DHEA and Lupus


Dehydroepiandrosterone, commonly called DHEA, is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands.  DHEA leads to the production of androgen and estrogen, which are sex hormones that play an important role in the reproductive systems of both men and women.   Interestingly, studies have shown that people who have SLE, have lower levels of DHEA compared to people who do not have SLE. Similarly, lower levels of DHEA have also been found in people who suffer from heart disease, hormonal disorders, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and other immune disorders.

Why the connection?  Scientists are not entirely sure.  Although, many doctors and researchers feel there is something to be said about the relationship between hormone changes and the development of lupus, as well as, shifts in hormones and overall disease activity.  This blog will explore DHEA and its benefits, and risks, so that you can make an informed decision with a medical professional if this is a supplement for you.  


DHEA production peaks in a person’s twenties, and gradually declines with age, along with the production of testosterone and estrogen. Since women with SLE often have lower levels of DHEA to begin with, evidence suggests taking DHEA supplements may help increase the level of the lost hormones and help with fatigue, sleep, attitude, bone density and may even help decrease steroid use.  

DHEA has been explored due to several possible benefits that include:

  • Immune boosting benefits
  • Anti-aging benefits
  • Improving mood and energy
  • Helping with depression


Sounds amazing right? Well, before you rush to your drugstore and buy a jumbo sized bottle, there are some important things you should know before you start taking DHEA.  

Because it is readily available at most pharmacies, the incidences of it being taken improperly can be high.  Always talk to your doctor before you start taking ANY new supplement, especially one hormone related like DHEA.  Most doctors would prefer for you to have a DHEA prescription, that way, they know the amount you are consuming is safe and effective.  Most studies suggest that DHEA should not be taken in an excess of 200 milligrams per day.  



  • If you are a man with lupus you should not take DHEA.
  • If you are nursing, are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant, do not take this supplement.
  • If you have any type of cancer that is influenced by hormones or a family history of hormone induced cancers.  
  • Post-menopausal women should be carefully monitored if they are taking DHEA.
  • If you are already on a hormone therapy, talk to your doctor before starting DHEA.
  • If you have kidney nephritis, speak to your nephrologist before taking DHEA.


SLE affects many different parts of the body and can cause debilitating issues. Treatments for SLE often involve strong medications like corticosteroids and immunosuppressants that, also, can have heavy side effects.  In the clinical studies that have been done, the use of DHEA has shown generally positive results in cases of mild to moderate disease activity.  One study showed that after patients were given 200 mg/d of DHEA for 3-6 months, their SLE Disease Activity Index and symptom reports improved, and their need for corticosteroids decreased.  Additionally, there was documentation of reduced severity of illness and decreased use of other lupus medications.  Another study followed 19   patients over a 6 month time period who were given 200 mg/d of DHEA along with their daily corticosteroids and immunosuppressants.  That study showed bone mineral sustainment, which is a plus for those who suffer from corticosteroid-induced osteopenia (decrease in bone density), as well as, a decrease in lupus symptoms.  

DHEA has also exhibited promise in helping with mild to moderate depression, which studies have shown that as many as 60% of people with chronic illness can face at some point in their lives. Another common issue for those living with SLE or discoid lupus is alopecia (hair loss).  Taking DHEA may induce hair regrowth for some, although other patients only facial hair growth.  


If you are thinking of using DHEA supplements, here are some of the potential side effects:

  • Acne or oily skin
  • Stomach upset
  • Changes in a woman’s menstrual cycle
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Deepening of the voice
  • High blood pressure
  • Headache
  • Facial hair growth
  • Stunted growth
  • Mood swings
  • Unfavorable cholesterol changes
  • It may interact with other medications, so speak to your doctor and pharmacist about all medications and supplements you are taking.


DHEA therapy, when added to traditional treatments for SLE, may offer benefits to lupus sufferers, including: the reduction of steroid use, sustaining bone density and improving a patient’s symptom assessment of disease activity.  Although these are positive remarks, it is very important to speak openly with your doctor about the benefits and risks of starting DHEA.

Lupus Q&A  3rd Addition, Robert G. Lahita, M.D., PH.D., and Robert H. Phillips, PH. D.  2014
Chang DM, et al. Dehydroepiandrosterone treatment of women with mild-to-moderate systemic lupus erythematosus: A multicenter randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Arthritis Rheum 2002;46: 2924-2927.


Author:  Kelli Roseta

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All resources provided by us are for informational purposes only and should be used as a guide or for supplemental information, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. The personal views expressed here do not necessarily encompass the views of the organization, but the information has been vetted as a relevant resource. We encourage you to be your strongest advocate and always contact your healthcare practitioner with any specific questions or concerns.


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