Written by Oliver Greenwood: BSc(Hons) Applied Sport & Exercise Science.
When looking for supplements to help improve your performance and build muscle, you may have seen some products that contain androstenedione and DHEA. These products promise big results, but can they really live up to the hype?
This article is going to investigate two key themes which are androstenedione and DHEA. This article will compare the two hormones which is the most effective hormone.
We shall cover the following points:
- What's androstenedione?
- What's DHEA?
Androstenedione is a hormone. While the hormone itself has little effect, different parts of the body are able to convert it into other hormones. Because of this, it is described as a 'pro-hormone'.
Androstenedione is controlled by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. It is usually converted rather quickly to other hormones.
Androstenedione is secreted in the testes, ovaries, and adrenal cortex. It is unclear exactly how the adrenocorticotropic hormone and other hormones control androstenedione production in the adrenal glands.
Too much of this hormone in men can lead to an imbalance of testosterone and oestrogen.
This type of hormonal hyperstimulation can lead to different changes in the reproductive system. Women may experience more facial hair growth, greasy skin, and changes to body weight. Meanwhile, men may see a decrease in testicle size and body hair growth. Female hormones can affect the genitalia too, like getting their periods less often.
Too little androstenedione can cause young boys not to develop typical male sexual characteristics associated with puberty.
This includes body and pubic hair growth, sexual organ growth and deepening of the voice. Additionally, if a male foetus has too little androstenedione they may be born with abnormal genitalia.
Benefits and side effects of androstenedione
Androstenedione has often been abused by bodybuilders in an effort to bulk up.
Furthermore, it has been stated that the hormone can increase energy levels, maintain healthy red blood cells and provide enhanced recovery. It can also make you more hungry and motivate you to exercise more often as well as increase your libido.
However, the real evidence (other than anecdotal) is lacking which suggests that there's very little benefit. (You and your hormones, 2017).
If you are taking androstenedione, it's best to monitor how much you ingest in an effort to lessen the risk of depression as this is one of the reported side effects.
Another cause for concern is potential liver damage. Whilst there isn't any evidence for this, other similar hormones such as synthetic testosterone have been known to cause liver problems, so there is still a limited risk.
Therefore, due to its relatively unknown nature, there are potential health risks that may make it unsafe for you.
DHEA which is formally known as dehydroepiandrosterone is an important precursor hormone. Precursors are substances which the body converts into hormones (Arora, 2019).
DHEA is the richest circulating steroid that is present in the human body. This hormone by itself does not have much of a biological effect. However, it becomes powerful when it gets converted into different hormones such as testosterone and estradiol (Arora, 2019).
Cholesterol produces DHEA and it released by the outer layer of the adrenal glands. DHEA is also created in small amounts by the testes and is an important source of estrogen for women (Arora, 2019). The production DHEA increases from age 10 and peaks during the 20s, then slowly decreases.
DHEA production is controlled by the brain. A unique method known as negative feedback controls the production of the hormone (Arora, 2019).
This mechanism of negative feedback reports to the brain that DHEA levels have dropped in the body, which ‘switches on’ this mechanism. The result of this is that more DHEA starts to be produced. When DHEA levels have risen the negative feedback is ‘switched off’.
Side effects and benefits of DHEA
Side effects that are associated with DHEA are mostly mild and include; headaches, fatigue, insomnia and congestion (Griffin, 2021). Women may start to suffer from abnormal period pains, acne, mood changes and masculine characteristics of facial hair or a deeper voice.
Males may experience a development of breast tissue and a high blood pressure (Griffin, 2021), also low levels of DHEA are associated with a decrease in life span.
Furthermore, individuals who suffer from heart problems, liver disease, diabetes, high cholesterol and a history of clotting should not use DHEA. DHEA may also increase the risk of some cancers that are affected by hormones (breast, prostate and overies).
The benefits of DHEA may include an increase of bone density. This comes with a report that shows that low levels of DHEA are associated with an increased risk of bone fractures (Tinsley, 2017).
However, research has only found that bone density increases over a year or two. Muscular strength and size have shown to increase while taking DHEA supplements, although, this has only been shown in frail older adults (Tinsley, 2017).
Evidence has been provided to suggest that DHEA can decrease body by 4% over the course of 4 months (Libe et al., 2004). Furthermore, DHEA may play a role in fighting depression.
This is due to the fact that research suggests individuals with severe depression have lower levels of DHEA (Tinsley, 2017). Finally, DHEA also improves fertility in women, with 67% of fertilized eggs while taking DHEA supplements compared to 39% when undergoing IVF treatment (Tinsley, 2017).
When trying to compare these two hormones it is hard to do as they both contribute to the production of testosterone, so you need both to be able to produce this.
However, based of the evidence reported within this article DHEA has shown to have the most scientific based evidence reported. Although, this may be because of the articles that have been used within this article.
But as with most hormones, there are risks, so they should be ingested with the advice of a professional.
To conclude both hormones have there positives and negatives, but DHEA has shown to have the most scientifically evidence to support its effectiveness.
Grant, Tinsley (2017) Should You Take DHEA Supplements? [Online] Available from: https://scholars.ttu.edu/en/publications/should-you-take-dhea-supplements-4 [Accessed July 2017].
Libe, R., Barbetta, L., Dall’Asta, C., Salvaggio, F., Gala, C., Beck-Peccoz, P., & Ambrosi, B. (2004). Effects of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) supplementation on hormonal, metabolic and behavioral status in patients with hypoadrenalism. Journal of endocrinological investigation, 27(8), 736-741. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15636426/
Puneet, Arora (2019) Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) [Online] Available from: https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/glands-and-hormones-a-to-z/hormones/dehydroepiandrosterone-dhea [Accessed May 2019].
R. Morgan, Griffin (2021) DHEA (Dehydroepiandrosterone) [Online] Available from: < https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/dhea > [Accessed April 2021].
You and Your Hormones (2017) Androstenedione [Online] Available from: < https://www.yourhormones.info/hormones/androstenedione/ > [Accessed January 2017].