DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone)

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: June 2023

Dehydroepiandrosterone, more commonly known as DHEA, is a hormone (steroid) produced by the adrenal glands that may help with some of the mild to moderate symptoms of lupus. It has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of lupus. It is used to treat hair loss, joint pain, fatigue, and brain fog.1-2

It is also known as prasterone, androstenolone, 3β-hydroxyandrost-5-en-17-one, and 5-androsten-3β-ol-17-one.

What are the ingredients in DHEA?

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone that occurs naturally in the human body and is made by the adrenal gland. The body turns DHEA into other male and female hormones within the body. The man-made form is created using chemicals found in soy and wild yam.

How does DHEA work?

Scientists believe that DHEA works in people with mild to moderate lupus by increasing the level of the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) in the blood. This is thought to boost the immune system and lower inflammation. The use of DHEA is controversial, with some doctors questioning its long-term safety, particularly in people with high cholesterol.2

Some studies have shown that DHEA helps improve symptoms of lupus while other studies show it does not.1-2

Treatment for lupus

DHEA can be purchased over-the-counter as a dietary supplement, but it is important to only take DHEA if your doctor prescribes it. Over-the-counter DHEA is not regulated so you may not get an accurate or consistent dose. If your doctor wants you to take DHEA, you will need to get pills made at a compounding pharmacy.1

Possible side effects

The possible side effects of DHEA include acne, facial hair growth, oily skin, and sweating more than normal. In some women, it lowers the production of good cholesterol or HDLs. It can also increase estrogen levels in postmenopausal women, making routine cancer screenings important.1-2 These are not all the possible side effects of DHEA. Patients should talk to their doctor about what to expect with treatment.


  • Men with lupus should not take DHEA.
  • Women who are pregnant, trying to conceive or breastfeeding should not take DHEA.
  • You should not take DHEA if you have cancer influenced by hormones, or have a family history of those types of cancer.1-2

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