DHEA as a Treatment for Erectile Dysfunction
Men who suffer from erectile dysfunction, or ED, are often willing to do anything to overcome the condition. ED can be caused by many different things, including psychological conditions, physical ailments and certain medications, so zeroing in on an effective treatment isn’t always easy. While drugs like Viagra have been proven to be highly effective, they do not work in all cases. Furthermore, many men prefer to try natural remedies before moving on to prescription medications. Many natural supplements are believed to help with erectile dysfunction, but DHEA is among the most promising of them all.
What is DHEA?
Dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, is what is known as a precursor hormone or parent hormone. This means that it turns into different types of hormones later. First, DHEA is turned into a hormone called androstenedione. From there, it is changed into male sex hormones and female sex hormones depending on what is required by the body. Not surprisingly, hormonal factors are often involved in erectile dysfunction, which is one of the reasons for DHEA’s possible effectiveness in treating it.
How is DHEA Produced?
DHEA is primarily produced by the adrenal glands, which are situated on top of the kidneys. The adrenal glands are responsible for the production of many other hormones too, including ones that affect carbohydrate metabolism and water balance. Interestingly enough, the adrenal glands also produce cortisol, which is believed to have a negative effect on immune functioning when its levels exceed those of DHEA.
DHEA is also produced in the brain, and many believe that its sex-enhancing capabilities are primarily derived from that region. That may be because in the brain, the hormone helps to modulate neurotransmitters like serotonin and GABA, which themselves may play a role in proper sexual functioning. DHEA is also produced in the testes in men. Despite having an additional “source” of the hormone, however, many men develop erectile dysfunction. In fact, most men experience ED at least a few times in their lives.
DHEA levels decline slowly but steadily as people age. They tend to be at their height around age 20. From there, they begin to dwindle. By the time most people are 60, their DHEA levels are only about 5 to 15 percent what they were when they were 20. This depletion of the hormone could be to blame for ED in some men.
How are DHEA Supplements Made?
Before delving into how DHEA treats erectile dysfunction, it is useful to understand how it is made into supplements. Because it is produced naturally by the body, there is no way to turn pure, naturally created DHEA into a supplement. The DHEA that is contained in such supplements comes from other sources. It is primarily derived synthetically from chemicals found in soybeans. Less commonly, it’s derived from chemicals found in wild yams. The hormone is not naturally occurring in any foods, so there is no way to increase its levels by implementing dietary changes.
DHEA Benefits for Erectile Dysfunction
Of the many DHEA benefits that have been explored in recent years, its advantages for men who are struggling with erectile dysfunction seem to be among the most promising. Its use in the treatment of ED first came about because testosterone levels also drop as men age. Because DHEA is a precursor to male hormones, including testosterone, researchers wondered if there was a connection between the two.
DHEA benefits for erectile dysfunction appear to be the most prominent among men whose ED stems from low levels of testosterone. In men whose ED stems primarily from circulatory problems, it doesn’t appear to be as effective. With that being said, studies concerning DHEA benefits for erectile dysfunction have shown that men experienced improved sexual functioning after taking DHEA supplements for certain periods of time.
Study Regarding DHEA Benefits for ED
Men who are curious about the potential benefits of using DHEA supplements to treat ED typically want some evidence that they actually work. Fortunately, an important study has shown some promising results. The 1994 Massachusetts Male Aging Study, for instance, showed that men with erectile dysfunction and other forms of impotence often have unusually low levels of DHEA. The study involved a group of such men whose testosterone levels were normal. They took one DHEA supplement per day for a period of six months. Subjects generally reported a marked improvement in sexual functioning. Dramatic improvements were reported by week 16, and they continued through week 24, which is when the study concluded.
Other Potential DHEA Benefits
Many other studies have been performed to test the benefits of DHEA in the treatment of many other conditions. A few of the purported benefits of DHEA beyond the treatment of erectile dysfunction include:
• Immune system strengthening
• Increased energy levels
• Improved bone and muscle strength
• The slowdown of the natural aging process
• Improved memory and mood
There isn’t enough scientific evidence to support DHEA’s anti-aging benefits. However, DHEA supplements do show promise in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. This was revealed in a study of DHEA by the National Institute of Mental Health.
Despite the huge amounts of buzz out there about DHEA and weight loss, no truly conclusive results have been produced. So far, no reliable evidence exists suggesting that DHEA helps to boost metabolism, either.
Although it’s been purported to provide benefits for a wide range of medical conditions, the jury is still out on whether or not DHEA is truly effective in treating them. These conditions include Crohn’s disease, cervical cancer, low bone density, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, infertility, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and schizophrenia.
DHEA Side Effects
Like any type of supplement, DHEA may cause side effects in some instances. The majority of them are likely linked to increased levels of testosterone in the body, which is itself a natural side effective of supplementation with DHEA.
A few of the most common DHEA side effects include:
• Skin thickening
• Oily skin
• Irregular or rapid heartbeat
• Nasal congestion
• Hair loss
• Unfavorable changes in cholesterol levels
• High blood pressure
Some side effects of DHEA are restricted to women. For example, women who use DHEA may experience side effects that are associated with increased levels of testosterone. These include deepening of the voice, the growth of facial hair and changes in the menstrual cycle.
DHEA may also increase levels of estrogen in men. When that happens, some of the side effects may include shrinking of the testicles, enlargement of the breasts and reduced sperm production.
One especially troubling possible side effect of DHEA is that it may reduce levels of good cholesterol, or HDL cholesterol. This is potentially serious for men who are suffering from erectile dysfunction stemming from cardiovascular issues, as reduced levels of good cholesterol can exacerbate such problems.
Certain people should not take DHEA. Others should proceed with caution.
Some of the most common contraindications for DHEA include:
• Higher than normal levels of the male hormone androgen
• Breastfeeding and pregnancy
• Conditions that are worsened by exposure to estrogen, including uterine cancer, endometriosis and uterine fibroids
• Depression and other mood disorders because an increase in DHEA may cause mania, sexual inappropriateness and irritability
• Liver problems
• Diabetes because increased levels of DHEA may negatively impact how insulin works in the body
Recommended DHEA Dosage
The ideal DHEA dosage depends on the reason the supplement is being used. Men who are trying to treat erectile dysfunction are typically advised to take 50mg of DHEA by mouth one time per day.
With that being said, studies have shown that prolonged use of DHEA — and excessively high dosages of DHEA — may be unsafe. As a general rule, people are advised not to exceed 50mg to 100mg of DHEA per day. As with any type of medication or supplement, people should speak to their doctors before starting to take DHEA for the treatment of ED or any other condition.
Potential Medication Interactions
Although DHEA is generally considered to be safe in doses of 50mg to 100mg per day, it should not be taken in conjunction with certain medications. Herbs and supplements that slow blood clotting, including garlic, ginger and gingko, should not be taken along with DHEA. Licorice increases levels of DHEA, so care should be taken when using DHEA supplements at the same time. Soy may increase or decrease DHEA levels, so patients are advised to proceed with caution.
Medications that affect estrogen levels and production should generally not be taken along with DHEA. These include anastrozole, exemestane and tamoxifen, which are used to treat estrogen-sensitive cancers. Medications that are changed by the liver should be avoided when taking DHEA because they may not be broken down as quickly, and side effects may be worsened. Anticoagulants and other drugs that slow blood clotting should not be taken in conjunction with DHEA, which may also slow down blood clotting. As mentioned previously, DHEA may increase serotonin levels, so care should be taken when using it alongside antidepressants. Insulin may lower DHEA levels in the body, and this can affect its effectiveness in treating diabetes.
The Best Way to Use DHEA for ED Treatment
Should men who suffer from erectile dysfunction try supplementing with DHEA? That depends on a few things. Before beginning DHEA supplementation, men should consult with their doctors to hopefully determine the cause of their erectile dysfunction. When ED is caused by circulatory issues, DHEA supplementation may not be very effective. It appears to work best in men whose ED arises from low levels of testosterone, but studies have not proven this conclusively.
DHEA is a worthwhile option for ED sufferers to consider, but they should always begin by seeking medical attention. In some instances, dietary changes and other lifestyle changes work, and that is the most natural way to go. Most often, underlying medical conditions are to blame for ED. If high blood pressure is the primary culprit, for instance, DHEA supplements are unlikely to achieve viable results. If ED is happening due to an overabundance of the PDE5 enzyme, the best treatment continues to be Viagra, which helps to inhibit it.
Treating Erectile Function with DHEA in the Future
Up until now, very little research has been done regarding the effectiveness of DHEA in the treatment of erectile dysfunction. That is sure to change in the not-too-distant future though, and DHEA supplements may one day be prescribed to men who suffer from this common condition. In the meantime, men who have permission from their doctors can safely try DHEA supplements to see if they improve their ED. As new studies emerge, DHEA’s benefits in terms of male sexual functioning should become better known, and many doctors may advise men to try these supplements before proceeding to other options like Viagra and Cialis.
Based on the results of one study in particular, DHEA could very well help to improve the symptoms of erectile dysfunction in certain men. That is especially true about men who have ED that stems from low levels of testosterone, but it may be beneficial for other ED sufferers too. As long as men check with their doctors first, are aware of the possible side effects and aren’t currently taking medications or suffering from conditions that could adversely affect their health while taking DHEA, trying the supplement could be worth it.