Meaningful levels of DHEA do not appear in food, and therefore dietary deficiency does not exist. Some people, however, may not synthesize enough DHEA. DHEA levels peak in early adulthood and then start a lifelong descent. By the age of 60, DHEA levels are only about 5–15% of what they were at their peak at younger ages.70 Whether the lower level associated with age represents a deficiency or a normal part of aging that should not be tampered with remains unknown.
People with true adrenal insufficiency (i.e., Addison’s Disease; not the hypothetical adrenal “fatigue” or “burnout” that is sometimes incorrectly referred to as “insufficiency”) have below normal levels of DHEA. When women with adrenal insufficiency were treated with 50 mg of DHEA every morning for three or four months, their DHEA and DHEAS levels returned to normal, with a simultaneous improvement in well-being and sexuality.71, 72
Some studies have reported lower DHEA levels in groups of depressed patients.73, 74 However, in one trial, severely depressed people were reported to show increases in blood levels of DHEA.75 Despite these contradictory findings, a few clinical trials suggest that at least some people who are depressed may benefit from DHEA supplementation. (See “What does it do?” above for more information about use of DHEA supplements in the treatment of depression.)
People with multi-infarct dementia (deterioration of mental functions resulting from multiple small strokes) may have lower than normal DHEAS levels, according to a preliminary trial.76 In this trial, intravenous injection of 200 mg per day of DHEAS for four weeks increased DHEAS levels and improved some aspects of mental function and performance of daily activities.
People infected with HIV77 and those with insulin-dependent diabetes,78 congestive heart failure,79multiple sclerosis, 80asthma,81, 82chronic fatigue syndrome,83, 84rheumatoid arthritis,85, 86, 87osteoporosis, and a host of other conditions have been reported to have low levels of DHEA in most,88 but not all, studies.89, 90 In most cases, the meaning of this apparent deficiency is not well understood.
Men under 60 years of age with erectile dysfunction have been found to have lower DHEAS levels than men without the condition.91 (See “What does it do?” above for more information about use of DHEA supplements in the treatment of men with erectile dysfunction.)
Most,92, 93, 94, 95 but not all, 96, 97 studies have found that people with Alzheimer’s disease have lower blood DHEAS levels than do people without the condition.