Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a natural steroid prohormone produced from cholesterol by the adrenal glands, the gonads, adipose tissue, brain and in the skin (by an autocrine mechanism). DHEA is the precursor of androstenedione, which can undergo further conversion to produce the androgen testosterone and the estrogens estrone and estradiol. DHEA is also a potent sigma-1 agonist. DHEA is produced from cholesterol through two cytochrome P450 enzymes. Cholesterol is converted to pregnenolone by the enzyme P450 scc (side chain cleavage); then another enzyme, CYP17A1, converts pregnenolone to 17α-Hydroxypregnenolone and then to DHEA. In humans, DHEA is the dominant steroid hormone and precursor of all sex steroids. DHEA can be understood as a prohormone for the sex steroids. DHEAS may be viewed as buffer and reservoir. As most DHEA is produced by the zona reticularis of the adrenal, it is argued that there is a role in the immune and stress response.
Studies have shown that DHEA is useful in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. An application of the evidence was discussed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2001 and is available online. This review also shows that cholesterol and other serum lipids decrease with the use of DHEA. DHEA supplementation has been studied as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease, but was found to be ineffective. Some small placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial studies have found long-term supplementation to improve mood and relieve depression or to decrease insulin resistance. However, a larger placebo-controlled randomized clinical trial reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006 found that DHEA supplementation in elderly men and women had no beneficial effects on body composition, physical performance, insulin sensitivity, or quality of life. DHEA supplements are sometimes used as muscle-building or performance-enhancing drugs by athletes. However, a randomized placebo-controlled trial found that Dehydroepiandrosterone supplementation had no effect on lean body mass, strength, or testosterone levels.
Dehydroepiandrosterone is an endogenous hormone (made in the human body) secreted by the adrenal gland. DHEA serves as precursor to male and female sex hormones (androgens and estrogens). DHEA levels in the body begin to decrease after age 30, and are reported to be low in some people with anorexia, end-stage kidney disease, type 2 diabetes (non-insulin dependent diabetes), AIDS, adrenal insufficiency, and in the critically ill. Dehydroepiandrosterone levels may also be depleted by a number of drugs, including insulin, corticosteroids, opiates, and danazol. There is sufficient evidence supporting the use of DHEA in the treatment of adrenal insufficiency, depression, induction of labor, and systemic lupus erythematosus.