DHEA is a steroid hormone commonly taken by elderly people to replenish levels of sex hormones such as testosterone and estrogen. DHEA is naturally produced in the brain, adrenal glands, and testes but rapidly declines with age.
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) functions as a precursor to testosterone in men and estrogen in women. Excess testosterone from DHEA converts mainly to (dihydrotestosterone) and ADG (androstanediol-glucuronide).
Since the adrenal glands produce both cortisol and DHEA, higher DHEA levels reduce levels of cortisol and vice versa. Adrenal fatigue can also decrease levels of DHEA, along with chronic stress and pituitary health problems.
It is rare to have low levels of DHEA and most people do not need to supplement with it. While there are many benefits to DHEA if you are in old age, for most people, DHEA is not worth the side effects for bodybuilding since the testosterone increase from DHEA is not able to be used for gaining lean body mass.
What Are the Effects of DHEA?
If your levels of DHEA are low there are many benefits to supplementation. However, if your levels of DHEA are already within the normal range naturally, it is more likely that additional DHEA will do more harm than good in the context of building muscle and improving body composition.
These are the positive effects of taking DHEA if you already have lower than average DHEA levels.
- Increased libido
- Increased energy
- Less stress
- Better skin
- Better mood
- Improved memory
This study on daily DHEA supplementation over a period of 6 months found that in older men and women, DHEA increased levels of IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1), increased strength, and decreased fat. This study also found that DHEA increases IGF-1 and potentiates the results from weightlifting in elderly men and women.
Another study on both middle-aged and young men concluded that DHEA supplementation can elevate levels of free testosterone in middle-aged or older men but does not have a significant effect on young men. And this study on the effects of supplementing DHEA on young men found that there was no advantage hormonally or any increase in strength or muscle from training.
This evidence all supports the verdict that in old age there is substantial benefit from supplemental DHEA, but while you’re young extra DHEA is not going to have any positive impact on bodybuilding.
What Countries Is DHEA Banned In?
This is a list of all countries that DHEA is banned in. In order to take DHEA in these countries, it must be prescribed by a doctor and can not be used if you are competing as an athlete. DHEA is also banned by both the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
- United Kingdom
- Czech Republic
- New Zealand
What Are the Side Effects of DHEA?
The side effects of DHEA are similar to the side effects of elevated testosterone and estrogen.
Since DHEA can increase levels of estrogen, possible side effects for men include a higher risk for prostate cancer, development of breast tissue, lowered sperm production, stunted growth, and higher blood pressure. In women, the side effects of DHEA may be a deeper voice, more facial and body hair, acne, and changes in mood.
Other side effects of DHEA are headaches, fatigue, lower HDL cholesterol, worsened mood disorders, and hair loss.
Alternative Ways To Increase Your DHEA Levels
There are multiple ways to increase your levels of DHEA. These alternative tactics can be categorized into diet, lifestyle, and supplementation.
To naturally increase your DHEA from your diet, make sure are eating enough cholesterol and fat. The body uses cholesterol to make DHEA so keeping good sources of cholesterol in your diet will facilitate androgenic hormone production. Eggs are a great source of both cholesterol and fat and help balance HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol). Avocados, beans, fish, nuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds all are also good sources of HDL cholesterol and fat.
Another method of optimizing your levels of DHEA naturally is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. To do this, sleep around 8 hours every night, lift weights frequently, and avoid excessive consumption of alcohol, drugs, and sugar.
If you want to further ensure optimal hormone production, you can use supplements as well to correct deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, and help the body manage stress.
Besides an actual DHEA supplement, there are several supplements that can indirectly boost DHEA by lowering cortisol and improving adrenal function. To lower cortisol, the best supplements are ginseng, maca, vitamin D3, magnesium, fish oil, choline bitartrate, ashwagandha, and rhodiola rosea. To improve adrenal function, the best supplements to take are licorice root, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc.
Summarizing, there are many ways to give yourself an edge in bodybuilding but supplementing DHEA is not one of them, unless you are over the age of 30 and are below the healthy range.
If you are middle-aged or older, DHEA can be very beneficial since DHEA declines rapidly with age and bringing it back up to the normal range will positively affect hormones, energy levels, mood, and cognitive function.
To take DHEA, the recommended dose is 50-100mg per day as a man, and 25-50mg per day if you are a women. The side effects of DHEA are elevated estrogen in men and elevated testosterone in women as well as fatigue, headaches, changes in mood, hair loss, and lowered HDL cholesterol.