Summary: There is no evidence to suggest that DHEA increases testosterone levels.
In fact, there is evidence to suggest this supplement can be quite harmful and it has been banned in countries such as Australia and New Zealand as a result. I highly recommend staying away from DHEA.
Dehydroepiandrosterone ( DHEA), a hormone produced by adrenal glands, is a metabolic precursor to essential hormones like testosterone and binds to specific cell and nuclear receptors to cause important biological effects.
The natural levels of DHEA in the body decline with progressing age and lead to reduced physical performance, sexual function and muscle strength. DHEA supplements are being used to treat infertility, sexual dysfunction, decreased physical strength and in hormone replacement therapy.
There is no shortage of scientific articles and studies on DHEA, but a thorough review reveals that the findings continue to remain confusing and conflicting. We have summarized some key research articles on the impact of DHEA on various physiological effects on humans.
Oral DHEA can elevate the declining testosterone levels after high-intensity exercise
Study: This study was conducted on eight middle aged sedentary men to observe the effect of DHEA (50mg) supplements after high-intensity interval training. Eight young men were included as the control group. Serum total and free testosterone levels were quantified 24 hours after exercise.
Result: Investigators observed a significant increase in free testosterone levels in middle-aged men post training and DHEA supplementation. There was no effect of DHEA supplements on testosterone levels in young men after high-intensity interval training.
Conclusion: DHEA supplements can help in adapting older men with high-intensity training/ physical activity.
DHEA and exercise improve testosterone levels and muscle strength in frail old women
Study: 90 old women (approximately 76 years of age) were given 50mg per day dose of DHEA for six months. All the subjects participated in 90 minutes of light physical exercise twice a week and also took calcium supplements. The effects of DHEA were recorded on muscle strength, hormone levels and bone mineral density.
Result: At the end of the 6-month study subjects reported improvement in physical activity, lower extremity muscle (calf) strength and levels of reproductive hormones like testosterone. There was no change in the bone mineral density levels.
Conclusion: DHEA supplements can help improve physical function and testosterone levels in older women.
DHEA supplements improve cognitive ability in older women
Study: 27 old women (average age 86 years) with a cognitive disability were given DHEA supplements for six months at a dosage of 25mg per day. At the end of the study, the subjects were assessed for improvements in cognitive ability and ability to perform daily activities.
Result: DHEA supplement at a dose of 25 mg per day for six months improved serum testosterone levels, improved cognitive ability test scores and maintained the ability to perform daily activities. The subjects on DHEA supplements specifically displayed improved verbal ability.
Conclusion: DHEA supplements can be helpful in enhancing testosterone levels in addition to improving and maintaining the cognitive function in older women.
DHEA supplements increase total testosterone levels in young athletes
Study: Effect of DHEA supplements (dosage 100mg per day for 28 days) was studied on young male soccer players. At the end of 28 days, the levels of steroid hormones like testosterone and body mass composition were determined in subjects.
Result: DHEA supplements did not affect body fat; however, there was an increase in total testosterone levels. The levels of free testosterone in serum were unaltered.
Conclusion: DHEA supplements can improve total serum testosterone (not free testosterone) levels in young athletes.
DHEA supplement has no effect on sexual dysfunction and testosterone levels in men
Study: 28 men with sexual dysfunction and reduced serum testosterone levels took DHEA supplements at a dose of 50mg twice daily. An international index assessed the effect of DHEA on sexual function for erectile function, and serum testosterone levels were measured.
Result: DHEA supplements had no impact on serum testosterone levels neither did it improve sexual function.
Conclusion: DHEA supplements have no significant effect on testosterone levels and sexual function in men.
DHEA does not affect testosterone levels and physical performance in postmenopausal women
Study: Investigators took up a 12-week study on 17 postmenopausal women on DHEA supplements (50mg per day for 12 weeks) along with regular exercising. The primary objective of this study was to understand the effect of DHEA on activity-related physical performance and serum steroid levels. The control group in this experiment was postmenopausal women undergoing regular exercises but no DHEA supplements.
Result: DHEA administration did not affect serum testosterone levels and physical performance.
Conclusion: DHEA supplements provide no significant benefit in improving testosterone levels.
DHEA supplements do not affect frailty in older men
Study: Muller and co-workers conducted this clinical trial on 100 elderly (70 years or more of age) with general good health and leading independent lives. The subjects were given 50mg per day DHEA supplements for 36 weeks. Frailty was assessed by standard tests like grip test and physical performance.
Result: DHEA supplement did not improve physical performance in senior men.
Conclusion: DHEA does not provide any beneficial effect on improving physical performance and alleviating frailty in elderly men.
Short term DHEA supplementation improves testosterone levels in elderly men
Study: Two month DHEA supplementation study on 24 senior men (age range between 64-58 years) was taken up by Martina and co-workers to evaluate a positive protective role of DHEA on coronary artery disease.
Result: A daily dose of 50mg DHEA per day for 2 months reduced the serum LDL (low density lipids) levels, the main contributor for coronary artery diseases. The two-month supplement treatment led to a statistically significant increase in the serum testosterone levels.
Conclusion: DHEA supplements help in reducing LDL levels and increasing serum testosterone levels.
DHEA and estrogen therapy improves serum testosterone levels in aged women
Study: 50 postmenopausal women were given DHEA supplements ( 50 mg per day) along with estrogen therapy for 12 weeks. At the end of study calf muscle strength was measured and general improvement in the quality of life was assessed. The levels of reproductive hormones were quantified in serum samples.
Result: Authors observed a significant increase in serum steroid levels. Physical performance parameters did not show any significant improvement.
Conclusion: DHEA supplements improve serum testosterone levels in postmenopausal women.
Long-term low dose DHEA supplements increase testosterone levels in old postmenopausal women
Study: Twenty postmenopausal women were given 25mg per day DHEA supplements for 12 months. At the end of study levels of reproductive hormones were estimated and ultrasound was conducted to check the endometrial wall thickness.
Result: All the subjects in the study had elevated levels of reproductive hormones like testosterone.
Conclusion: Low dose DHEA supplementation helps restore normal levels of reproductive hormones in old women.
DHEA has a positive influence on improving hormonal levels in postmenopausal women and most of the studies are in consonance. However, there are varying reports on the effect of DHEA on improving muscle strength and testosterone levels in young physically active men.
Indeed more studies with long-term supplementation on a more significant number of subjects are required to ascertain the positive, beneficial effects of DHEA. These supplements though have not shown to cause any toxic effects; should be taken only after consultation with a physician as they may affect the liver and renal function over the long-term.