DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a natural hormone produced by the adrenal glands in the body. It plays a crucial role in the production of male and female sex hormones, such as testosterone and estrogen. As we age, the levels of DHEA in our bodies naturally decline. This decline has led to the use of DHEA supplements to potentially address various health concerns and improve overall well-being.
As it stands most of the research around DHEA is still in it’s infancy, and a lot of the research is conflicting. But, there area few areas in which it looks to be effective as a supplement option. Most notably, bone health, menopause and brain health. The evidence that DHEA is particularly effective for most other areas is lacking as at the moment.
Anti-Aging Effects of DHEA
One of the most commonly cited benefits of DHEA supplements is their potential anti-aging effects. Some studies suggest that DHEA may help slow down the aging process. The theory is that DHEA can increase the levels of hormones that decline with age, such as testosterone and estrogen.  It seems that there’s more evidence to suggest it impacts female aging than male, and we’ll come onto that a little later. However, the evidence supporting these claims is limited, and more research is needed to fully understand the impact of DHEA on aging.
DHEA Neuroprotective Effects
DHEA has been shown to have some neuroprotective effects in early none clinical studies. It has been found to reduce neuron damage and inflammation, enhance the survival rate of neurons and even promote neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons). These effects are thought to be as a result of it’s interactions with neurotransmitter systems and its anti-inflammatory properties, although there are far better natural anti inflammatory compounds.
In animal models of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, [3,4] DHEA has shown some notable neuroprotective effects by reducing neuron loss, improving cognitive function and even improving motor skills. It has also shown promise in animal models of stroke,  traumatic brain injury, and spinal cord injury, where it has been found to enhance functional recovery and reduce tissue damage. Although there isn’t much in the way of results from human trials currently.
DHEA and Menopause
Some studies suggest that DHEA may help improve menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and mood swings and with it’s function in helping improve bone density (which we’ll come onto next) it is a good option for menopause. 
DHEA and Bone Density
This is where there is probably the most evidence for DHEA use. Largely because low levels of DHEA have been shown to coincide with decreased bone density and an increased risk of fractures. On top of that DHEA supplements have been studied for their potential to improve bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Some research suggests that DHEA may even stimulate bone formation and inhibit bone resorption, leading to improved bone health. [7,8]
As a result supplementing with DHEA may help improve bone density, especially in older women during menopause, when this is an increased concern. And it’s also been shown in studies that long term use of DHEA supplements can increase bone density, reducing the risk of osteoporosis. 
Muscle Mass and Strength
Although there is conflicting evidence, DHEA supplements do not appear to significantly increase muscle mass or strength in most individuals. While some studies have shown improved strength and physical performance in older adults, the majority of research does not support the use of DHEA for enhancing muscle size or strength. 
DHEA has been implicated in cognitive function and has been shown to enhance memory and learning in both animal and human studies. Animal studies have demonstrated that DHEA administration improves spatial memory and cognitive flexibility. In humans, DHEA supplementation has been associated with improvements in verbal fluency, working memory, and executive function. 
DHEA supplements have also been associated with weight management. Some research suggests that DHEA may help regulate metabolism and promote fat loss, particularly in older women who may have lower DHEA levels, meaning once again we’re coming back to post menopausal women specifically.  Although again there are better supplements in most cases for weight management.
Mood and Cognitive Function
DHEA does play a role in mood regulation in general. Whilst some studies have suggested that raking DHEA supplements could improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression there isn’t an awful lot of them when it comes to humans, those that have been done however, have resulted in lower anxiety scores and self reported improvements to mood, it’s also worth noting that animal studies have shown similar results. 
DHEA is involved in the production of sex hormones which is of course why it has been studied for its potential impact on sexual health. Some research suggests that DHEA supplementation may improve libido, erectile function, and overall sexual satisfaction, but there’s equally as much research that suggests it does very little in this regard. 
While DHEA supplements are generally considered safe for most individuals, there are certain precautions to consider. It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional before starting DHEA supplementation, especially if you have a history of hormone-sensitive cancers, heart disease, or liver disease.
DHEA supplements should not be used by children, pregnant or nursing individuals, or people with certain medical conditions.
Common side effects of DHEA supplementation include oily skin, acne, and upset stomach. Higher doses or long-term use may lead to more severe side effects, such as male-pattern hair loss, abnormal hair growth, or abnormal breast growth in males.
DHEA Dosage and Side Effects
The appropriate dosage of DHEA supplements varies depending on the individual and their specific needs. It is recommended to start with a low dose and gradually increase if necessary. Most studies have used doses ranging from 25 to 200 milligrams per day.
How Does DHEA Work?
No specific receptor for DHEA has been identified, meaning it’s not entirely easy to say exactly how DHEA works. There are however, several highly specific membrane receptors have been detected in the heart, kidney, liver, and the brain, but this isn’t exactly as if they have a simple function. DHEA and DHEAS have been found to have a wide range of effects on numerous organs.
What we do currently know is that DHEA acts as a neurosteroid in the central nervous system, influencing various neurotransmitter systems and improving neuron speed.
DHEA is an Anti Oxidant
DHEA inhibits NOX activity by inhibiting glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase. This inhibition of G6PD by DHEA contributes to its anti-inflammatory and anti oxidant effects.
DHA and Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrogenase (G6PD)
By inhibiting G6PD, DHEA has been shown to have some anti-tumor capacity in a few experimental models, but this is relatively new research. Preclinical studies have shown that DHEA inhibits tumor formation by limiting the activity of certain enzymes, which convert none malignant carcinogens to their carcinogenic forms.
1 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15261843/
2 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3867952/
3 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22310868/
4 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6449476/
5 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3811081/
6 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33030737/
7 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6336516/
8 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2435090/
9 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32504237/
10 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5930457/
11 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2574781/
12 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7551328/
13 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3717538/
14 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8781653/