DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a hormone produced naturally by the human body, where it is released by the adrenal glands, gastrointestinal tract, sex organs, and brain. In fact, it is the most abundant steroid hormone in the body, mostly in a form known as “sulfated” or DHEA-S. DHEA itself is not an anabolic steroid, but the body uses it to produce other hormones, including testosterone and estrogen. DHEA also can be made in a laboratory; this synthetic form is known as prasterone. As an ingredient in dietary supplement products, it is mostly marketed for bodybuilding, as a “testosterone booster (which it is not)” or for nootropic (“cognitive enhancer”) actions.


DHEA is not prohibited for use by Military Service Members currently
(except Coast Guard – see below) and will not show up on a routine U.S. military drug test.


Is DHEA safe?

DHEA has been studied for a number of potential medical uses, but most research studies have been relatively small and for less than 24 months. Most side effects appear to be mild and often temporary. The most common is acne, but a variety of other side effects have been noted. Women might develop masculine features, and men might experience breast tenderness or enlargement, aggression, or testicular wasting, but it depends on the amount being taken.

There isn’t enough information about its long-term effects, but DHEA is being explored for possible uses to treat other medical conditions. In general, extensive research is ongoing and, so far, mostly inconclusive. DHEA can be converted into estrogen, so doctors should advise patients with any hormone-sensitive cancer (such as prostate, breast, or ovarian cancer) not to take DHEA.

Can Military Service Members use supplements with DHEA?

DHEA is a “legal” dietary supplement ingredient and not a controlled substance. Despite this, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) prohibits its use in sport. However, DHEA is not prohibited by DoD or any of the service branches, except by the U.S. Coast Guard. USCG prohibits the use of any substance banned by NCAA, which mentions “DHEA (7-keto)” as an example of a prohibited anabolic agent and goes on to say, “Any substance that is chemically related to one of the above classes, even if it is not listed as an example, is also banned!”

Will DHEA show up on a drug test?

No, DHEA will not show up on a routine U.S. military drug test.

How can I recognize DHEA on a product label?

DHEA appears on dietary supplement labels by various names, but some names we have seen recently include:

  • Dehydroepiandrosterone
  • 3b-hydroxyandrost-5-en-17-one
  • 3β-hydroxy-5-androsten-17-one
  • Prasterone
  • Androstenolone

If you have a specific question about DHEA or a DHEA-like ingredient, you can use the OPSS Ask the Expert feature to send us your question.

Updated 18 February 2020

References

Colín-Val, Z., González-Puertos, V. Y., Mendoza-Milla, C., Gómez, E. O., Huesca-Gómez, C., & López-Marure, R. (2017). DHEA increases epithelial markers and decreases mesenchymal proteins in breast cancer cells and reduces xenograft growth. Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 333, 26–34. doi:10.1016/j.taap.2017.08.002

Collomp, K., Buisson, C., Lasne, F., & Collomp, R. (2015). DHEA, physical exercise and doping. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 145(January), 206–212. doi:10.1016/j.jsbmb.2014.03.005

Day, J. M., Purohit, A., Tutill, H. J., Foster, P. A., Woo, L. W. L., Potter, B. V. L., & Reed, M. J. (2009). The development of steroid sulfatase inhibitors for hormone-dependent cancer therapy. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1155(1), 80–87. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2008.03677.x

Goodarzi, M. O., Carmina, E., & Azziz, R. (2015). DHEA, DHEAS and PCOS. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 145, 213–225. doi:10.1016/j.jsbmb.2014.06.003

Granados, J., Gillum, T. L., Christmas, K. M., & Kuennen, M. R. (2014). Prohormone supplement 3β-hydroxy-5α-androst-1-en-17-one enhances resistance training gains but impairs user health. Journal of Applied Physiology, 116(5), 560–569. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00616.2013

Herring, M. J., Oskui, P. M., Hale, S. L., & Kloner, R. A. (2013). Testosterone and the cardiovascular system: A comprehensive review of the basic science literature. Journal of the American Heart Association, 2(4), Article e000271. doi:10.1161/jaha.113.000271

Human Metabolome Database. Dehydroepiandrosterone. Retrieved 7 February 2020 from http://www.hmdb.ca/metabolites/HMDB0000077

Kreider, R. B., Wilborn, C. D., Taylor, L., Campbell, B., Almada, A. L., Collins, R., . . . Antonio, J. (2010). ISSN exercise & sport nutrition review: research & recommendations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 7(1), Article 7. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-7-7

Labrie, F., Luu-The, V., Labrie, C., & Simard, J. (2001). DHEA and its transformation into androgens and estrogens in peripheral target tissues: Intracrinology. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 22(3), 185–212. doi:10.1006/frne.2001.0216

MedlinePlus. (2019, 29 May 2019). DHEA. Retrieved 18 November 2019 from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/331.html

National Center for Biotechnology Information. Dehydroepiandrosterone, CID=5881. Retrieved 7 February 2020 from https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Dehydroepiandrosterone

Peteva, G., & Ivanov, V. (2016). Sport supplementation: Review of performance enchasing dietary supplements used in sport. European Scientific Journal, ESJ, 12(18), Article 14. doi:10.19044/esj.2016.v12n18p14

Pluchino, N., Drakopoulos, P., Bianchi-Demicheli, F., Wenger, J. M., Petignat, P., & Genazzani, A. R. (2015). Neurobiology of DHEA and effects on sexuality, mood and cognition. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 145(January), 273–280. doi:10.1016/j.jsbmb.2014.04.012

Prough, R. A., Clark, B. J., & Klinge, C. M. (2016). Novel mechanisms for DHEA action. Journal of Molecular Endocrinology, 56(3), R139–R155. doi:10.1530/jme-16-0013

Quinn, T. A., Robinson, S. R., & Walker, D. (2018). Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and DHEA Sulfate: Roles in Brain Function and Disease. In G. Drevensek (Ed.), Sex Hormones in Neurodegenerative Processes and Diseases: IntechOpen.

Rutkowski, K., Sowa, P., Rutkowska-Talipska, J., Kuryliszyn-Moskal, A., & Rutkowski, R. (2014). Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA): Hypes and hopes. Drugs, 74(11), 1195–1207. doi:10.1007/s40265-014-0259-8

Sato, K., & Iemitsu, M. (2015). Exercise and sex steroid hormones in skeletal muscle. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 145(Gorazd Drevensek), 200–205. doi:10.1016/j.jsbmb.2014.03.009

Stárka, L., Dušková, M., & Hill, M. (2015). Dehydroepiandrosterone: A neuroactive steroid. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 145(January), 254–260. doi:10.1016/j.jsbmb.2014.03.008

Tworoger, S. S. (2006). The association of plasma DHEA and DHEA sulfate with breast cancer risk in predominantly premenopausal women. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, 15(5), 967–971. doi:10.1158/1055-9965.Epi-05-0976

U. S. Food & Drug Administration. (2016). FDA approves Intrarosa for postmenopausal women experiencing pain during sex. Retrieved 18 November 2019 from https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-intrarosa-postmenopausal-women-experiencing-pain-during-sex

Warner, M., & Gustafsson, J.-A. (2015). DHEA – a precursor of ERβ ligands. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 145(January), 245–247. doi:10.1016/j.jsbmb.2014.08.003