DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a hormone available as a dietary supplement. It is marketed as an antiaging compound and as a "miracle cure" for many medical conditions. Claimed benefits of DHEA of potential interest to people with MS include improvement in fatigue, sex drive, and mood.
DHEA is a naturally occurring steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. DHEA may be important for aging because blood levels of DHEA generally decrease significantly as people get older.
Studies on DHEA have not demonstrated definite benefits. DHEA may have beneficial effects on aging skin, erectile dysfunction, and menopausal symptoms. DHEA does not appear to improve muscle strength or cognitive ability.
Limited information is available about the effects of DHEA on immune system-related diseases such as MS. In the animal model of MS, DHEA appears to have an anti-inflammatory effect and to decrease the severity of the disease. However, in other studies, DHEA appears to activate T cells, immune cells that are already excessively active in MS. This effect raises a theoretical risk for DHEA use in MS. In another autoimmune disease, lupus, DHEA may be beneficial in the mouse model of the disease and for people with the disease. Additional research on the effects of DHEA in MS and other immunological diseases is needed.
DHEA has multiple possible adverse effects. It may cause liver injury. Other side effects include acne, hair loss, voice deepening, fatigue, altered menstruation, abdominal pain, hypertension, and increased risk of some hormone-sensitive cancers, including breast, endometrial, and prostate cancer. The safety of long-term DHEA use has not been established.
No strong reason exists for people with MS to take DHEA supplements. No definite benefits are associated with its use. Although encouraging results with DHEA have been noted in the animal model of MS, DHEA also carries a theoretical risk as a result of immune stimulation, and it may cause multiple adverse effects, especially in women.
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