Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)

Our rating
1 smiley: Evidence for this treatment is promising and it may be useful. It has some evidence to support it, but more evidence is needed to be sure it works. Exclamation mark: However safety or other concerns have been raised for the use of this treatment.

What does this rating mean?

The rating system

  • 3 smiliesThese treatments are very useful. They are strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.
  • 2 smiliesThese treatments are useful. They are supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.
  • 1 smileyThese treatments are promising and may be useful. They have some evidence to support them, but more evidence is needed to be sure they work.
  • No smiley On the available evidence, these treatments do not seem to be effective.
  • Question markThese treatments have not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.
  • These treatments are not recommended and could be dangerousSafety or other concerns have been raised for the use of these treatments.

What is it?

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a natural hormone made by the adrenal glands. The body uses DHEA to make other hormones such as testosterone and oestrogen. The body makes less DHEA as people get older.

How does it work?

The link between DHEA and depression is not clear. Some have suggested DHEA may regulate mood. Others believe that some people with depression have lower levels of DHEA compared to non-depressed people.

Is it effective?

There is some scientific evidence on DHEA for the treatment of depression. Two studies found that DHEA was more effective than a placebo (dummy pill) at treating depression. However, these studies only had a small number of participants. More studies of better quality are needed.

Are there any disadvantages?

Men and women using DHEA may experience side effects related to hormones. These include oily skin, acne, voice deepening, hair loss and aggression. Women may experience male pattern hair growth (e.g. hair on face, back or chest).

Safety concerns have been raised for the use of this supplement in the long term. For example, there are concerns that DHEA may affect other conditions including those that are sensitive to hormones. DHEA is also known to interact with some medications.

Where do you get it?

DHEA is restricted in Australia. A doctor’s prescription is needed to buy it.

While DHEA is available in some countries such as the U.S., it is a prohibited substance under Australian Customs legislation. It cannot be imported into Australia. See: www.tga.gov.au/personal-importation-scheme

Recommendation

DHEA has serious potential side effects. It is not recommended for self-help. If you are interested in taking DHEA please talk with your doctor.

Key references

  • Peixoto C, Grande AJ, Mallmann MB, Nardi AE, Cardoso A & Veras AB. 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), 706-711.
  • Schmidt PJ, Daly RC, Bloch M, Smith MJ, Danaceau MA, St Clair LS, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone monotherapy in midlife-onset major and minor depression. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2005; 62: 154-62.
  • Wolkowitz OM, Reus VI, Keebler A, Nelson N, Friedland M, Brizendine L, et al. Double-blind treatment of major depression with dehydroepiandrosterone. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 1999; 156: 646-9.

Last reviewed and updated: 4 May 2019