What is DHEA?

What is DHEA? - welzo

If it wasn't for DHEA, there is no way our bodies would be able to produce vital hormones such as testosterone and oestrogen.

The short answer to "What is DHEA?" would be that it's an abbreviation of Dehydroepiandrosterone- the chemical that testosterone and oestrogen come from.

However, this article will dive a bit deeper. First, we'll explain what Dehydroepiandrosterone means. Why do our bodies need it? How do we make it? Why do some people choose to get help from supplements? Moreover, why doing so shouldn't be done thoughtlessly?

Dehydroepiandrosterone will be just another word in your lexicon by the end of this article.

The Etymology of Dehydroepiandrosterone

DHEA stands for Dehydroepiandrosterone.

And we'll admit that name is incredibly complicated, but let's break it down to understand the word.


As you've probably figured out, "hydro" refers to hydrogen. So any chemical with "Dehydro" at the start has lost at least one hydrogen atom to form a double bond with another element.


Epi means above. And Andro means male.

Therefore, Epiandro means "Above Male"; an Epiandro chemical makes you gain more stereotypically masculine traits such as body hair or muscle.


It is derived from "Sterol" and "One". Sterol means steroid (an organic compound), unsaturated (with available hydrogen bonds), and naturally occurs.

And "One" is a compound that contains carbon and oxygen (with a double bond).

So, Dehydroepiandrosterone is a chemical with hydrogen that has lost at least one atom to form a double bond. It makes the consumer have more masculine traits. And it's a naturally occurring steroid with carbon and oxygen with a double bond.

Why do our bodies need DHEA?

The human body doesn't directly use Dehydroepiandrosterone. However, it is a vital ingredient in other hormones, such as testosterone and oestrogen.

A helpful way to think about it is to think of testosterone as a chocolate milkshake and oestrogen as a strawberry milkshake. Dehydroepiandrosterone is the milk itself- without it, none of the other milkshakes could be made.

How does the human body make DHEA?

At the top of your kidneys, you'll find the adrenal glands. This is where Dehydroepiandrosterone is made. From here, it's transported to the rest of the body as Dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate- the sulphur stops it from breaking down during transportation.

The brain controls the levels of Dehydroepiandrosterone in your body in a negative feedback loop. Low levels cause the brain to tell the adrenal glands to produce more.

Nevertheless, how do the adrenal glands produce DHEA?

Firstly, cholesterol (which we get from food) enters the adrenal gland's mitochondria. Here, enzymes break it down and turn it into a chemical called pregnenolone.

Chemical reactions within the adrenal gland turn pregnenolone into DHEA.

Symptoms of DHEA deficiency

If your body doesn't get enough DHEA, it will start to show symptoms. Just because you are showing these symptoms does not automatically mean you suffer from a lack of DHEA. However, if the problems become constant, a lack of DHEA could be a potential explanation.

  • Weight Loss

  • Vomiting

  • Dizziness

  • Dehydration

  • Craving Salt

  • Low Sex Drive

  • Erectile Dysfunction

  • Thinning Vaginal Tissue

For more information regarding DHEA blood tests, click here.

How to increase DHEA Levels

There are no foods that directly contain Dehydroepiandrosterone. However, eating the right foods can provide your body with the cholesterol it needs to make DHEA.

Essentially, foods with good cholesterol are suitable for DHEA production. This includes coconut oil, nuts, seeds, avocados, oily fish, and olive oil.

It's wise to avoid sweets and junk food, which are incredibly high in salt, fat, and sugar, that the body will not be able to process effectively.

As well as diet, a healthy lifestyle can also reduce the chances of DHEA deficiency. This includes getting enough exercise and avoiding stress (as best you can).

Why do some people take DHEA supplements?

Some people may choose to take DHEA supplements. This can be a personal choice or a doctor's recommendation.

For some, this choice is because their bodies struggle to make it naturally. Others want to have extra testosterone or oestrogen, which their body can make from DHEA.

Studies suggest that DHEA supplements help with various conditions such as depression, obesity, lupus, and adrenaline insufficiency.

And low levels of DHEA can contribute to the issues discussed in the "Symptoms of DHEA deficiency" section.

Why do some people struggle to produce DHEA naturally?

There are various reasons why some people's bodies struggle to produce DHEA naturally. Therefore, their doctor might recommend taking some form of DHEA supplement for such people.

Adrenal gland disorders obstruct the creation of DHEA. The most common types of adrenal gland disorders are adrenal insufficiency and Addison disease- of which weakness, low mood, weight loss, thirst, and lack of energy are common symptoms.

Another reason why some people's bodies might struggle to produce Dehydroepiandrosterone is because they take glucocorticoid medicines, which are designed to fight inflammation and work with the immune system. However, controlling how our bodies use sugar and fat may adversely affect DHEA levels.

Pituitary gland issues can also be the culprit of DHEA insufficiency.

Dangers of having too much DHEA

However, we are certainly not recommending that everyone who reads this goes out to buy Dehydroepiandrosterone supplements without talking to their doctor first. Too much DHEA can also have adverse effects.

Here is a list of some of the most common:

  • Oily Skin

  • Acne

  • Upset Stomach

  • High Blood Pressure

  • Menstrual cycle changes (In Women)

  • Masculinisation of women

  • Fatigue

  • Insomnia

  • Irregular heartbeat

As you might have noticed, the severity of these side effects varies from "a bit annoying" to "potentially fatal".

General Q&A about DHEA

What are DHEA supplements made from?

Dehydroepiandrosterone supplements are usually made from either wild yam, soy, or a combination of the two.

Do young people produce more DHEA than older people?

DHEA production usually peaks at around age 25 and slowly goes down.

What is the chemical formula for DHEA?

The chemical formula for Dehydroepiandrosterone is C19H28O2.

Should bodybuilders take DHEA supplements?

Some may choose to. However, we would advise anyone to be careful before taking Dehydroepiandrosterone supplements.

For further information, and a full range of blood tests and medications, visit our Welzo Online Pharmacy Page. For more details, click here.

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