Wednesday Bubble: is DHEA the path towards a better sex life?

Posted by on Dec 21, 2011 in estrogen, HRT, sexual desire, sexual health | 2 comments

Today’s Bubble is a doozie that can one of two ways: in the yes(!) column or in the no (!) column. I’ll leave it to you to decide.

DHEA is the most abundant sex hormone in circulation and is mostly secreted by the adrenal glands. Research has shown that low DHEA levels in pre- and postmenopausal women may negatively affect sexual functioning, while ample blood levels may enhance sexual functioning, cognitive functioning and wellbeing. Yet, whether or not DHEA really works continues to be controversial. And the reason behind the burgeoning interest is the quest to find a suitable replacement for HRT. The thing is? There are lots of suitable, evidence-based replacements that are not broadly accepted by many medical professionals and many of these are discussed regularly on this blog. Nevertheless, here’s what researchers have just discovered about DHEA.

The researchers, from Pisa, Italy, followed 48 healthy, postmenopausal women for a year. During this time, they divided 36 women who were experiencing troublesome menopausal symptoms and requesting hormone replacement into three groups:

  • 12 women who received 10 mg daily of DHEA
  • 12 women who were given combined HRT
  • 12 women who received the synthetic hormone, tibolone, daily

The fourth group was comprised of 12 women who did not wish to use HRT. They received daily vitamin D (400 IU) and calcium to help combat osteoporosis.

At the start of the study, all of the women reported similar sexual activity. However, after a year of treatment, women taking DHEA had significant increases in sexual interest and activity scoring almost 14 points higher on a questionnaire used to measure sexual interest, satisfaction, vaginal lubrication, orgasm and sexual partner. The women taking HRT experienced similar benefits, and women in both of these groups reported engaging in more sexual intercourse compared to women taking Vitamin D and calcium. Women taking the synthetic hormone also had increased sexual interest scores but they were not as high as the other two hormone groups. The magnitude of improvements in menopausal symptoms was also similar between the DHEA, HRT and tibolone groups.

The reason for this improvement appears to be the effect that DHEA has in terms of improving blood levels of the hormones estradiol and progesterone, both of which decline during menopause. It also appears to positively affect adrenal functioning.

What to think? Well, the study didn’t include any information on side effects. This is what Mayo Clinic has to say in that regard:

“No studies on the long-term effects of DHEA have been conducted. DHEA can cause higher than normal levels of androgens and estrogens in the body, and theoretically may increase the risk of prostate, breast, ovarian, and other hormone-sensitive cancers. Therefore, it is not recommended for regular use without supervision by a licensed health professional.”

Another important fact, acknowledged by the researchers, is that DHEA was only studied in 12 women, hardly enough to draw any firm conclusions. But they do believe that the findings, albeit preliminary, are encouraging, especially for women who “may have problems in taking more conventional HRT.”

Personally, I believe that it’s waaaaay too early to even consider DHEA as an alternative to HRT and in particular, to androgen therapy for sexual health. I want to see more information on side effects before it’s even on the radar. Meanwhile, I would love to hear what you think:





  1. 12-21-2011

    I haven’t tried it myself, but the reviews on Amazon are quite positive for all brands. It is certainly cheap enough to do a larger study.

    If it increases estradiol and progesterone wouldn’t it have the same negative side effects as HRT?

    • 12-21-2011

      I don’t think that it works in the same way Martin but I need to look into it further. It’s an excellent question however. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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