DHEA, a hormone supplement, has been touted as providing anti-aging effects, however, a recent study found that there is no evidence to support the claims that DHEA boosts memory, sexual function, or general well-being in women. DHEA, also called dehydroepiandrosterone, is produced by the adrenal glands in order to be converted into other types of steroid hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen. A person’s level of DHEA peaks in one’s 20s, and then gradually peters out as he or she ages. Synthetic versions of DHEA sold over the counter are thus marketed as an anti-aging cure, claiming to hone memory and other types of cognitive skills, increase one’s sexual libido and function, and provide a feeling of overall wellbeing.
DHEA also claims to help prevent heart disease by reducing the level of bad cholesterol, as well as help fight diabetes through improvement of the body’s regulation of insulin, which controls blood sugar levels. However, a new review, which was recently published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, says that none of these claims can hold up to long term studies.
Dr. Susan R. Davis, the lead researcher on the review and director of the women’s health research program at Monash University in Victoria, Australia, said: “In the 1990s, DHEA was considered to be the elixir of youth, with preliminary studies suggesting benefits. Our data would suggest that there is basically no benefit for postmenopausal women to use DHEA supplements to improve sexual function, well-being, cognitive performance, or for prevention of diabetes/insulin resistance or to lower cholesterol levels.” More recently, however, longer-term trials have found no conclusive benefits to taking DHEA supplements. A 2008 study that followed over a hundred women for one year found no evidence to suggest that DHEA benefits memory or any other cognitive ability.
Some trials, on the other hand, suggest that taking DHEA supplements could help reduce the rate at which bone density is lost after menopause. The majority of ten studies looked at by researchers found that, over the course of between six months and two years, the bone density of women in the studies was improved. DHEA is currently sold in the United States as a supplement or vitamin, and typically costs around six dollars for a month’s supply. Common side effects of taking DHEA supplements include acne and excess hair growth on the face and body. Researchers have not found any negative health effects of taking DHEA to date.