Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a sex pro-hormone (hormone precursor) that is mainly naturally produced by the body’s adrenal glands (1). As a hormone precursor, DHEA is released into the bloodstream and transported to local tissues where it is converted into an androgen (male sex hormone) or estrogen (female sex hormone) to suit the body’s needs (1,2). It is one of the most abundant hormones or pro-hormones in the body, second to only cholesterol in the bloodstream. In males, DHEA is responsible for 50% of androgen synthesis in the prostate (1). Similarly, among females, there is a noticeable 70% decrease in DHEA during menopausal years.
Why is it prescribed?
DHEA levels are known to decline with age among both sexes (1). Epidemiological and clinical studies have shown that low levels associate with chemic heart disease, endothelial dysfunction, atherosclerosis, bone loss, inflammatory diseases, and sexual dysfunction (2). Given its wide variety of roles in the body, DHEA preservation has been an important area of study in recent literature.
Researchers have investigated whether DHEA treatment can affect depression (3,4) muscle strength or performance(5,6), sexual function (7), among a variety of other topics. Results of studies have been mixed depending on the topic. For example, DHEA has shown promising results for depression and sexual function (i.e. sexual interest, lubrication, pain, arousal, orgasm and sexual frequency)(3,7) compared to placebo treatment, but has also been inconclusive as a treatment for muscle preservation in aging populations (5,6). Sexual function notably also improved with DHEA treatment among peri- and post-menopausal women with vulvovaginal atrophy (degeneration or decline) .
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Who can be prescribed DHEA?
DHEA was only recently made available as a prescription via Pasterone in Canada for postmenopausal vulvovaginal atrophy (8). Decision-makers in Canada have reasoned that there is worthy evidence of DHEA use in post-menopausal females for treatment of painful sex, vaginal dryness, vaginal tissue degeneration, and acidity levels of the vagina.
While it is available over the counter as a supplement in the United States, such use of DHEA has been banned in several other countries, including Canada, and sale of such supplements are considered illegal for fears of abuse and risks of side effects(9). For these reasons, DHEA use under medical supervision and a clinician’s prescription are commended.
For more information on Pasterone and other DHEA related topics, please check out our website.
1. Labrie F., et al., Is dehydroepiandrosterone a hormone? Journal of Endocrinology, 2005. 187(2): p. 169-196.
2. Traish, A.M., et al., Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)—a precursor steroid or an active hormone in human physiology (CME). The journal of sexual medicine, 2011. 8(11): p. 2960-2982.
3. Peixoto, C., et al., Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) for depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. CNS & Neurological Disorders-Drug Targets (Formerly Current Drug Targets-CNS & Neurological Disorders), 2018. 17(9): p. 706-711.
4. Sauer, U., V. Talaulikar, and M.C. Davies, Efficacy of intravaginal dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) for symptomatic women in the peri-or postmenopausal phase. Maturitas, 2018. 116: p. 79-82.
5. Baker, W.L., S. Karan, and A.M. Kenny, Effect of dehydroepiandrosterone on muscle strength and physical function in older adults: a systematic review. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 2011. 59(6): p. 997-1002.
6. Beaudart, C., et al., Effects of protein, essential amino acids, B-hydroxy B-methylbutyrate, creatine, dehydroepiandrosterone and fatty acid supplementation on muscle mass, muscle strength and physical performance in older people aged 60 years and over. A systematic review of the literature. The journal of nutrition, health & aging, 2018. 22(1): p. 117-130.
7. Peixoto, C., et al., The effects of dehydroepiandrosterone on sexual function: a systematic review. Climacteric, 2017. 20(2): p. 129-137.
8. CADTH. prasterone. 2022; Available from: Prasterone.
9. Ellenwood, L., Banned natural health supplements easily available on websites, fifth estate finds, in CBC News. 2015.