What Are The Symptoms of Low & High DHEA in Women?

What is DHEA?

Dehydroepiandrosterone, better known as DHEA, is a steroid hormone. It is naturally synthesized by the body and performs a number of roles. It has been investigated widely for its possible therapeutic effects in a range of conditions. Sometimes called the “super hormone” and the “fountain of youth hormone,” DHEA is a complex substance that leaves many unanswered questions. The human body naturally makes DHEA. It can convert into a range of hormones, including androgens and estrogens, the male and female sex hormones.

DHEA is a biomarker that is particularly important in women’s health and physiology. DHEA is an abundant molecule in the body that decreases naturally as women age. While it garners limited attention in health-related media, becoming informed about your own DHEA levels may help you optimize your muscle and bone health, sexual function, fitness performance, and longevity.

DHEA is synthesized from cholesterol and stored as DHEA until it is needed to make different steroid sex hormones, including estradiol and testosterone, as well as other sex steroid precursor molecules. These hormones are crucial in maintaining energy, muscle and bone health, and sexual function in both men and women.

Estrogen, testosterone, and other important sex hormones are produced by the gonads—the testes in men and the ovaries in women. In men, the testes continue to release testosterone and the other sex steroids at rates that decline slowly but steadily as they age. In contrast, when women reach menopause, the ovaries completely cease to produce sex hormones such as estrogen. The hormonal fluctuations of menopause thus lead to a variety of physiological changes, and at this time, DHEA becomes the only source of the essential sex hormones in women.

What happens when a woman has lower levels of DHEA?

Lower levels of DHEA are associated with a higher risk of conditions such as diminished immunity, increased risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, and unstable blood sugar levels. 

The signs and symptoms of low levels of DHEAS in women may include the following:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Dizziness
  • Craving for salt
  • Dehydration
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Thinning of vaginal tissues in women

What is DHEA sulfate test?

This test measures the level of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEA-S) in your blood.

Why do I need a DHEA sulfate test?

You may need this test if you have symptoms of high levels or low levels of DHEA sulfate (DHEAS). Men may not have any symptoms of high levels of DHEAS. Symptoms of high levels of DHEAS in women and girls may include:

•          Excess body and facial hair growth

•          Deepening of voice

•          Menstrual irregularities

•          Acne

•          Increased muscularity

•          Hair loss at the top of the head

Babies may also need testing if they have genitals that are not clearly male or female in appearance (ambiguous genitalia). Boys may need this test if they have signs of early puberty.

Measuring levels of DHEA is also used as a clinical indicator of different conditions related to pituitary and adrenal function. Low levels of DHEA in the blood are linked to decreased pituitary and adrenal function, which can cause many health problems for women, including weakness and fatigue, difficulty in controlling weight, menstrual irregularity, and infertility.

High DHEA levels are associated with overactive adrenal glands, polycystic ovary syndrome, and early puberty. These conditions can also lead to difficulty in controlling weight, menstrual irregularity, and infertility. Additional symptoms in women with overactive pituitary and adrenal glands include acne and excess hair growth all over the body (hirsutism).

What happens during a DHEA sulfate test?

A health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.

How to boost DHEA levels

DHEA is increasingly available commercially as a supplement aimed at improving libido and wellbeing in postmenopausal women. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and its sulfate DHEA are the most abundant circulating sex steroid hormones in women, providing a large precursor reservoir for the intracellular production of androgens and estrogens in non-reproductive tissues.

While doses of 10–500 mg have been reported, a common dose is 25–50 mg per day. Regarding the time frame, a dose of 50 mg per day has been safely used for one year, and 25 mg per day has safely been used for two years.

Generally, DHEA supplements have been safely used in studies for up to two years without severe side effects. However, DHEA supplements should not be taken by individuals with cancers affected by sex hormones.


Dr. Oche Otorkpa PG Cert, MPH, PhD

Dr. Oche is a seasoned Public Health specialist who holds a post graduate certificate in Pharmacology and Therapeutics, an MPH, and a PhD both from Texila American University. He is a member of the International Society of Substance Use Professionals and a Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK. He authored two books: "The Unseen Terrorist," published by AuthorHouse UK, and "The Night Before I Killed Addiction."
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