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Generic Name: Dehydroepiandrosterone

Brand Names: Fertinatal, DHEA

Drug Class: Endogenous steroid

Available Dosage Forms: Oral capsule and topical

Dehydroepiandrosterone: Uses, Side effects. Fertinatal, DHEA
Courtesy: Unsplash

What is Dehydroepiandrosterone?

Dehydroepiandrosterone is a steroid hormone endogenously produced by the brain, adrenal glands, and gonads.1 It serves a purpose in regulating the levels of:


-Sexual hormones


-Bone mineral density


DHEA has been recognized as a modulator for behavioral mechanisms in humans, including mood and emotional stability. Neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression and schizophrenia have long been linked to deficiency and unavailability of Dehydroepiandrosterone.2 It is hypothesized that the hormone alleviates depressive symptoms by:

-Promoting neuronal growth

-Preventing the effects of negative stimulus on cognitive tasks

-Enhancing memory

-Modulating the availability of mood regulatory hormones; serotonin, dopamine, GABA1

Combined analysis of bulk studies indicates a positive response to DHEA therapy in patients with depression. A recent discovery states that raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol in pregnant women and fetuses increase the risks of maternal depression.2 DHEA has an established role in downregulating the levels of cortisol by inhibiting the action of glucocorticoids. Researchers associated maternal depression with reduced levels of DHEA and suggested that treatment with the hormone can possibly improve depression in mothers.

Studies disclose that DHEA improves depression perhaps through stimulation of sigma receptors and in turn enhances the mood-elevating effects of serotonin and norepinephrine.1 Additional studies may hopefully strengthen the therapeutic role of Dehydroepiandrosterone in depression.


How to use Dehydroepiandrosterone?

-Dehydroepiandrosterone can be taken orally in the form of capsules. It can also be applied to the skin in the form of DHEA creams for aging skin.

-If it is taken for treating depression, the dosage depends on the severity of the illness.

-Minimum dosage for mild depression is 30mg

-Dosages as high as 500mg are also prescribed for 6-8 weeks

-Do not use any herbal supplements in conjunction with Dehydroepiandrosterone

-Avoid consuming soy and fiber-rich foods as these reduce the absorption of the hormone

-Do not consume licorice when taking the hormone as it may abnormally increase the levels of DHEA in the body


What are the side effects of Dehydroepiandrosterone?

DHEA is generally well tolerated when consumed appropriately. Side effects may occur with high doses or when it is consumed over a prolonged period. Common side effects include:





-Gynecomastia in men (breast enlargement)

-Hirsutism (hair overgrowth in unusual areas, e.g., women developing facial hair like men)

-Hypertension in men

-Irregular menstrual cycles and mood disturbances in women

-Deepened voice


Who should not use Dehydroepiandrosterone?

-Pregnant and breastfeeding women

-Hypersensitive people

-Women with hormone-related conditions and malignancies (uterine fibroids, endometriosis, or ovarian cancer)

-Women with the polycystic ovarian syndrome

-People with Diabetes

-People with Hyperlipidemia

-People with liver impairments

-Those with unstable mood disorders


DHEA interacts with numerous drugs and other hormonal replacements such as insulin, anastrozole, etc. Do not use it without approval from your doctor.



  1. Souza-Teodoro LH, de Oliveira C, Walters K, Carvalho LA. Higher serum dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate protects against the onset of depression in the elderly: Findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA).Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2016;64:40-46. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.11.005
  2. Apter-Levy Y, Zagoory-Sharon O, Feldman R. Chronic Depression Alters Mothers’ DHEA and DEHA-to-Cortisol Ratio: Implications for Maternal Behavior and Child Outcomes.Front Psychiatry. 2020;11:728. Published 2020 Jul 22. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00728

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Danielle Aubin (she/her), Online Clinical Social Worker/Therapist, Roseville, CA

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