If you've read this blog for any length of time, you'd know I'm not really into ooga-booga medicine like homeopathy or anything that doesn't have a considerable amount of dispassionate scientific evidence to back up its efficacy.

Hey, that's just the way I am - which is not to diminish all you crystal kissers out there; I'm quite happy to let you all swallow water drops and think it cures your ills because the placebo effect can vary wildly from individual to individual and we sure don't understand how it works.

However, feel free to throw my words back at me now that I'm going to write about a substance called DHEA that I've been taking for about three months and which is generating a lot of hot air and unsubstantiated claims on the interwebs.

And because of this hot air, I'm only going to quote trusted sources for this post - well, sources that at least have some credibility.

According to Reader's Digest: "DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is produced by the adrenal glands located just above the kidneys, and is referred to widely as 'the mother of hormones' because it is utilised by the body to produce many other hormones, including testosterone and oestrogen. DHEA is also well known as a steroid used by athletes and bodybuilders to increase their androgen levels and improve performance."

As you can imagine, DHEA has had a bit of a chequered past in this country and for some years was banned. As recently as 1999, the Medical Journal of Australia said: "DHEA first burst into prominence nearly 20 years ago when, following animal experiments, it was described as a 'wonder drug' and 'the fountain of youth', with claims that it was an anti-ageing, anti-obesity, and anti-cancer drug.

"In Australia, DHEA is a banned drug, and a prohibited import under the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations (Cwlth). It has no listed medical uses, and cannot be marketed."

That has now changed and DHEA, according to the Therapeautic Goods Administration is "still classified as either anabolic steroid or precursor" and a "prohibited import" but can be brought into the country if an "import permit has been obtained".

Again, says Reader's Digest: "DHEA declines dramatically with age and use of some medication, so people over 50 could consider a blood test to determine their current DHEA sulphate levels if their doctor suspects a problem. As DHEA is a prescription-only medication in Australia, you will need to consult your doctor."


This is what happened with me.

I had some blood tests and my DHEA sulpahte levels were low, I was having trouble losing weight and I've battled depression, on and off, for many years. The doc said "give it a try" and I did.

I can't say I felt any different except for one thing. My metabolism seemed to speed up. As I've posted before, I put on a lot of weight last year.

This is me at about 101 kilograms - appealing huh?

Now, I spent a lot of time exercising and eating right in 2011, but I couldn't seem to get below 94 kilograms. Then I started taking DHEA in November last year and the weight fell off me.

This is me at about 88 kilograms, which I'm hovering around still.

I'm not saying it was all down to DHEA - I still watch what I eat and exercise, but it seemed to me the exercise I did got far more results after I started taking DHEA. My muscle mass increased and my body fat lessened.

There is little science to back this up.

Medline Plus, a service of the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health has this to say about DHEA.

The "Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate."

The effectiveness ratings for DHEA are as follows:

Possibly effective for...

Schizophrenia, improving the appearance of older people's skin, improving ability to achieve an erection in men with sexual dysfunction, improving symptoms of lupus.

Insufficient evidence to rate effectiveness for...

Adrenal insufficiency, weight loss, depression, ageing and many other conditions it has also been claimed to help.

That said, according to The Mayo Clinic, "no studies on the long-term effects of DHEA have been conducted. DHEA can cause higher than normal levels of androgens and estrogens in the body, and theoretically may increase the risk of prostate, breast, ovarian, and other hormone-sensitive cancers. Therefore, it is not recommended for regular use without supervision by a licensed health professional".

This was no doubt written before the release of a late 2011 Italian study that found DHEA "may be able to help women who are going through menopause and could also give them better sex lives", Reuters says.

"Italian researchers writing in the journal of the International Menopause Society, Climacteric, said they had found the first robust evidence that low doses of DHEA can help sexual function and menopausal symptoms, suggesting it may one day become an alternative to hormone replacement therapy," said Reuters.

So it's all pretty up in the air.

All I know is I trust my doctor, she's smart and switched on, and the DHEA costs about $2 a day.

What I'd be interested to know is if any of you have tried it and what was your experience. If you're a scientist or doctor, feel free to give it to me with both barrels, if you think I've misstated the facts.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here. His email address is here.