DHEA is the abbreviation for the steroid hormone, dehydroepiandrosterone. It is primarily secreted by the adrenal gland. While it’s not fully understood in terms of all of its functions, it is known to be a precursor to both estrogen and testosterone. Generally, production of this hormone slows down after a person reaches the age of 30.

DHEA can be purchased as a supplement, and this form is derived from chemicals found in plants.

What it’s used to treat

DHEA is used for a variety of things. In high doses it is used to treat autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, lupus and arthritis. It is taken by men to help with erectile problems, and by athletes to build muscle. It is used as an anti-aging supplement, and some women use it to help with hormonal imbalances and to enhance libido.

DHEA has also been used to help prevent serious conditions such as breast cancer, diabetes, heart disease. It has been used for chronic fatigue, weight loss, symptoms associated with menopause, and Parkinson’s disease.

There is some evidence that DHEA can improve the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, as well as anxiety and depression 1. It may also help alleviate some of the side effects of medications used to treat schizophrenia, although more research needs to be done to substantiate this.

How it works

It is not fully understood how DHEA works, but DHEA supplements seem to help regulate the immune system and boost adrenal gland functioning.

How it’s administered

This supplement can be taken orally as a tablet or capsule. It is also available as an injection. There are topical cream versions, but there are still some unknowns with regards to how safe and effective they are.

Potential Side Effects

When taken orally in the doses recommended, not many side effects are caused by DHEA. Some of the potential side effects include, but are not limited to:

  • Headache
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Tiredness
  • Acne
  • Changes in menstruation
  • Problems with sleep
  • Changes in emotions
  • Various side effects related to hormonal activity (e.g., facial hair in women, breast increase in men)

In excess, it has been associated with Cushing’s syndrome.


Because DHEA is a hormone, it should not be taken by nursing or pregnant women, or women considering pregnancy. It may interact with various medications and other supplements, so these should be discussed with your doctor. A thorough discussion of personal and family health history with your doctor is necessary prior to using DHEA, to determine if it is safe for you to use.


  1. "DHEA Beneficial for People with Schizophrenia"

written by Dr. Cheryl Lane, PsyD

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