DHEA Treatment for Sexual Dysfunction


Results of the first placebo-controlled studies are in. DHEA increases women's sexual desire and men's performance ability. Almost twenty years after Life Extension first reported the sex-enhancing effects of the steroid, the New England Journal of Medicine featured a report out of Germany showing that 50 mg of DHEA a day increases sexual interest in women by 50%. Sexual thoughts and mental/physical satisfaction also increased 50%. Although the study was small (24 women), and it was done in women with low adrenal hormone, it confirms what some people have been saying for over a decade: DHEA makes you feel young and sexy.


In another study, researchers in Austria gave 20 men 50 mg of DHEA for six months. Results were compared to placebo. Researchers found that DHEA increased the "yes" responses in all five categories of the "International Index of Erectile Function." DHEA was the only hormone of 17 tested that improved erectile dysfunction.

Sexual desire, erectile function, overall satisfaction, intercourse satisfaction and orgasmic function improved dramatically by week 16, and continued to improve until week 24 when the study ended.

No changes were noted in levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), prolactin, testosterone or dihydrotestosterone. The average age of the participants was 56, and none were taking prescription drugs. Men with hypertension, diabetes, surgically removed prostate gland, ischemic heart disease and other disorders were excluded from the study.

Where it comes from

DHEA is an androgen-type hormone secreted by the adrenal glands. These glands, which sit on top of the kidneys, make hormones that control everything from water balance to carbohydrate metabolism. In addition to DHEA, the adrenals manufacture a host of other hormones, including cortisol, which suppresses inflammation. Cortisol and DHEA seem to work in tandem. If cortisol levels overtake DHEA, there are adverse effects on immunity. DHEA leads to the creation of other androgens, including testosterone, androstenediol and androstenedione. The starting material for all these hormones is cholesterol.

DHEA is manufactured in the brain as well as the adrenal gland. Some researchers believe that its sex-enhancing effects are due to a direct action in the brain rather than through its role in the synthesis of sex steroids. DHEA affects brain chemistry. Researchers have discovered that DHEA modulates both GABA and serotonin, two chemicals involved in the transmission of neuro-messages.

DHEA and mood

The female study that was reported on in New England Journal of Medicine used five separate questionnaires to assess what effects DHEA has on mood. Each showed that DHEA has an effect. Significant reductions in depression, anxiety, and bad mood occurred, along with improvements in alertness and calmness. However, changes are not apparent right away. It took four months of DHEA to achieve results at 50 mg/day.

A bigger dose, however, may reduce the lag time. A recent report from the National Institute of Mental Health shows that DHEA can alleviate depression in as little as three weeks at 90 mg/day.

DHEA affects mental state

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have a long study going in 8-16 year olds. Last year they reported that there is a strong relationship between levels of DHEA, cortisol and depression. If the ratio of DHEA to cortisol dips too low, depression can occur.

Aging naturally creates a DHEA/cortisol imbalance. Several reasons have been suggested as to why this occurs. One group reports that the part of the adrenal gland that makes DHEA actually shrinks, while the part that makes cortisol increases. Another group reports decreases in important enzymes, while another has reported that not as much DHEA is released. Whatever the cause, DHEA declines with age as cortisol increases, and the result is not positive.

Editorials bash DHEA

The two studies on DHEA and sex drive are accompanied by editorials cautioning people not to run out and buy the supplement. Readers are reminded that the female study was done only on women with adrenal insufficiency caused by serious medical conditions. They warn that age-related declines in DHEA might represent a "beneficial age-related hormonal adaptation" that shouldn't be "corrected." The nature of the "adaptation" is not elucidated. Nor is the argument carried over to estrogen and progesterone. Might those deficiencies also represent beneficial adaptation?


The data clearly shows that DHEA replacement has multiple benefits whether the loss is caused by medical conditions or age. Replacement therapy makes older people feel better about themselves and increases sex drive. It works -- and in some cases it works better than estrogen replacement, at least for mood. Plus, as Dr. Thomas Ball points out in an editorial accompanying the impotency article, no harm has ever been demonstrated in studies on DHEA replacement in humans. DHEA improves or prevents a host of problems in addition to sexual dysfunction. Cancer, depression, bone loss, immune dysfunction, stress and possibly diabetes and Alzheimer's disease respond to DHEA. Older people taking DHEA report that they feel more energetic, hopeful, sexy and "with-it." New studies prove that they weren't imagining things. DHEA really does turn back the clock.


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Goodyer IM, et al. 1998. Adrenal steroid secretion and major depression in 8-to 16-year-olds. III. Influence of cortisol/DHEA ratio at presentation on subsequent rates of disappointing life events and persistent major depression [see comments]. Psychol Med 28:265-73.

Guazzo EP, et al. 1996. Cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and DHEA sulfate in the cerebrospinal fluid of man: relation to blood levels and the effects of age. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 81:3951-60.

Hornsby PJ. Biosynthesis of DHEAS by the human arenal cortex and its age-related decline. In Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and aging. FL Bellino, et al., eds. Ann NY Acad Sci 774:29-46.

Liu CH, et al. 1990. marked attenuation of ultradian and circadian rhythms of dehydroepiandrosterone in postmenopausal women: evidence for a reduced 17,20-desmolase enzymatic activiity.J Clin endocrinol Metab 71:900-6.

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