FM/CFS/ME RESOURCES - Drug Database - DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone)


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Drug Database - DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) DHEA

Generic Name: Prasterone (PRASS-te-rone)

Brand Name: DHEA®

Classification: Steroid Hormone / Dietary Supplement

DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is an endogenous hormone (made in the human body), and 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. DHEA 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.

No studies on the long-term effects of DHEA have been conducted. DHEA can cause higher than normal levels of androgens and estrogens in the body, and theoretically may increase the risk of prostate, breast, ovarian, and other hormone-sensitive cancers. Therefore, it is not recommended for regular use without supervision by a licensed health professional.

The scientific evidence remains unclear regarding the effects of DHEA supplementation in patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. Better research is necessary before a clear conclusion can be drawn.


Because DHEA is a hormone related to other male and female hormones, there may be side effects related to its hormonal activities. For example, masculinization may occur in women including:

  • acne
  • greasy skin
  • facial hair
  • hair loss
  • increased sweating
  • weight gain around the waist
  • or a deeper voice

Likewise, men may develop:

  • more prominent breasts (gynecomastia)
  • breast tenderness
  • increased blood pressure
  • testicular wasting
  • or increased aggressiveness

Other hormonal-related side effects may include:

  • increased blood sugar levels
  • insulin resistance
  • altered cholesterol levels
  • altered thyroid hormone levels
  • and altered adrenal function

Caution is advised in patients with diabetes or hyperglycemia, high cholesterol, thyroid disorders, or other endocrine (hormonal) abnormalities. Serum glucose, cholesterol and thyroid levels may need to be monitored by a healthcare professional, and medication adjustments may be necessary.

In theory, DHEA may increase the risk of developing prostate, breast, or ovarian cancer. DHEA may contribute to tamoxifen resistance in breast cancer. Other side effects may include:

  • insomnia
  • agitation
  • delusions
  • mania
  • nervousness
  • irritability
  • or psychosis

High DHEA levels have been correlated with Cushing's syndrome, which may be caused by excessive supplementation.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

DHEA is not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Because DHEA is a hormone, it may be unsafe to the fetus or nursing infants.

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Side Effects

Get emergency medical help if you have any of these signs of an allergic reaction:

  • Hives
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat

Few side effects are reported when DHEA supplements are taken by mouth in recommended doses. Side effects may include:

  • fatigue
  • nasal congestion
  • headache
  • acne
  • rapid/irregular heartbeats

In women, the most common side effects are:

  • abnormal menses
  • emotional changes
  • headache
  • insomnia

Individuals with a history of abnormal heart rhythms, blood clots or hypercoagulability, and those with a history of liver disease, should avoid DHEA supplements.

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Drug Interactions

Tell your health care provider if you are taking any other medicines, especially any of the following:

  • Anticoagulants (eg, warfarin) because the risk of serious side effects, such as bleeding, may be increased

  • Carbamazepine because the risk of toxic effects, such as nausea, vomiting, severe drowsiness, and trouble walking, may be increased

  • Androgens (eg, testosterone), oral contraceptives (eg, birth control pills), or estrogen because side effects may be increased by Prasterone

This may not be a complete list of all interactions that may occur. Ask your health care provider if Prasterone may interact with other medicines that you take. Check with your health care provider before you start, stop, or change the dose of any medicine.

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