DHEA Benefits and Top Rated Supplements

Best DHEA Supplements to takeDehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a steroid hormone that is made in the adrenal glands. What the body does with DHEA is still a bit of a mystery because it has two very different pathways it can go down – it can be converted to oestrogens or to testosterone.

The ratio of these sex hormones in the body is finely tuned to optimise wellbeing and too much of any of them (including DHEA) can result in serious symptoms of hormone imbalances.

A perfect dose of DHEA is said to rebalance the oestrogen:testosterone ratio, burn fat, build muscle, improve athletic performance, relieve stress and even improve the mood.

Too good to be true? Yeah, a little bit…

DHEA for Hormone Balancing

DHEA has a unique hormone balancing effect. It works differently between individuals depending where your hormones levels are.

For example pre-menopausal women have high levels of oestrogens which causes symptoms of hot flushes and sleep disturbances. In these cases, DHEA can (in theory) convert to testosterone to lower the oestrogen dominance.

On the other hand, in men with high testosterone, DHEA will convert to an oestrogen to have the inverse effect [1]. Another common pathway is for DHEA to boost testosterone levels in men who have low levels of both testosterone and oestrogen – usually those over 50 years old. Complicated!

Studies have shown, exhaustively, that DHEA is a great therapy for menopausal women and older men where it can help to rebalance hormones and boost them up to where they were in their 20s.

But here’s the problem – studies in younger people are significantly lacking, and what does exist shows DHEA supplements don’t do much at all.

NOTE: DHEA supplements will almost always be converted to oestrogen in people with high levels of aromatase enzymes – non-menopausal women, obese men and people who drink a lot of alcohol.

DHEA for Athletic Performance

It’s a common belief that DHEA can give you a competitive edge – in fact, its use is banned by the Olympic Committee and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the USA.

The idea is that DHEA will boost testosterone levels, which leads to an increase in athletic performance through its anabolic effects. The evidence of this actually occurring is pretty light, but if you’re an amateur athlete then you may find DHEA will boost your performance – if you’re male.

There is an almost total lack of study of the effects of DHEA on female athletes, likely due to the common side effects of high dose DHEA in women – facial hair growth, acne, and hair loss.

DHEA is sometimes taken as a fat-burner, but no studies support its use as a weight loss supplement.

  • A 2010 study found that DHEA supplementation had no impact on the body composition of male athletes aged 19 – 22 years [5]. The twenty soccer-playing participants took a placebo or 100mg of DHEA per day. The researchers found absolutely no shift in weight, BMI, body fat or muscle mass between the two groups after 4 weeks, but they did find that the DHEA group had significantly higher testosterone, estradiol and DHEA levels. It’s possible that the study was too short – it’s possible the higher testosterone levels would have shown anabolic shifts of body mass over the next 2 – 3 weeks.
  • High intensity exercise can naturally boost DHEA levels in the blood, but supplementation may be helpful for endurance athletes who frequently suffer from low levels [6]. DHEA is particularly beneficial for sustaining energy levels in older men who do endurance sports like running, swimming and biking.

Anti-Aging & Telomeres

DHEA levels naturally decline with age and this has been connected to the shortening of telomeres.

Telo-what? Telomeres are short lengths of DNA at the ends of each chromosome. They act as protective caps to stop the chromosome from unravelling, fraying, or sticking together which would cause genetic information to become scrambled or destroyed. Part of each telomere is lost each time a cell replicates – so it makes sense that our telomeres become shorter and shorter as we age.

The oldest, healthiest people in the world appear to have the longest telomeres and recent research has shown that certain supplements can help to prevent premature shorting of telomeres – basically, these are anti-aging supplements.

You guessed it – DHEA is one of the most potent telomere protectors. It has also been studied extensively for its strong anti-aging properties. DHEA is at its highest in your twenties. From there, it declines at about 2% per year. Supplementing with DHEA after age 50 may help to fight off infections, keep a slim figure, feel more energetic and deal with stressful situations.

  • A trial in the 1990s showed that 50mg of DHEA per day could return a 50 year old patient’s DHEA levels back to what they were at age 30 along with enhancing their sense of well-being, sleep quality, increased energy and ability to handle stress [2].
  • Taking DHEA can also reduce the appearance of wrinkles and lines in older people by increasing the thickness and hydration of the top layer of skin.

Even applying DHEA as a skincare cream can reduce the signs of ageing! A 2008 study showed that two weeks of using a DHEA hand cream significant reduced age-related skin damage including wrinkles and spots [3].

Buffer Stress with DHEA

DHEA and cortisol – a major stress hormone – are both made in the adrenal glands from the same ingredients (mostly cholesterol) and are triggered by the same hormone (ACTH). Because of this connection, high cortisol levels usually show up alongside low DHEA levels – if you’re under stress, chances are your DHEA:cortisol ratio is out of balance. Taking DHEA supplements can recalibrate that ratio, leading to a more chilled out attitude and sense of well-being.

Any type of stress can deplete the adrenal glands and suck DHEA from the body – mental stress, emotional turmoil, physical stress and illness can reduce DHEA levels resulting in hormone imbalances and symptoms like fatigue, irritability, apathy, and poor concentration. Supplementing with DHEA during these times may help to rebalance cortisol, lift mood, and strengthen stress resistance.

DHEA for Sleep? Possibly.

The effects of DHEA on the sleep cycle depend on the ratios of other sex hormones. DHEA may help to improve sleep onset and quality but only by increasing testosterone levels. DHEA can actually worsen insomnia if it converts to oestrogen [4].

Unless you’re aware of your DHEA:oestrogen and oestrogen:testosterone ratios, DHEA is NOT a go-to supplement for insomnia as it may backfire and keep you awake.

Seek guidance from a qualified nutritionist who can assess your hormone levels and give personalised advice.

For older people, studies are investigating the use of DHEA in age-related dementia where it may help to regulate sleep patterns, improve REM sleep quality, ultimately improve memory! Stay tuned.

How To Take DHEA Supplements

DHEA supplements are administered in two ways – orally with capsules or tablets, or via dermal absorption by applying a cream directly to the skin. Some DHEA oral formulations are micronized which means that the manufacturer has created a smaller molecule that is easier for the body to absorb.

Take low doses of DHEA (e.g. 10mg) and increase the dose over time – e.g. start with 10mg and work up to 20mg, then up to 50mg if necessary. Anything above 50mg per day should only be prescribed by a qualified naturopath, nutritionist or physician.

Take DHEA with a food that contains healthy fats to improve its absorption (remember that it’s a steroid and steroids are made of fat!).

Use DHEA for up to 6 months then stop for 6 months to allow the body to recalibrate.

Natural sources of DHEA

Despite the wildly believed myth, wild Mexican yams do NOT contain DHEA. They contain a precursor that can be used to create DHEA in a lab. This conversion is not possible in the human body, so be wary of any product claiming it contains “natural DHEA” or similar.

Side Effects & Contraindications

The unpredictable oestrogen/testosterone-boosting effects of DHEA may be dangerous (or at the very least, unwanted) in some people.

Common side effects include:

  • Unwanted hair growth or loss
  • Oily skin and acne
  • Changes to menstrual cycle
  • Fatigue
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased or irregular heart rate
  • Insomnia

High dose side effects include:

  • Liver damage
  • Permanent growth stunting
  • Psychological problems
  • High cholesterol
  • Shrunken testes
  • Breast enlargement in men

CAUTION: Do NOT take DHEA supplements if you have high blood pressure or a heart condition.

Good news – DHEA is generally considered safe and predictable in older people, but speak to a qualified physician, naturopath or nutritionist if you are unsure if DHEA is suitable for you.

The 5 Best DHEA Supplements

#5 Fettle Excellence Phoenix (50mg, 30 tablet)

Phoenix with DHEAFettle Excellence have combined 50mg of DHEA with a blend of male tonic herbs to boost testosterone, energy, and libido. It contains zinc, saw palmetto and horny goat weedwhich could lift androgen levels, along with libido-boosting tongkat ali root, and stress-busting rhodiola root along with a host of other synergistic herbs and nutrients. Each tablet delivers a 50mg hit of DHEA and therapeutic levels of other nutrients. This is a great supplement choice if you’re looking for fast, powerful boost to testosterone particularly if you are over 50 years old or have been diagnosed with low testosterone or DHEA levels.

#4 Natrol DHEA Mood & Stress (25mg, 300 tablets)

Best DHEA SupplementsThis moderate dose DHEA is combined with 50mg of calcium per tablet to enhance its bioavailability. The calcium may have an added benefit of supporting bone health in athletes, boosting nerve impulses to relieve fatigue, and supporting neurotransmitter synthesis to improve mood and sleep. Seek advice from a physician before taking this supplement if you have gallbladder problems or a cardiovascular condition.

#3 Pure Encapsulations DHEA (10mg, 180 capsules)

Pure encapsulations DHEAPure Encapsulations have extracted the precursor from wild yam and converted it into DHEA, creating a micronized version of the steroid hormone that is easily absorbed in the gut. While 10mg is a fairly low dose for DHEA, the micronized form may make up for the loss you’d experience with other products. As with all their products, these capsules are hypoallergenic and derived from the highest quality ingredients. This is a great supplement if you have absorption due to a digestive condition or being over 50 years of age.

#2 Life-Flo DHEA For Men Cream (30mg, 4 oz)

Life-Flo DHEATopical application of DHEA bypasses the digestive system, preventing loss of DHEA. Life-Flo have created a topical cream that deliver an ideal dose of 30mg per pump. The product has been designed to optimise the absorption by using synergistic ingredients that don’t complete with DHEA. The cream is based on natural aloe vera gel rather than a coconut oil or other thick substance that inhibits DHEA absorption. Life-Flo have also added male tonics such as saw palmetto, zinc, and panax ginseng. This is a good choice if you’re looking for an easy way to get a therapeutic dose of DHEA without losing any to digestion or if you want to improve the appearance of ageing skin.

#1 Zhou Nutrition DHEA Supplement (50mg, 60 capsules)

Zhou DHEA CapsulesThese capsules of DHEA pack a therapeutic punch – each one contains 50mg of DHEA, and the only additive is natural rice flour – no other binders, flavours, colours or artificial ingredients. This clean supplement is also free from any added gluten, soy, milk, eggs or fish, wheat, preservatives, or other added nasties. This a good choice if you have been diagnosed with low levels of DHEA and want to boost them up quickly. One capsule a day is a strong therapeutic dose that could quickly balance hormone levels, boost energy levels and improve memory.

Further Reading:

  • [1] Johnson, M. D., et al. (2002) Uses of DHEA in aging and other disease states. Ageing Research Reviews, 1, 29 – 41. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12039447
  • [2] Morales, A.J., et al. (1994) Effects of replacement dose of dehydroepiandrosterone in men and women of advancing age. J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 78, 1360–1367. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7515387
  • [3] Nouveau, S. et al. (2008) Effects of topical DHEA on aging skin: a pilot study. Maturitas, 59, 174–81. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18242894
  • [4] Caufriez, A., et al. (2013) Effects of a 3-week dehydroepiandrosterone administration on sleep, sex steroids and multiple 24-h hormonal profiles in postmenopausal women: a pilot study. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf.)., 79:5, 716 – 724. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23488643
  • [5] Ostolic, S. M., et al. (2010) Effects of short-term dehydroepiandrosterone supplementation on body composition in young athletes. Chin J Physiol., 53:1, 19 – 25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21789881
  • [6] Sato., et al. (2016) Responses of sex steroid hormones to different intensities of exercise in endurance athletes. Exp Physiol., 101:1, 168 – 175. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26518151
About James Lyons

James Lyons (BHSc Nutritional Medicine) is a clinical nutritionist, medical writer, and educator. He specialises in plant-based nutrition and is passionate about improving public access to reliable and accurate health information.


  1. Awesome and very informative read, probably have to read it again to fully grasp all the info haha. Cheers and thanks for writing!

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