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DHEA supplement: Uses, benefits, safety and side effects

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Are there side effects?

Because DHEA can increase the production of the male hormone testosterone, it can increase the risk of women developing masculine traits. These include growing hair on the face, loss of hair on the head, weight gain around the waist, deepening of the voice, changes in menstrual cycles and an increase in spots. In men, increased levels of DHEA and testosterone can lead to aggression, shrinking testicles and male pattern baldness.

Other possible side effects are stomach upset, fatigue, headache, nasal congestion, insomnia, rapid or irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure and a reduction in the HDL ('good') cholesterol levels.

Is DHEA safe?

There are very few studies on the safety of taking DHEA supplements over a long period of time. However, as well as the side effects listed above, it is known that high doses of a DHEA supplement can cause the body to stop producing its own DHEA naturally, and they can also adversely affect the liver.

There are claims that DHEA can relieve the symptoms of menopause without the increased risk of breast cancer or womb cancer associated with taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT). However, there is no scientific evidence that DHEA supplements do not also increase these risks. Bear in mind that DHEA is converted into oestrogen or testosterone by the body, so people who are more at risk of hormone-sensitive cancers, should not take DHEA supplements.

People with the following medical conditions should not take DHEA supplements:

Certain medical conditions, such as adrenal insufficiency, can become a medical emergency if not treated appropriately with your doctor's supervision - never take these supplements without seeking your GP's advice.

Because of risks that DHEA supplements can be harmful to a baby, pregnant and breast-feeding women should never take them.

DHEA supplements can interact with a long list of medications as well as some herbs, so they should not be used without advice from your GP.

Are DHEA supplements available in the UK?

DHEA supplements, along with other anabolic steroids, are considered a class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act in the UK. This means they are a prescription-only medicine, and a pharmacist can provide you with DHEA only in a medical form if your GP gives you a prescription. It is also an 'unlicensed' medicine, so it is up to your doctor and pharmacy to be willing to supply you with the medicine, which might sometimes be considered if a licensed medicine is not suitable and it is in your best interest.

Although it is not an offence to be in possession of an anabolic steroid for personal use if it is in a medical form - and has not been counterfeited - it is an offence to supply them without a prescription.

DHEA supplements are banned by the World Anti- Doping Agency and other sports organisations.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on June 27, 2016

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