Ever since the fact that testosterone levels drop naturally as we age became common knowledge, managing T levels became an important subject. We’re searching for lifestyle changes that can help, along with supplements, treatments, and medication, to ensure we have optimal testosterone levels in continuity.
One of the commonly used supplement options is DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone), usually recommended to bodybuilders, athletes, and testosterone-deficient males. Due to this, we wanted to create an overview of this substance and see if there is any research to back up its impact on testosterone levels.
What is DHEA?
As a hormone naturally produced by the adrenal gland in human bodies, DHEA isn’t anything that our bodies aren’t used to.
The natural role of DHEA is to help with the production of other hormones, which includes both estrogen and testosterone. Similarly to testosterone, DHEA levels drop as we age as our bodies slowly lose the capacity to produce optimal levels.
While we have a general idea of what DHEA does in our bodies, we still haven’t completely figured out this substance and the way it interacts with our health.
What is its role in the body?
DHEA falls in the category of precursor hormones, and on its own, it has few roles in the body, but the substances into which it is transformed are very important. In women, DHEA is the majority contributor to overall estrogen production, being responsible for 75% of production up until menopause, when it takes over 100% of the production.
The majority of DHEA is produced in the adrenal gland using cholesterol through a specific part of the gland known as the adrenal cortex. The other two organs that produce this precursor hormone are the ovaries and the testes but not as much as the adrenal gland. It is usually distributed through the body along with sulfur in the form of dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, as this protects it from being broken down as it travels through.
The production of this hormone increases around the age of nine or ten, peaking in the twenties, from which point it gradually declines as we age.
Top benefits of DHEA
Despite still needing more research, DHEA has been associated with many bodily functions and has a role to play in either increasing or reducing the risks of some diseases.
We’ve already mentioned its role in testosterone production. On top of that role, studies also suggest it has several metabolic roles, like the reduction of abdominal fat, improving insulin resistance, reducing arterial inflammation, and arterial stiffness. A lack of DHEA is also associated with an increased probability of heart disease.
One of the more interesting capabilities of DHEA supplements is to help people suffering from systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). It may improve their quality of life along with reducing the amount of medicine they are required to take.
As a hormone produced in the adrenal gland, it also may help with combating symptoms of adrenal insufficiency. Supplementing with DHEA may improve mood and fatigue, while the supplement may be exceptionally efficient in helping women suffering from this condition.
There are also studies that DHEA can help with osteoporosis in older women, but the same effects don’t appear in men.
It is likely to help with ED in testosterone-deficient men and with libido in older women. There have also been studies done to determine the effects of DHEA on physical and mental state, and the results showed a varying degree of success with more research underway.
People who have HIV also suffer from DHEA deficiency, and supplementation may help them with mental functions.
DHEA and testosterone
But let’s look at the relationship between DHEA and testosterone. We’ve already established a connection between DHEA and testosterone production, but how well-documented are its effects on combating testosterone deficiency?
Remember, the proposition is that, along with raising testosterone, it can provide more than a few secondary benefits.
Some have suggested using it as an alternative to Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) and as a treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED). In the case of TRT, it has been proven that DHEA is less effective, and with ED, we’re still waiting for conclusive evidence.
Does science confirm any of this?
We have gotten studies, like one by Krzysztof Rutkowski et al., that show its full range of benefits, but there is some conflicting information. For example, the National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements claims that DHEA has no research backing its effects on exercise enhancement and athletic performance, while the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) put it on their banned list.
For men specifically, there are several studies done that followed the DHEA’s impact on testosterone levels, and most of them yielded mixed results. One of the examples is a study from the European Journal of Applied Physiology which studied the effects of DHEA on eight middle-aged males one day before they competed in a HIIT competition. The results showed a significant increase in testosterone levels but also confirmed that it prevents the levels from dropping throughout the exercise.
The prominent journal Urology also published a study that included 40 participants at a specialized clinic for ED. The participants were separated into two groups; the first group was given the supplement, while the second group was given a placebo and used as a control group.
The study was conducted over a six-month period during which those that were given supplements showed a significant reduction in symptoms of erectile dysfunction, but the study had not shown any jump in testosterone levels. This contradicting evidence is why we say that DHEA is a bit questionable still, and we can’t claim that it will be 100% successful in resolving issues with T deficiency.
Are there any side effects?
The recommended dosage for DHEA ranges between 50 and 100 mg per day, and it’s not recommended to be taken in continuity for longer than two years. Complications are possible if you go above the recommended dosage.
People may react differently to this supplement, though, and there are some side effects that may appear as a consequence of this supplement.
We advise getting medical assistance before you start supplementing with DHEA just to make sure that your dosage matches your body weight. If you get any of these symptoms, it isn’t a bad idea to pay your doctor another visit just to ensure that the side effects are due to the supplement and not an unrelated issue. These are all pretty common symptoms associated with many conditions, including testosterone deficiency.
DHEA seems to be fairly safe to use, all things considered. There has certainly been evidence that it can help with testosterone levels and provide a wide range of potential benefits. The research available on this subject is indeed conflicting, but there are many reviews out there that claim the supplement helped with raising testosterone levels. On the other hand, studies are not very consistent, and there are also reviews that report no effects.
In the majority of cases, it is safe to at least try it and see if it has any effect on your issue. If you start getting side effects or the supplement isn’t working for you, there are always alternatives like traditional testosterone boosters, which are natural supplements aimed at boosting testosterone.
The available research provides mixed results. There are plenty of indications that it can help with raising testosterone levels, but it is still unclear why in some situations, it doesn’t. The best we can say is that it has a good chance of helping raise testosterone levels.
We have to take into account that this is not medicine; it’s a supplement. Due to this, the time it takes for any concrete results and changes to occur may take anywhere up from 12 days. In some situations, it may even take a month or two. This is why it is very difficult to determine if negative reviews of this kind of supplement are genuine, as it requires users to take it over prolonged stretches of time consistently.
DHEA has one main role in the male body — to be converted to testosterone and other hormones. So when it comes to supplementation, it may raise testosterone levels, improve athletic performance, boost sex drive and energy, as well as decrease fat mass.
There are benefits to DHEA supplementation for men, but they are not guaranteed as they still haven’t been fully researched. The supplement is recommended in daily doses of 50 to 100 mg and for no longer than two years in continuity.