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DHEA Supplements for Weight Loss and Longevity: Miracle or Myth?


An increasing number of people are turning to DHEA supplements based on claims that they can extend their lives, boost weight loss, build muscle and even improve certain health conditions. Fact or fiction? Get insights here based on reports from WebMD's experts.

DHEA Overview
So just what is DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone)? This hormone is produced by your body's adrenal glands. Supplements may be derived from soy or wild yams. It acts as a precursor to male and female sex hormones, including testosterone and estrogen. Typically your production of DHEA declines as you grow older, peaking in your mid-20s. Your body's production of testosterone and estrogen also lessens as you age. Because DHEA supplements can increase the level of these hormones, some claim that DHEA has a variety of benefits.

DHEA Studies
Does DHEA really boost your energy, accelerate weight loss, extend your life, build muscle, improve your mood and even enhance your memory? That's what some claim. However, studies vary on backing up those claims.

Anti-aging: According to the National Institute on Aging as well as the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, there is not enough scientific evidence to support the idea that DHEA can affect how fast you age. Insufficient evidence exists about long-term usage of DHEA, and some say that the supplements could even be harmful.

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Depression: Some studies have found that treatment with DHEA supplements helped relieve mild to moderate depression that occurs in some middle-aged people.

Other conditions: When used with regular condition-specific treatment, DHEA may help in treating obesity, systemic lupus (SLE) and adrenal insufficiency. However, minimal evidence exists with regard to treating dementia, heart disease, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis and fibromyalgia.

Safety of DHEA Supplements
Thinking that it can't hurt to try it? You should be aware of these potential side effects:

  • Oily skin and acne, as well as skin thickening
  • Hair loss
  • Stomach upset
  • High blood pressure
  • Changes in menstrual cycle
  • Facial hair in women
  • Deepening of the voice in women
  • Fatigue
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headache
  • Rapid or irregular heart beat
  • Insomnia
  • Unfavorable changes in cholesterol levels

Weight Loss and Athletic Performance
A DHEA supplement called 7-Keto has been marketed as a way to boost your metabolism and supercharge weight loss. However, most studies do not back up these claims. Other DHEA supplements are labeled as enhancing the strength of your muscles. But it has not been shown to do so and moreover, the National Football League and Major League Baseball both have banned its use.

Always talk with your doctor before taking any supplement, and be wary of marketing claims on supplements that are not regulated by the FDA.

In particular, warns the Mayo Clinic, DHEA can cause higher than normal levels of androgens and estrogens in the body, and theoretically may increase the risk of prostate, breast, ovarian, and other hormone-sensitive cancers. Therefore, it is not recommended for regular use without supervision by a licensed health professional.