DHEA and Lp(a)

DHEA supplementation is among my favorite ways to deal with the often-difficult lipoprotein(a), Lp(a).

DHEA is a testosterone-like adrenal hormone that declines with age, such that a typical 70-year old has blood levels around 10% that of a youthful person. DHEA is responsible for physical vigor, strength, libido, and stamina. It also keeps a lid on Lp(a).

While the effect is modest, DHEA is among the most consistent for obtaining reductions in Lp(a). A typical response would be a drop in Lp(a) from 200 nmol/L to 180 nmol/L, or 50 mg/dl to 42 mg/dl--not big responses, but very consistent responses. While there are plenty of non-responders to, say, testosterone (males), DHEA somehow escapes this inconsistency.

Rarely will DHEA be sufficient as a sole treatment for increased Lp(a), however. It is more helpful as an adjunct, e.g., to high-dose fish oil (now our number one strategy for Lp(a) control in the Track Your Plaque program), or niacin.

Because the "usual" 50 mg dose makes a lot of people bossy and aggressive, I now advise people to start with 10 mg. We then increase gradually over time to higher doses, provided the edginess and bossiness don't creep out.

The data documenting the Lp(a)-reducing effect of DHEA are limited, such as this University of Pennsylvania study, but in my real life experience in over 300 people with Lp(a), I can tell you it works.

And don't be scared by the horror stories of 10+ years ago when DHEA was thought to be a "fountain of youth," prompting some to take megadose DHEA of 1000-3000 mg per day. Like any hormone taken in supraphysiologic doses, weird stuff happens. In the case of DHEA, people become hyperaggressive, women grow mustaches and develop deep voices. DHEA doses used for Lp(a) are physiologic doses within the range ordinarily experienced by youthful humans.

Comments (25) -

  • Anonymous

    1/16/2011 4:39:07 PM |

    I recently had this test as part of my blood work and have a level of 34, which is very low.  My doctor advised just as you have to start low and go slow watching how I feel.

    This along with some other hormone supplementation has helped my overall well being and energy.  I can't remember when I had my last energy crash.  

    As always, Thanks!

  • Mike

    1/16/2011 5:50:53 PM |

    Interesting stuff, Dr Davis, regarding treating Lp(a) w/ DHEA.  

    What are your thoughts on the efficacy of increasing/maintaining natural endogenous secretion via strength training and/or caloric restriction?

    This is something I'm becoming more interested in as I creep closer to 40.

  • Dr. William Davis

    1/16/2011 9:35:42 PM |

    Hi, Mike--

    I should have mentioned that I only suggest DHEA supplementation for these purposes in people age 40 and over.

    Your idea of endogenous enhancement is the preferred, though relatively modest, route in younger people.

    Thanks for reminding me.

  • Hotwife Admin

    1/16/2011 11:48:46 PM |

    I’m very interested in trying DHEA for this very reason. I’m am a 43 year old male in good health but who had very high cholesterol. I am currently using high strength fish oil and niacin along with cutting out most carbs from my diet. I have lost about 7 kilo since doing this and had some great plummets in my cholesterol. Problem is as I live in Australia we cannot get access to DHEA without paying obscene amounts of money via compounding pharmacies and doctor scripts as it’s a class 1 drug that is illegal. I know in the states you can get it as a nutritional supplement but Australia is backwards in this sense. Do you or any readers know of any sympathetic doctors who are interested in male health and would prescribe DHEA? It seems criminal that we cannot access the health benefits of this because of government bureaucracy.
    Cheers from South Australia

  • Might-o'chondri-AL

    1/17/2011 12:59:26 AM |

    Young people produce at least 12mg./day of DHEA; when we reach +/- age 30 our production of DHEA normally drops. I am led to believe that decline is +/- 2 mg./d. for every decade of our life past 30.

    So, for an average patient of (say) 50 years supplementing daily with 10 mg. DHEA: the first 4 mg. is serves to "top up" the natural ageing deficit. The remaining 6 mg. is providing a 50% bonus level for the circulatory system to use thwarting Apo(a).

    Sounds relatively safe intake. I'd like to hear if Apo(a)patients, who took it regularly in middle age, would be taking (say) +/- 15 mg. DHEA daily when they are in their 70's.

  • Becky

    1/17/2011 2:07:56 AM |

    I am 58 years old and was recently tested and had levels of 4.510 ng/mL.  What levels do you recommend as targets for someone wishing to treat Lp(a)?

  • Anonymous

    1/17/2011 3:51:24 AM |

    I have long been fascinated with DHEA but I read too many horror stories on Wikipedia and Consumerlabs.com about the dangers. Cancer, lowering of HDL, and aggressiveness are big turn offs. How do we balance these risks with the risk of heart disease?

    -- Boris

  • JC

    1/17/2011 1:30:34 PM |


    Problems with DHEA supplementation.

  • ben

    1/17/2011 2:50:08 PM |

    What do you think/know about magnesium oil's effect in raising levels of DHEA? I take oral magnesium in the form of Natural Calm (citrate i think) but three months ago I also started rubbing magnesium oil into my skin. I have read that this type of transdermal magnesium application raises DHEA levels. Any truth there, Dr.? Thanks

  • Anonymous

    1/17/2011 3:17:30 PM |

    What is a good brand name DHEA, and can it be found in less than 50 mg tabs?

    Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    1/17/2011 5:03:23 PM |


    I would recommend Life Extension brand of DHEA. I have had excellent results with Life Extension products over the years. They are a little more costly, but I believe the quality is top notch. Unfortunately however, the smallest dose of DHEA that LEF makes is 15mg.

    Here is what Ray Sahelian, M.D. says about DHEA:


    I myself had low levels of DHEA and low testosterone and I took DHEA (starting at 25mg and going all the way up to 75mg) and while my DHEA levels went up to the upper end of the reference range, my testosterone only increased by 9%-10%. I ended up discontinuing the DHEA because I couldn't get my testosterone levels up sufficiently and I was concerned about possible longer term side effects even though I didn't really experience any of the horror stories you read about online.

    I don't have Lp(a) problems, but if I did, I would consider taking DHEA again in lower doses (15mg-25mg for me) however.

    Hope this helps.

  • Anonymous

    1/18/2011 2:51:56 AM |

    I've been taking the stuff since my mid-30s and found it to be great for general energy, mood and body composition. However, I've never been able to take more than 15 mg a day. That's low for a male, I know, but 25 or more and I get ferocious acne.

  • Maggie

    1/18/2011 5:53:12 AM |

    I was taking 10mg DHEA but have switched to 7-KETO (just 25mg a day at present). I believe that 7-KETO, as a naturally occurring metabolite reduces the risk of DHEA side effects, so was this a good idea?

    (I am a 50-something female.)

  • Dr. William Davis

    1/18/2011 1:21:34 PM |

    Hi, Ben--

    Sorry, no knowledge.

    I did ask one of the manufacturers of topical magnesium preparations (creams, epsom salts) whether they had any data in humans showing effects on magnesium blood levels. They said they had not generated any nor were aware of any.

    Several commenters--

    The "horror stories" surrounding DHEA all refer to the higher, supraphysiologic doses I mentioned, not the low, physiologic replacement doses we use for Lp(a).

    Also, this is about DHEA for Lp(a), not DHEA for youth preservation. Two different perspectives.

  • JC

    1/18/2011 1:39:27 PM |

    Q: I've been feeling really tired for a while now. My doctor checked my DHEA level which was very very low -- less than the level typical for an 80 yr. old woman and I am less than half of that! Could you please suggest some supplements for me? I know that there are DHEA supplements but these aren't available in Canada. Is there something else I can take? Thanks!

    A: I have never been a fan of hormonal substitutes, including glandulars. With hormone replacements there is a great risk of atrophying the glands that normally produce the hormones. There are two reasons for this. One is a feedback mechanism in which if high hormone levels are perceived in the body the gland will be shut down to compensate. Secondly, glands are like muscles and must be worked to be kept healthy. Substituting for the glands makes them weak over time. I have seen some people claim that DHEA does not atrophy glands like other hormones, but rather leaves the adrenals producing the same level of hormones. Of course even if DHEA was not atrophying the glands and was leaving the glands to produce DHEA at the same level then the adrenals would still be producing at a diminished output. Therefore, the DHEA would do nothing to boost adrenal performance.

    DHEA is classified as a weak androgen (male hormone). It is converted in to estrogen and testosterone, but not the balancing progesterone. This may lead to problems of elevated estrogen, including weight gain, thyroid dysfunction, problems with blood sugar, and problems with elevated testosterone, including increased body hair, and loss of scalp hair. There is also a lot of concern about the possibility of causing cancer or promoting existing cancers. There is not enough known about the actual long term effects of this hormone. Many of the studies on DHEA were done on rats, which do not have the same chemistry of humans. And the few human studies I have seen on DHEA were short term studies looking for improvement of certain symptoms, not side effects including the risk of adrenal atrophy. Overall I really think that DHEA supplements should be avoided!

    DHEA is normally thought to decline due to age, though this is not necessarily the case. Primary production of DHEA occurs in the adrenal glands. Therefore adrenal function may directly affect DHEA levels. And the majority of the people are exposed daily to two of the biggest weakening factors for the adrenals, stress and stimulants. Stress can be physical, such as pain, or emotional. And both can be increased by reduced adrenal function since the adrenals produce the anti-inflammatories and anti-stress hormones for the body. Stimulants include caffeine, ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and nicotine. Various pharmaceuticals can weaken adrenal function. The best known of these are steroids, such as Prednisone. Though anti-seizure medications, antifungals, cold medications, asthma medications, etc. can also cause adrenal weakness.

    In short it is safer and more effective to build up your adrenal glands so they will produce their own DHEA at proper levels, rather than raising levels artificially to abnormally high levels. This is best addressed with vitamin C and pantothenic acid, the most important nutrients for proper adrenal function, and adaptogenic herbs. Adaptogenic herbs get their name from their ability to help people to adapt to stress by improving adrenal function.

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  • xenesis

    1/18/2011 4:08:03 PM |

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  • Anonymous

    1/18/2011 4:51:44 PM |

    At a dose of 50 mg daily, DHEA has not resulted in any decrease of HDL for me.

  • Might-o'chondri-AL

    1/18/2011 7:02:49 PM |

    Adrenal genetic factors will not let everyone respond to "boosting". Of course, the same genetic quirks imply high dose DHEA (de-hydro-epi-andro-sterone)is not wise.

    Worldwide +/- 1:1,000 develop late onset congenital adrenal hyper-plasia; among Hispanics 1.9%, Italians 0.3%, Slavs 1.6%,
    Ashkenazi Jews 3.7% and caucasians generally 0.1%. Hirsutism (face hair) is an easy sign in women; adult acne for both genders.

    A genetic enzyme 21-hydroxylase deficiency is the rate limiting factor in 95% of these cases. Then low amounts of cortisol are made. Signals for more, by cortico-tropins, "whips" the adrenal cortex; trying to get more cortisol output. But, the inability to synthesize cortisol makes all those building blocks go into production of androgens.

    Additionally, there are 12 known genetic mutations of the gluco-dorticoid receptors. These make the body "resistant" to deal with the cortisol in circulation. Without de-activation (receptors a first step) into cortisone the cortisol level stays elevated.

    In this situation both adrenals are, in a sense, overworking for no purpose. Progressively this leads to arterial hyper-tension down the way. So-called gluco-corticoid resistance, as a syndrome, develops in 10% of the elderly.

    Point being that genetics, and the epigenetics of age, are some reasons why not everyone will respond to a "natural" plan. It also explains how different people respond to supplement dose of DHEA.

    Paradoxically, genetics that mean patient can't be made to do what others can backs up Doc Davis' clinical DHEA use. If it is for combating high Lp(a) with small doses of DHEA.

  • Anonymous

    1/19/2011 5:29:09 AM |

    I've never heard of topical magnesium supplements. It's awfully hard to imagine effective delivery of a cation/ionic salt through intact skin. Nor can I see any advantage in trying. Oral Magnesium supplements are readily absorbed and cheap. I'm also skeptical of claims that magnesium would optimize DHEA levels in most people. Magnesium is integral to the function of many enzymes, but unless it's the rate-limiting step in DHEA production and someone has a serious deficiency, I can't imagine how more magnesium would fix the issue. One CAN make a decent pharmacokinetic argument in favor of topical DHEA to minimize first-pass metabolism etc.

  • Onschedule

    1/19/2011 6:41:37 AM |

    There's nothing like a warm bath with Epsom salt... I do believe magnesium is well absorbed through the skin, though I am ignorant of how it compares with oral supplementation. I get the same effects (deep sleep, vivid dreams) as with oral supplementation, only more pronounced with the bath.

  • Kelly A.

    1/20/2011 5:55:41 PM |

    My Lp(a) result was zero when I tested it a few years ago.

    Was this inherited and will it likely always be absent? I can't find much if any info on nonexistent Lp(a).

  • Anonymous

    1/23/2011 10:49:00 PM |

    I take 12.5 mg DHEA twice daily with no side effects - I just feel better. I am sure I was deficient - I plan on testing soon. I'm 43.

  • kris

    2/28/2011 11:59:31 PM |

    i tried 25mg and it drove me nuts. cut it down to 12.5mg and all of the crazy symptoms gone and i feel much better ocer all. wife tried 12.5mg and she felt bad. she cut it down to 6mg and she is fine too. thank you so much Dr. Davis

  • Anonymous

    4/13/2011 10:53:52 AM |

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  • kim

    6/4/2011 11:28:12 PM |


    Based on 15 years of study and research, I would say (and truly without sarcasm) for you to stay away from Wikipedia (who get their info from google, FDA and American Medical Assoc) all of which are political agencies who DO NO ACTUAL RESEARCH THEMSELVES, but get their info from pharmacueitcal companies who HATE vitamins and nutritional supplements because they cannot patent them and make any money.

    The horror stories that you have read at those sites are simply opinions of people who took as the gospel media soundbites on reported research and did not search out viable valid resources who study the actual research reports.

    Dr. William Davis (of this site) is actually a very good resource for your valid health information.

    Now stay away from those silly sites you cited and you can Live long and prosper.

    Best of Health To You