Many people claim balancing your hormones is the key to looking and feeling better.

While there are many natural ways to balance your hormones, medications or supplements can also alter your hormone levels and provide health benefits.

DHEA is both a natural hormone and popular supplement that can affect the levels of other hormones in your body.

It has been studied for its potential to increase bone density, decrease body fat, improve sexual function and correct some hormonal problems.

What Is DHEA and How Does It Work?

DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, is a hormone that’s produced by your body.

Some of it is converted into the major male and female sex hormones testosterone and estrogen (1Trusted Source).

Its effects can be driven by the actions of testosterone and estrogen after this conversion occurs, as well as by the DHEA molecule itself (2Trusted Source).

Given that DHEA is produced naturally, some wonder why it’s consumed as a supplement. The main reason is that DHEA levels decrease as you age, and this decrease is associated with several diseases.

In fact, it’s estimated that DHEA decreases by up to 80% throughout adulthood. This isn’t just relevant for older adults, as levels begin to decrease around age 30 (3Trusted Source4Trusted Source5Trusted Source).

Lower DHEA levels have been associated with heart disease, depression and mortality (1Trusted Source2Trusted Source4Trusted Source6Trusted Source7Trusted Source).

When you take this hormone as a supplement, its levels in your body increase. Some of it is also converted into testosterone and estrogen (1Trusted Source).

Increased levels of these three hormones produce a variety of effects, which will be reviewed in this article.

May Increase Bone Density

Low DHEA levels are associated with lower bone density, which decreases as you age (8Trusted Source9Trusted Source).

What’s more, low DHEA levels are also associated with an increased risk of bone fractures (10Trusted Source).

Because of these associations, several studies have examined whether DHEA can improve bone density in older adults.

Some research shows that taking this supplement for one to two years can improve bone density in older women, but not men (11Trusted Source12Trusted Source).

Other studies have not observed any bone density benefits after supplementing with DHEA, but most of these studies lasted six or fewer months (13Trusted Source14Trusted Source15Trusted Source).

It might be necessary to take this supplement for longer periods to experience increased bone density, and this effect may be larger in older women.

Doesn’t Seem to Increase Muscle Size or Strength

Due to its ability to increase testosterone levels, many believe that DHEA can increase muscle mass or muscle strength (16Trusted Source).

However, the majority of research shows that taking DHEA supplements does not increase muscle mass or muscle performance.

This has been shown in young, middle-aged and elderly adults over periods lasting from four weeks to one year (17Trusted Source18Trusted Source19Trusted Source20Trusted Source21Trusted Source22Trusted Source23Trusted Source).

In contrast, a small amount of research has reported that this supplement can improve strength and physical performance in frail, older adults or those who have adrenal glands that don’t function properly (13Trusted Source24Trusted Source25Trusted Source).

Several studies showed that it did not improve physical performance in older adults, but others reported increased upper and lower body strength (24Trusted Source).

Overall, because a large number of studies show no benefits for muscle size or strength, DHEA is probably not effective in these two regards.

Its Effect on Fat Burning Is Unclear

As with muscle mass, the majority of research indicates that DHEA is not effective at reducing fat mass (17Trusted Source18Trusted Source20Trusted Source22Trusted Source23Trusted Source26Trusted Source27Trusted Source).

However, some evidence suggests that DHEA supplements can produce small decreases in fat mass in elderly men or adults whose adrenal glands don’t work properly (16Trusted Source28Trusted Source).

One study found that DHEA decreased fat mass by about 4% over the course of four months, although this was in patients with adrenal gland problems (28Trusted Source).

While the effects of standard of this drug supplements on fat mass aren’t impressive, a different form of DHEA may be more promising.

This form of the supplement, called 7-Keto DHEA, has been reported to increase metabolic rate in overweight men and women (29Trusted Source).

What’s more, during an eight-week exercise program in overweight adults, body weight and fat mass decreased three times more after taking 7-Keto DHEA supplements, compared to placebo (30).

In this study, individuals taking the supplement lost about 6.4 pounds (2.9 kgs) of body weight and 1.8% body fat. Those in the placebo group only lost 2.2 pounds (1 kg) and 0.6% body fat.

While more research is needed, it’s possible that this form of DHEA could help you lose fat.