Jan 27, 2008 07:32AM - edited Jan 27, 2008 07:53AM by saluki
I don't know your situation Lorax.
I am ER+/PR+ and I'd avoid this supplement like the plague. It is made
in the adrenals and is converted into androgens and estrogens.
I've been taking an AI for almost 5 years to avoid this. Fueling BC with estrogen is bad news.
JMHO--way too risky.
If bio-identical hormones are what you want to do be very cautious and be sure you have a hormonally negative BC.
I know it can be very tempting since DHEA can give you an extraordinary sense of well-being, strength, good bones etc---but please do be careful considering this.
If this is what you really want to do --you may want to investigate this form of it instead:
The Safe Alternative to DHEA?
Dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, is made from cholesterol by the adrenal glands
which sit on top of the kidneys in the posterior flanks. Once DHEA is absorbed, it is
converted into DHEA-S (the conjugated sulfate ester) and can be found at peak levels in
the blood serum for 7 to 10 hours.
DHEA levels are highest during fetal development in the womb. After birth, the levels of
DHEA decrease steadily until the age of 5 to 7 years. At this point, the levels of DHEA
begin to increase again through puberty and achieve maximal concentrations in the blood
at 25 years of age. After this, levels of DHEA begin to fall once again at a rate of
approximately 2% per year. By the time humans reach 70 years of age, DHEA levels are
typically at 10% to 20% of their peak levels seen at 25 years of age. The reasons for this
decline are not well understood. Proponents of DHEA supplementation have pointed to
this natural decline in DHEA levels with age as a reason to take DHEA as we get older.
Studies have thus far failed to demonstrate the wisdom of this wholesale
The exact purpose and functioning of DHEA is not completely understood either. We do
know that DHEA is metabolized to androstenedione which is a hormone that breaks
down to testosterone and estrogen. A recent study demonstrated increased levels of
estrogen in male athletes taking androstenedione in hopes to grow bigger muscles. They
unexpectedly ended up getting increased levels of estrogen which made it more likely
that they would grow breasts instead of muscles. This was a very unexpected finding
because many athletes have tried androstenedione after baseball slugger Mark McGuire
claimed that it helped him in his workouts. DHEA can also be converted into male or
female hormones, and this process seems to depend on a person’s sex hormone balance.
Scientists and physicians have been concerned about unsupervised DHEA
supplementation because this may increase blood levels of estrogen or testosterone. Men
and women taking DHEA may inadvertently be putting themselves at risk of prostate
cancer (as a result of increased levels of testosterone) or breast cancer (as a result of
increased levels of estrogen).
Some DHEA is metabolized differently, and instead of producing more sex hormones,
this alternative pathway produces a hormone known as 7-keto-DHEA (or 3-acetyl-7-oxo-
DHEA). 7-keto-DHEA is now available in health food stores and is touted as the “safe”
alternative to DHEA because 7-keto-DHEA is not converted into the sex hormones,
testosterone or estrogen. Some manufacturers of 7-keto-DHEA claim that their hormone
has all of the benefits of DHEA without any of the risks. These touted benefits include
increasing metabolism via thermogenesis (literally burning calories by “generating
heat”), reduce the signs of Alzheimer’s disease, improve memory, and boost immune
function. This has only been tested on laboratory animals and never credibly tested in
Small clinical studies conducted over 8 weeks in 18 men given 7-keto-DHEA did not
show increases in the levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), insulin (regulates blood
sugar), estrogen, or dihydrotestosterone (a male hormone related to testosterone). Blood
levels of testosterone actually decreased (601 ng/dL to 554 ng/dL) when the men were
given 7-keto-DHEA. Blood levels of interleukin-2 (an immune system hormone) did
increase when the men’s white blood cells (part of the immune system) were studied in
the laboratory. This may indicate a stimulation on the immune system, but the
significance of this single effect is unknown.
Women who are premenopausal may have an increased risk of breast cancer if their
DHEA-S levels are low. This increased risk may be due to the imbalance of hormones.
Less DHEA-S means that there will be more estrogen relative to male hormones like
DHEA-S. This imbalance toward higher “appearing” estrogen levels may stimulate
breast cancer cells which are somewhat dependent on estrogen to grow. However,
before premenopausal women rush out to take DHEA, they should understand that high
levels of DHEA-S can cause other unwanted side effects such as acne, hirsutism
(excessive body and facial hair), and infertility. So premenopausal women with low
levels of DHEA-S must be careful about supplementing with DHEA in order to avoid the
side effects seen with high levels of DHEA-S.
After menopause, elevated levels of blood DHEA levels will increase estrogen levels in
the blood. This will increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer which is exactly opposite to
what happens when a premenopausal woman takes DHEA. Moreover, taking DHEA
after menopause may increase the risk of heart disease (by increasing the levels of male
hormones), increase the risk of diabetes (by making the body resistant to insulin), and
increasing fat stores on the belly (like the “tire” men tend to get as they get older). This
hardly seems like the “fountain of youth” hormone DHEA is claimed to be.
In men over 50 years old, high levels of DHEA-S are associated with an decreased risk of
death from heart disease. This is opposite to what happens to women over 50. Scientists
think that the reason for this difference is that when there is plenty of testosterone around
(as would be expected in a healthy male) then the body will convert DHEA into estrogen.
We know that estrogen protects the body from heart disease. Obviously, determining
who should or should not be taking DHEA is quite confusing.
Unfortunately, long term clinical trials to sort out some of the contradictions of DHEA
have still not been done. Most of the claims regarding the effectiveness and value of
DHEA supplements remain unproven. One exception is a recent study which
demonstrated improved erectile function in impotent men who had low levels of DHEA
which were corrected with DHEA supplements. Men with these symptoms should have
their DHEA levels tested by their doctor to see if they might be a candidate for DHEA
There have been no significant long term clinical studies documenting the safety or
efficacy of DHEA. Improvements in the immune system, cancer fighting abilities,
improved physical and emotional wellbeing, and lowered cholesterol have all been tested
but not convincingly. In many cases, the studies concluded that DHEA had no real effect
such as with boosting the immune system or improving physical and psychological
While there have been a host of animal experiments using mice, rabbits, and rats which
have showed positive effects, we have to remember that these animals do not make
DHEA. Since humans do make DHEA, giving more hormones to people is very different
than giving DHEA to animal species who have a completely different hormone system
than we do. Humans and bunnies simply cannot be compared when it comes to taking
DHEA, and what happens to bunnies given DHEA should not be construed as relevant to
As a result, scientists are not clear on what the dose of 7-keto-DHEA should be in
humans. Small studies seem to suggest that people can take up to 200mg daily, but these
studies are tainted by the fact that they were done by the companies which make DHEA.
We do know that DHEA supplements may be associated with liver damage in some
Bottom Line: Based on our current level of knowledge and research, 7-keto-DHEA
supplementation cannot be recommended. While it is likely that 7-keto-DHEA is in fact
safer than DHEA supplements, the proper dose and frequency of supplementation is
unknown. Further clinical study is needed to determine who needs 7-keto-DHEA and
when they should start or stop taking it. Those taking DHEA should have their blood
levels of DHEA tested in order to ensure that they are taking a proper and safe dose.
Annotated Reference List
1.Baulieu E. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA): A fountain of youth? J Clin Endocrinol
2.Weeks C, Lardy H, Henwood S. Preclinical toxicology evaluation of 3-acetyl-7-oxo-
dehydroepiandrosterone, (7-keto DHEA) [abstract]. Accepted for presentation at
Experimental Biology 98. San Francisco, CA, April 19-22, 1998.
3. McNeil C. Potential drug DHEA hits snags on way to clinic. J Natl Cancer Inst
4.Morales AJ, Nolan JJ, Nelson JC, Yen SSC. Effects of replacement dose of
dehydroepiandrosterone in men and women of advancing age. J Clin Endocrinol Metab
5.Schwartz AG, Pashko LL. Cancer prevention with dehydroepiandrosterone and non-
androgenic structural analogs. J Cell Biochem Suppl 1995;22:210-17.