DHEA, shorthand for dehydroepiandrosterone, is a hormone that breaks down into various sex hormones, including testosterone, which helps build muscle. Researchers report in the March issue of Fertility and Sterility, however, that the testosterone created from DHEA does not stay long in the blood, but instead, quickly breaks down into other hormones associated with prostate gland growth.
"Our study showed that taking DHEA did not increase testosterone levels, but it did increase byproduct hormones-hormones that are potentially bad for the prostate," says Rebecca Z. Sokol, M.D., M.P.H., professor of obstetrics and gynecology and medicine at the Keck School and the paper's senior author. "Not only are users not getting the testosterone, but they may be getting something harmful in the process."
Sokol notes that interest in over-the-counter steroid supplement DHEA rose after baseball's former slugger Mark McGwire said he used androstenedione or "andro," a similar muscle-pumping pill to help achieve his record-setting home-run tally in 1998. Young athletes can easily obtain DHEA at health food stores and nutrition centers in 25-milligram (mg) and 50-mg doses, though many take 200 mg or more at a time.
Sokol and colleagues tested DHEA in a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study of 12 healthy men ages 18-42. It was the first such study to compare an intermediate dosage of DHEA and a relatively high dosage of DHEA in non-elderly men.
Every day for six months, each man took either 50 mg DHEA, 200 mg DHEA or a sugar pill. Researchers tested blood for levels of various hormones (DHEA, DHEA sulfate, androstened
Contact: Jon Weiner
University of Southern California