Last reviewed 01/2018

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), is produced from the precursor steroid 17-alpha-hydroxypregnenolone in the liver and less so in other steroid-producing tissue. DHEA can then form:

  • dehydroepiandosterone sulpate - DHEAS, or
  • androstenedione, or
  • a range of 17-ketosteroids

DHEAS circulates in the body at about 10 x the level of cortisol.

Concentrations peak at about 20 years and decline steadily so that at 60 years of age there are concentrations of one-third or less than young adults.

Concentrations decrease in illness e.g. rheumatoid arthritis.

Experimental work suggests a protective role for DHEA(S) in some pathological processes:

  • reduced the development of vascular stenosis in heterotopic transplants and stimulated cytokine production in mice
  • an anticarcinogenic effect for DHEAS has been suggested
  • oral DHEA reduced food intake and body weight in genetically obese rats
  • low DHEA(S) levels in the ageing brain might allow endogenous normal concentrations of cortisol to act as neurotoxic agents

Therapeutic administration of DHEA is being investigated.

There is study evidence of an increased insulin-like growth factor I concentration in patients receiving DHEA. Further investigation into the possible therapeutic role of DHEA(S) is being undertaken.


  • 1.Yen SSC. Dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate and longevity: New clues for an old friend. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2001;98:8167–8169.