Facts about DHEA Supplements
A laboratory analysis of over the counter dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) products revealed that several contained significantly less DHEA than the amount claimed on the label, according to a report from Consumerlab.com. While most of the DHEA products tested were found to be properly labeled, the results of this study demonstrate that some distributors need to improve their quality control.
DHEA is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands, ovaries, and testes. The concentration of this hormone tends to decline with advancing age, and some doctors believe that a deficiency of DHEA may contribute to an acceleration of the aging process. Although the results of research studies have been conflicting, there is evidence that taking supplemental DHEA can prevent or reverse osteoporosis; enhance mood, energy, and sexual function; and improve overall functioning in elderly people. Some studies have found that DHEA may also be an effective treatment for lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus) and other autoimmune diseases.
In the new study, 17 DHEA supplements were tested by an independent laboratory to determine their DHEA content. Products whose label claims did not conform to the measured amount of DHEA were re-tested by a second independent laboratory, using a different testing method. Of the 17 products tested, 3 contained significantly less DHEA than claimed. The deficit ranged from as little as 16% to as much as 81% (i.e., only 19% as much as claimed). Companies that passed the test included Enzymatic Therapy, Nature's Bounty®, and Puritan's Pride®. A number of other companies also passed, but the names of these companies were not listed in the report.
In an earlier study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (1998;280:1565), only 7 of 16 products tested had a DHEA content within the acceptable 90 to 110% of label claim. One of the products contained no detectable DHEA, and only trace amounts were found in two others. Another product contained 50% more DHEA than the amount listed on the label.
Although the 17.6% failure rate reported in the new study is better than the 56.3% failure rate in the 1998 report, it is still unacceptable. Inadequate quality control among DHEA products is more than just a case of people not getting what they pay for. People who unknowingly take short-weighted products may be missing out on important health benefits, and those who are taking more than they realize could be exposing themselves to potential risks.
Since DHEA is converted, in part, into testosterone and estrogen, there is a theoretical possibility that taking DHEA could increase the risk of certain hormone-dependent cancers, such as prostate and breast cancer. On the other hand, some research suggests that DHEA has an anticancer effect. Although the relationship between DHEA and cancer has not been fully worked out, it is important to remember that DHEA is a potent steroid hormone. So while it is available without a prescription, it should probably be taken only under the supervision of a doctor familiar with its use.
Alan R. Gaby, MD, an expert in nutritional therapies, testified to the White House Commission on CAM upon request in December 2001. Dr. Gaby served as a member of the Ad-Hoc Advisory Panel of the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine. He is the author of Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima, 1994), and co-author of The Natural Pharmacy, 2nd Edition (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), the A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Healthnotes, Prima, 1999), Clinical Essentials Volume 1 and 2 (Healthnotes, 2000), and The Patient’s Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999). A former professor at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, in Kenmore, WA, where he served as the Endowed Professor of Nutrition, Dr. Gaby is the Chief Medical Editor for Healthnotes, Inc.
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