Strong muscles are in high demand among athletes. Regardless of the sport, athletes want powerful muscles, and the faster they can build them the better.
For this reason, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) supplements have become popular in some weight rooms. DHEA is an androgen/testosterone precursor produced naturally by your adrenal gland before it produces testosterone.
DHEA has been marketed to build muscle and decrease body fat. In fact, many stores sell it over the counter. But DHEA supplements aren't backed by the FDA (no supplements are) or the NSF Certified for Sport®. So should athletes take it? Judge for yourself after reading answers to the following questions: Is it safe? Is it effective? Is it legal?
Is it safe?
DHEA supplement users have reported several adverse effects, including hair loss, hirsutism (excessive hair growth where it wouldn't normally appear), voice deepening in women and irreversible enlargement of breast tissue in men.
DHEA supplementation also decreases "good" cholesterol or HDL. Some research also shows concern for an increased risk of uterine and prostate cancer. Therefore, DHEA supplementation has not been proven safe.
Is it effective?
Research involving DHEA supplementation showed no increase in the body's testosterone levels and no changes in strength or body composition in athletes. Therefore, DHEA has not been proven effective for athletes.
Is it legal?
In 2005, the FDA classified DHEA as a controlled substance. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), International Olympic Committee, NFL, NBA, MLB, NCAA, state-level high school associations and other governing bodies also ban its use.
This means that if you knowingly (or unknowingly) take a product containing DHEA and test positive, you will lose your eligibility. Therefore, DHEA supplementation is not legal.
My advice as a sports dietitian
Don't take DHEA. It's not safe, effective or legal. Check the ingredients list of any supplement you are taking or considering. If it contains DHEA, do not take it, or stop taking it immediately. If you're in doubt about a supplement, you can check it out by visiting www.nsfsport.com. Even multi-vitamins should be checked to make sure they are clean (meaning they contain no banned or illegal substances).