Can DHEA Increase Men's Testosterone Levels?

Learn about the benefits and risks of DHEA for men

Produced naturally by the adrenal glands, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a steroid hormone converted by the body into testosterone and other sex hormones. This is the basis for why some support the use of supplement forms of DHEA for men looking to increase their testosterone levels.

However, there's little scientific support for this. Several small studies suggest that DHEA may help stimulate testosterone production and offer a range of benefits, but a similar number of studies have reported the opposite.

This article explores the use of DHEA for men, associated research, as well as its safety.

Is DHEA the Same as Testosterone?

No, DHEA is a precursor to testosterone.

a man lifting weights and bodybuilding
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DHEA Benefits for Men

As assigned males get older, their levels of testosterone gradually decline by 10% per decade after age 30. Through the use of DHEA supplements, many individuals aim to counter the effects of declining testosterone levels.

Taking DHEA to increase testosterone production might offer the following benefits, although data is limited:

  • 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

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, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list it as a banned substance.

Is DHEA Good for Erectile Dysfunction?

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

However, research suggests that testosterone replacement therapy is a more effective therapy than DHEA for:

Research on DHEA and Testosterone in Men

Studies done on whether taking DHEA can increase testosterone are often limited with mixed results. Some examples include:

  • A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology looked at the effects of a DHEA supplement given to eight middle-aged assigned males the night before competing in a high-intensity interval training exercise program. Results revealed that the use of DHEA supplements appeared to increase testosterone levels and prevent those levels from declining during exercise.
  • A study published in the journal Urology noted the impact of DHEA on 40 individuals from an ED clinic who 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. Those treated with DHEA supplements experienced a significant improvement in their ability to achieve or maintain an erection, however, there was no impact on testosterone levels.

DHEA Supplement Warnings

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 them. These side effects include:

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 healthcare 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.

General Supplement Safety

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 when buying products containing a variety of ingredients and marketed for bodybuilding or weight loss.

The safety of supplements in people with medical conditions or those who are taking medications has not been established. 


DHEA is a steroid hormone that is available as a supplement. DHEA supplements are taken for a variety of reasons, including increasing testosterone levels.

DHEA supplements come with the risk of side effects and research on taking these supplements is limited. While some studies suggest that these supplements can increase testosterone and offer various benefits, others note the opposite.

A Word From Verywell

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 healthcare provider before starting your supplement regimen.

It may be worth investigating testosterone replacement therapy as an alternative since there is more data to support this with confirmed low testosterone levels. Self-treating and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. DHEA.

  2. Rutkowski K, Sowa P, Rutkowska-Talipska J, Kuryliszyn-Moskal A, Rutkowski R. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA): hypes and hopes. Drugs. 2014 Jul;74(11):1195-207. doi:10.1007/s40265-014-0259-8.

  3. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary supplements for exercise and athletic performance.

  4. Walther A, Seuffert J. Testosterone and dehydroepiandrosterone treatment in ageing men: are we all set?World J Mens Health. 2020;38(2):178-190. doi:10.5534/wjmh.190006

  5. Liu TC, Lin CH, Huang CY, Ivy JL, Kuo CH. Effect of acute DHEA administration on free testosterone in middle-aged and young men following high-intensity interval training. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2013 Jul;113(7):1783-92. doi:10.1007/s00421-013-2607-x

  6. Reiter WJ, Pycha A, Schatzl G, Pokorny A, Gruber DM, Huber JC, Marberger M. Dehydroepiandrosterone in the treatment of erectile dysfunction: a prospective, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Urology. 1999 Mar;53(3):590-4; discussion 594-5. doi:10.1016/s0090-4295(98)00571-8

By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.