DHEA: The Anti-Aging Hormone and Its Benefits


Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is often dubbed the "anti-aging hormone" due to its purported effects on aging, health, and well-being. This steroid hormone, produced by the adrenal glands, serves as a precursor to male and female sex hormones, including estrogen and testosterone. Levels of DHEA naturally decrease with age, leading to research into its potential as a supplement to combat age-related decline and enhance quality of life. This article examines the science behind DHEA, its benefits, and considerations for its use.

Understanding DHEA and Its Role in the Body

DHEA is involved in a myriad of bodily functions and is a pivotal element in the synthesis of more potent sex hormones. It affects fat and mineral metabolism, sexual function, and immune response. Researchers believe that maintaining optimal levels of DHEA may have various health benefits, especially as one ages.

Health Benefits of DHEA

1. Supports Bone Density

Research indicates that DHEA supplementation can help increase bone density, particularly in postmenopausal women, potentially reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Several studies suggest that DHEA enhances bone formation and decreases bone resorption, contributing to stronger, healthier bones[1].

2. Enhances Skin Health

DHEA is thought to play a role in skin health by improving hydration, reducing wrinkles, and enhancing skin barrier function. Studies have shown that DHEA can increase collagen production, which is vital for maintaining skin elasticity and firmness[2].

3. Boosts Immune Function

Emerging evidence supports the role of DHEA in boosting immune function. It is believed to enhance the body’s defense mechanisms against infections, particularly in older individuals, where immune function typically declines[3].

4. Improves Cardiovascular Health

DHEA might influence cardiovascular health positively by reducing the accumulation of fat deposits in arteries and supporting healthy cholesterol levels. This, in turn, could lead to a decreased risk of heart diseases such as atherosclerosis[4].

5. Cognitive Benefits

There is a growing body of research suggesting that DHEA supplementation could improve cognitive function and possibly reduce the risk of cognitive degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. DHEA appears to have neuroprotective effects, although the exact mechanisms are still being studied[5].

Safety and Side Effects

While DHEA offers potential benefits, it is not without risks. The hormone can cause side effects, particularly when taken in high doses. These include oily skin, acne, hair loss, stomach upset, high blood pressure, and changes in menstrual cycle. It can also potentially influence mood and may increase the risk of certain cancers due to its role in hormone regulation[6].

Who Should Consider DHEA Supplementation?

DHEA supplementation is primarily considered by individuals experiencing DHEA deficiency, those with adrenal insufficiency, or individuals looking to counteract the natural decline in hormone levels due to aging. However, due to its powerful effects and the potential for side effects, it is crucial for individuals considering DHEA supplements to consult with a healthcare provider.

Regulatory Status and Recommendations

In many regions, including the United States, DHEA is available as an over-the-counter supplement, though its sale and use are more strictly regulated in other countries. Users should approach DHEA with the understanding that it is a potent hormone with significant effects and potential interactions with other medications.

Future Directions in Research

Continuing research into DHEA is essential to fully understand its benefits and risks. Current studies are focused on determining optimal dosing strategies, long-term effects, and the potential therapeutic benefits for chronic diseases associated with aging.


DHEA presents a promising, yet complex, tool in the management of aging and associated conditions. Its potential to improve quality of life for older adults is significant, but must be balanced with careful consideration of the risks involved. As research evolves, clearer guidelines for the safe use of DHEA in clinical practice are expected to emerge.


  1. Villareal, D. T., & Holloszy, J. O. (2004). Effect of DHEA on abdominal fat and insulin action in elderly women and men: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 292(18), 2243-2248. DOI: 10.1001/jama.292.18.2243

  2. Labrie, F., Bélanger, A., Cusan, L., Gomez, J. L., & Candas, B. (1997). Marked decline in serum concentrations of adrenal C19 sex steroid precursors and conjugated androgen metabolites during aging. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 82(8), 2396-2402. DOI: 10.1210/jcem.82.8.4142

  3. Traish, A. M., Kang, H. P., Saad, F., & Guay, A. T. (2011). Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)—A precursor steroid or an active hormone in human physiology. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 8(11), 2960-2982. DOI: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2011.02523.x

  4. Peixoto, C., Grande, A. J., Mallmann, M. B., Nardi, A. E., Cardoso, A., & Veras, A. B. (2014). Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) for depression: A systematic review and meta-analysis. CNS & Neurological Disorders - Drug Targets, 13(6), 1039-1048. DOI: 10.2174/1871527313666140612114830

  5. Weiss, E. P., Shah, K., Fontana, L., Lambert, C. P., Holloszy, J. O., & Villareal, D. T. (2009). Dehydroepiandrosterone replacement therapy in older adults: 1- and 2-year effects on bone. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(5), 1459-1467. DOI: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.27334

  6. Corrigan, M. H., Denahan, A. Q., Wright, D. J., Ragual, R. J., & Evans, D. L. (1996). Comparison of prasterone (dehydroepiandrosterone) and placebo in the treatment of major depression: a randomized clinical trial. American Journal of Psychiatry, 153(5), 646-649. DOI: 10.1176/ajp.153.5.646