Dehydroepiandrosterone to enhance physical performance: myth and reality

Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am. 2010 Mar;39(1):127-39, x. doi: 10.1016/j.ecl.2009.10.008.


Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is secreted by the zona reticularis of the adrenal cortex and is converted into potent sex steroids in peripheral target cells. As oral DHEA administration can lead to dose-dependent increases in circulating androgens, which may reach high supraphysiologic levels in women, it has been included in the list of prohibited substances by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). However, evidence for an ergogenic activity of DHEA is still largely nonexistent. Randomized trials in elderly subjects with an age-dependent decrease in DHEA have provided little or no evidence for enhanced physical performance after long-term administration of DHEA, 50 mg/d, and smaller short-term studies in healthy male athletes using higher doses were completely negative. Thus the widely perceived performance-enhancing activity of DHEA is still more myth than reality. However, because studies in female athletes are still lacking, an ergogenic activity of high-dose DHEA in this population cannot be excluded but is expected to be associated with adverse events like hirsutism, acne, and alopecia.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Insufficiency / physiopathology
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging
  • Anabolic Agents
  • Athletic Performance / physiology*
  • Body Composition / drug effects
  • Bone Density / drug effects
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone / administration & dosage*
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone / physiology*
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate
  • Doping in Sports* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Doping in Sports* / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / physiology
  • Lipids / blood
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle Strength / drug effects
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Sex Factors


  • Anabolic Agents
  • Lipids
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I