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DHEA sulfate, or dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS), is a male steroid hormone secreted by the zona reticularis of the adrenal cortex in both men and women. It has been used to treat some people with autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, and may lower insulin resistance in some diabetics. The supplement is a cortisol agonist and may have a role in the immune response to stress. Taking the supplement is reported to cause higher energy levels, better quality sleep, and many antidepressant effects.
Some people taking DHEA sulfate have reported negative side effects. For example, some men noticed a reduction in the size of their testicles and an increase in aggressive behavior. Women reported tenderness in their breasts and changes in their menstrual cycles. A few women taking DHEA also experienced hair loss and weight gain, while others have developed male pattern hair growth after taking it for an extended period of time.
Many clinical studies have been performed to determine the effects of DHEA sulfate on the body. High levels can reduce insulin sensitivity, which is a precursor to diabetes. Women with high levels of DHEA in their bloodstreams also are more likely to have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Low DHEA levels, which are associated with increased anxiety and depression, can be increased by diet and exercise. People with cardiovascular disease may have low levels of DHEA and have a greater risk of developing diabetes.
Researchers have connected DHEA sulfate to a variety of health conditions. Oily skin and reduced instances of obesity are associated with high levels, for instance. An increase is connected to adrenal carcinoma, or congenital adrenal hyperplasia. There is an indication that high levels of DHEA can lead to an increased risk of developing breast cancer as well. A study of men over the age of 65 showed a decrease in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels when administered DHEA supplements, and the same men also had an increase in testosterone levels.
Clinical studies on memory and aging involving DHEA sulfate did not show any improvement in memory among older men taking the supplement. Another study of young men taking it showed an increase in memorization abilities, however. Researchers are unable to form a definite link between memory and this hormone.
Some men have taken the supplement to help build more muscle mass. Research does not support this activity, as taking the supplement has not been proven to increase muscle mass or decrease fatty deposits. The supplement, however, is on the forbidden list for athletes participating in the Olympic Games.