DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, is a naturally occurring hormone in your body that serves as a precursor to male and female sex hormones, including estrogen and testosterone.
Your adrenal glands produce it, and it plays a crucial role in the production of over 50 other hormones. Levels of DHEA in your body typically peak around age 25 and then start to decrease as you age.
By the time you hit 70, your DHEA levels may be at only 10–20% of their peak levels. This reduction has led some researchers to theorize that supplementing with DHEA could offer a variety of health benefits, particularly as you age.
Benefits of DHEA
DHEA is believed to have several potential benefits, although research in these areas is ongoing. Some studies suggest that DHEA might help reduce symptoms of depression, improve skin health, improve cognition, and even support weight loss efforts.
DHEA is also being studied for its potential role in improving heart health. Some research indicates that DHEA might help improve vascular health, which could reduce the risk of heart disease.
Other research suggests that DHEA might help improve immune function. This is potentially due to the role of hormones in regulating the immune system.
Additionally, some studies seem to show that DHEA might help reduce inflammation in the body, which would make sense given that hormones play a critical role in regulating the body's inflammatory response.
Because DHEA is a precursor to both female and male sex hormones, it’s sometimes used in hormone replacement therapy to boost levels of testosterone and/or estrogen.
One area where DHEA supplementation has been studied extensively is its potential benefits for men. DHEA might help improve the symptoms of erectile dysfunction and increase libido.
Women may also benefit from supplementation as DHEA has been found to potentially improve the symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes and vaginal dryness, and it might even improve bone density in postmenopausal women, potentially reducing the risk of osteoporosis.
How Long It Takes for DHEA to Work
Once you start taking DHEA, it can take several weeks before you start to notice any benefits, and some people find that it takes several months before they notice any significant changes.
It's important to remember that DHEA is a hormone, and like all hormones, it doesn't work in isolation. It functions as part of a complex network of hormones in your body, and its effects can be influenced by many factors, including your overall health, diet, and lifestyle.
That’s why it’s so important to work with a medical provider who’s familiar with DHEA and is actively monitoring your supplementation. They can adjust your dosage until you find the amount that’s right for you.
Common Dosages and the Best Time of Day to Take DHEA
The recommended starting dose for DHEA supplements is generally 25 to 50 mg per day.
However, some people might need a higher dosage, particularly if they're using DHEA for hormone replacement therapy — that’s why it’s critical that you work with a healthcare provider who is monitoring your hormone levels regularly.
Morning is generally the best time to take DHEA because levels naturally peak around 10 a.m. Taking your supplement at this time aligns your dose with your body's circadian rhythm.
This is the same reason most healthcare providers want you to get your blood drawn at this time if you’re on hormone replacement therapy — that’s why your levels are going to be highest, which will give them a better idea of just how low your levels really are.
How to Increase DHEA Naturally
While DHEA supplements can be a useful tool for boosting your DHEA levels under the care of a trained healthcare provider, it's also possible to increase DHEA naturally.
One of the best ways to do this is through regular exercise. Exercise has been shown to increase DHEA levels, potentially improving overall health and well-being. Exercise can also help increase levels of your other hormones, like testosterone and estrogen.
Another way to increase DHEA naturally is by managing stress. High levels of stress can reduce your body's production of DHEA, so finding ways to relax and reduce stress can potentially increase your DHEA levels.
Finally, a healthy diet can also help boost your DHEA levels. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish and nuts, and foods high in vitamin C, like citrus fruits and bell peppers, have been shown to support healthy DHEA production.
The Link Between DHEA and Testosterone/Estrogen
Because DHEA is a precursor to sex hormones, including testosterone, some portion of your DHEA is converted into testosterone and estrogen in your body.
This is why supplementing with DHEA might help increase testosterone and estrogen levels, particularly in people who have hypogonadism (Low T and/or Low E).
However, while DHEA can potentially increase sex hormone levels, it's not a magic bullet for boosting testosterone or estrogen. Other factors, such as diet, exercise, and overall health, also play a crucial role.
On top of that, hormone replacement therapy usually starts with direct testosterone and/or estrogen supplementation. DHEA may only be added later if your healthcare provider isn’t seeing the results they’d like to see.
Ask Your Healthcare Provider About DHEA
From improving symptoms of menopause and erectile dysfunction to potentially boosting immune function and reducing inflammation, DHEA is a versatile supplement that may be appropriate to add to your hormone replacement therapy regimen.
If you're considering taking DHEA supplements, speak with a healthcare professional first — adding this in without their knowledge might increase your testosterone and/or estrogen levels too much and disrupt the benefits you’re getting from your hormone replacement therapy.