A Project of the New Mexico AIDS Education and Training Center. Partially funded by the National Library of Medicine
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Fact Sheet Number 724
WHAT IS DHEA?
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a
steroid produced by the adrenal glands.
DHEA acts like a hormone, so it is
called a steroid hormone. A hormone is
a chemical produced in one part of the
body that is carried to another part of
the body where it has a specific effect.
The adrenal glands are located on top
of the kidneys.
DHEA is the most common steroid in
humans. It can be transformed in the
body into testosterone (the primary
male sex hormone), estrogen (an
important female sex hormone), or
DHEA has not demonstrated the same
effects as anabolic (muscle-building)
the Food and Drug
Administration has already examined
the possibility of classifying DHEA as a
Schedule III drug. If this happens, it will
be extremely difficult to get DHEA.
In normal adults, DHEA levels are
highest at about age 20, and then
decrease steadily. HIV patients with
lipodystrophy (See Fact Sheet 553)
have very low levels of DHEA.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF
People with various diseases have
levels of DHEA that are unusually low.
DHEA has been used in the last thirty
years or so to treat obesity, diabetes,
and lupus. It has also been found to
improve sleep. Many people who have
taken DHEA report improved energy
levels and a better sense of well being.
WHY DO PEOPLE WITH HIV
Some people with HIV take DHEA in
amounts designed to restore normal
levels. This might help improve their
energy levels. Several studies have
found that DHEA increases the levels of
IL-2, a chemical messenger
increases the production of CD4 (T-
helper) cells. See Fact Sheet 482 for
more information on IL-2. DHEA also
improves the ability of CD8 (T-killer)