DHEA is a crude prohormone that occurs naturally in the human body. DHEA is considered an adrenal androgen because it is made in the adrenal glands instead of the testes (like testosterone and DHT). DHEA is readily converted in the adrenal glands, liver and kidneys into DHEA Sulfate, an inactive form of this prohormone. DHEA is produced in large quantities and circulates in the blood at concentrations higher than cortisol and second only to cholesterol1.
DHEA is converted in peripheral tissues into androstenedione and testosterone, however, DHEA only accounts for about 5% of total androgen production in the normal male2. In females, DHEA is the major source of androgen production. DHEA has also been suspected to act directly at the estrogen receptor producing estrogenic side effects.
Conversion of DHEA is not very efficient in that it must undergo two enzymatic conversions to arrive at testosterone. For this reason, DHEA has not been considered to be very effective or very popular for building lean mass. Some companies have begun to include ingredients along with DHEA to channel the conversion to testosterone while reducing conversion to estrogenic and androgenic metabolites while increasing bioavailability and prolonging half-life.
DHEA is reputed to have other effects beyond and conversion to estrogen or androgen and is very popular among anti-aging proponents. This is likely to occur through its conversion to 7-keto and 7-hydroxy metabolites which appear to play a role in modulating the effects of cortisol in the body1,3.
While DHEA may not be as strong as other prohormones or prosteroids currently on the market, it is legal and taken with the proper accessory ingredients, can produce anabolism with few side effects.
1. Labrie F, Luu-The V, Belanger A, Lin SX, Simard J, Pelletier G, Labrie C. Is dehydroepiandrosterone a hormone? J Endocrinol. Nov;187(2):169-96, 2005
2. Wilson, Jean D., and Foster, Daniel W., eds. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 9th ed. Philadelphia: Saunders, 1997.
3. Mo Q, Lu SF, Simon NG. Dehydroepiandrosterone and its metabolites: differential effects on androgen receptor trafficking and transcriptional activity. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. Apr;99(1):50-8, 2006