Can DHEA Increase Men's Testosterone Levels?

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DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a steroid hormone available in supplement form that is sometimes used to increase testosterone levels. Produced naturally by the adrenal glands, DHEA is converted by the body into testosterone and other sex hormones. Some men take DHEA to increase their testosterone production and achieve certain health effects.

Why Do People Use DHEA to Increase Testosterone?

As men get older, their levels of testosterone gradually decline. Through the use of DHEA supplements, many men aim to counter the negative effects of declining testosterone levels. Taking DHEA to increase testosterone production is said to offer the following benefits:

  • Strengthening the immune function
  • Better mood and memory
  • Decreased fat mass and obesity prevention 
  • Improved sexual function
  • Improved skin health
  • Improved athletic performance 
  • Increased energy
  • Increased sex drive
  • Increased sperm production
  • Increased muscle mass and bone density

Some proponents suggest that taking DHEA to increase testosterone production can help treat erectile dysfunction. In addition, DHEA is often touted as an alternative to testosterone replacement therapy.

The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements notes that there is no research that supports taking DHEA supplements to enhance exercise or athletic performance. However, it is a banned substance in sports, by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Science Behind Using DHEA to Increase Testosterone

So far, there's little scientific support for the claim that taking DHEA supplements can increase testosterone levels. Several small studies suggest that DHEA may help stimulate testosterone production and offer a range of benefits (although a similar number of studies have reported the opposite).

For instance, some studies indicate that use of DHEA supplements may lead to an increase in testosterone levels that could help improve exercise performance. These include a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology in 2013, in which eight middle-aged men were given a DHEA supplement the night before completing a high-intensity interval training exercise program. Results revealed that use of DHEA supplements appeared to increase testosterone levels and prevent those levels from declining during exercise.

Other research on the use of DHEA supplements includes a small study published in the journal Urology in 1999. For the study, 40 patients from an erectile dysfunction clinic were randomly divided into two groups: the first group took a DHEA supplement every day for six months, while the second group took a placebo for the same time period. Although those treated with DHEA supplements experienced a significant improvement in their ability to achieve or maintain an erection, the study's authors note that DHEA had no impact on testosterone levels.

Caveats

While little is known about the safety of long-term or regular use of DHEA supplements to increase testosterone, many side effects are associated with DHEA supplements. These side effects include:

  • Acne and oily skin
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Insomnia 
  • Rapid heartbeats, high blood pressure
  • Reduced HDL "good" cholesterol

Taking DHEA supplements in high doses for extended periods of time is not recommended. DHEA supplements should only be taken under the supervision of a knowledgeable healthc are provider, with hormone levels being checked regularly.

Additionally, there's some concern that DHEA supplements may be harmful to people with conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, diabetes, heart disease, and liver disease, as well as those with or at risk for hormone-sensitive conditions like prostate cancer. DHEA may also interact with certain medications.

Keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. While consumers face such risks when purchasing any dietary supplement, these risks may be of greater magnitude in the purchase of products containing a variety of ingredients and marketed for bodybuilding or weight loss.

Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. 

Using DHEA to Increase Testosterone?

Given the potential health risks, it's important to take caution when using DHEA supplements for any purpose. If you're considering the use of DHEA to increase testosterone, talk to your doctor before starting your supplement regimen. Self-treating and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

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Article Sources

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