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DHEA has been promoted as a way to slow the aging process and several ''symptoms'' concomitant with the process. DHEA's effects include reversing weight gain and increasing strength, endurance, cognitive function, immune function, and overall energy levels. More specifically, however, DHEA is used to treat adrenal and androgen deficiency in aging adults.

DHEA is produced in the liver and adrenal glands and testes in men. The majority of DHEA in the body exists inthe sulfated storage form, DHEA-S. DHEA is converted intoandrostenedione, a main precursor of both androgens and estrogens.20 DHEA levels are typically higher in men than in women and tend to decline with aging in both genders. Interestingly, not all aging members of the population experience this effect; in approximately one-third of adults, DHEA will increase with age.21 DHEA supplementation appears to alter the gender-specific androgen-estrogen ratios; however, the amount of hormone that is elevated in each gender is different.

Men may experience an increase in estrogens but not as much in androgens when taking DHEA, and women who take the supplement will experience large increases in androgens but not in estrogens.22 The androgen- and estrogen-producing effects of DHEA are thought to be responsible for the pro-hormone's beneficial effects.23 In men who took DHEA for more than 24 weeks, erectile dysfunction was reduced and the men had improved orgasm function, libido, and overall sexual satisfaction.24 Much controversy surrounds the use of DHEA in both genders; studies to date have been generally small and of short duration. DHEA is a potent agonist of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer cells in vitro (and should therefore be used with caution in women), although it is difficult to extrapolate such data to in vivo activity.25

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