Effects of short-term DHEA intake on hormonal responses in young recreationally trained athletes: modulation by gender

Endocrine. 2018 Mar;59(3):538-546. doi: 10.1007/s12020-017-1514-z. Epub 2018 Jan 10.


Background: Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) figures on the World Anti-Doping Agency list of prohibited substances in sport because it is assumed that athletes expect a significant increase in testosterone through DHEA administration. The literature on the hormonal effects of DHEA intake nevertheless appears to be very scant in healthy young subjects, especially women.

Purpose: We examined the effects of DHEA on adrenal and gonadal hormones, IGF1 and free T3 in healthy young male and female recreationally trained volunteers.

Methods: The study followed a double-blind, randomized-order crossover design. Lean healthy young men (n = 10) and women (n = 11), with all women using oral contraceptives, were treated daily with 100 mg of DHEA and placebo for 4 weeks. DHEA, DHEA-sulfate (DHEA-S), androstenedione, total testosterone (Tes), dihydrotestosterone (DHT), SHBG, estrone, cortisol, IGF1, and free T3 were measured before, in the middle and at the end of each treatment, as were blood glucose, liver transaminases and lipid status.

Results: We observed a significant increase in DHEA, DHEA-S, androstenedione, Tes, DHT, and estrone in both men and women in the middle and at the end of DHEA treatment, but the increase in Tes was more marked in women (p < 0.001) than men (p < 0.05). No changes were found in the other parameters, irrespective of gender.

Conclusion: In young athletes, DHEA administration induces significant blood hormonal changes, some modulated by gender, which can be used as biomarkers of doping.

Keywords: Androstenedione; DHEA administration; DHT; Testosterone; Young females; Young males.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Androgens / blood*
  • Androstenedione / blood
  • Athletes*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone / administration & dosage*
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone / blood
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate / blood
  • Dihydrotestosterone / blood
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Estrone / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Sex Factors
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin
  • Testosterone / blood
  • Triiodothyronine / blood*
  • Young Adult


  • Androgens
  • Sex Hormone-Binding Globulin
  • Triiodothyronine
  • Dihydrotestosterone
  • Estrone
  • Testosterone
  • Androstenedione
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I
  • Hydrocortisone