These are medications that can help treat inflammatory diseases. If you take corticosteroids, more DHEA might increase the effects of those medications.
- Estrogen and testosterone therapy: DHEA affects hormone levels; if you are already undergoing hormone replacement therapy, you should speak with your doctor about adjusting your dosage levels if you plan to supplement DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone).
- Oral medications for diabetes: If you take oral medications to lower your blood sugar, DHEA supplements may make these medications less effective in regulating your blood sugar. This can be dangerous, so consult your doctor.
Women with estrogen-sensitive conditions
If you have an estrogen-sensitive condition, such as fibroids, endometriosis, or certain cancers (yourself or in your family), DHEA supplements may pose a risk for you, and you should generally not take them. Since DHEA generates estrogen in the body, supplements may worsen your preexisting estrogen conditions.
How can I get more DHEA?
The only way to increase your levels of DHEA is to take a DHEA supplement. Even though wild yams have a substance that is chemically similar to DHEA, eating more wild yams will not actually increase your hormone levels. Wild yams are frequently used as an ingredient in DHEA supplements, but our bodies cannot generate DHEA from wild yams.
DHEA is considered a dietary supplement in the United States, so you will be able to obtain it as a supplement without a prescription. You might also consider a preconception multivitamin that includes DHEA to support your reproductive and ovarian health during your preconception period.
The bottom line
DHEA is a hormone our body produces and is essential for the healthy functioning of many of our organs. It is necessary for the production of male and female sex hormones. However, studies show that, as we age, our DHEA levels naturally decrease.
For most people, DHEA supplements are safe to take in doses of 25 mg to 50 mg daily, as well as 75 mg daily for a limited time. Because lower levels of DHEA naturally occur with age, taking a supplement could be beneficial to your quality of life — especially if you hope to support your female reproductive health.
There are risks involved in taking any supplement. You should consult your doctor before getting started with a DHEA supplement. Additionally, consult your doctor if you have one of the conditions or take any of the medications mentioned above — your healthcare provider will help you determine if a DHEA supplement is right for you.
Please reach out if we can answer any questions about DHEA supplements and your reproductive health. We are with you.
Ovaterra provides reproductive health resources for general, educational purposes only. This content is not intended to replace medical advice from a qualified healthcare professional. Similarly, when making your financial decisions, please consult qualified financial professionals who can make individual recommendations.
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