Can DHEA Spark Your Sex Drive?
I'm suffering from low libido and read recently that taking DHEA might help. Should I try it?
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is a male hormone produced in the adrenal glands that contributes to bone density, muscle mass, and skin tone. Taking supplemental DHEA may help patients with systemic lupus and other autoimmune diseases, but I don't recommend that anyone take it without medical supervision -- it can increase the risk of breast and prostate cancer, and may elevate the risk of a heart attack.
The report you heard, which linked DHEA with heightened libido, probably stems from a study recently published in the September 30, 1999, New England Journal of Medicine. A team of German researchers found that DHEA supplements can boost libido among women whose adrenal glands are underactive -- a condition that can lead to depression and anxiety, in addition to sexual problems. After four months of treatment with DHEA, the researchers found improvements in psychological well-being -- including reduced depression, anxiety, hostility, and obsessive-compulsive behavior -- among the women participating. The women also reported having more frequent sexual thoughts and fantasies, greater interest in sex, and more sexual satisfaction. Based on these findings, the researchers recommended adding DHEA to hormones used to treat adrenal insufficiency in women.
However, adrenal insufficiency is only one of many possible causes for low libido. (Never accept a diagnosis of "adrenal insufficiency" by anyone other than a physician who has performed appropriate medical tests.) Sex drive can wane with age in both men and women; lack of vaginal lubrication after menopause can also be a problem for women. Certain drugs, including the antidepressants Prozac, Zoloft, Elavil, and Effexor, as well as a number of drugs used to treat high blood pressure, can also dampen your sex drive. Even the supplement melatonin (often taken to prevent jet lag) can lower libido temporarily.
Once you determine the reason for your low libido, you can take steps to rev it up. Asian ginseng (panax) can increase sexual energy among men. Look for an extract in capsule or liquid form that has been standardized for ginsenoside content. Follow the dosage recommendations on the product. Men can also try the ayurvedic herb, ashwaganda, or the Chinese tonic herb, ho shou wu.
For women, the most reliable sex-drive enhancer is testosterone, the male hormone. One product containing synthetic testosterone, and formulated for post-menopausal women, is Estratest (available only by prescription). The Mexican plant damiana (Turnera diffusa) has been touted as a female aphrodisiac -- unfortunately, we don't know much about it. You can find it in health food stores -- follow the dosage directions on the package -- but if you don't notice results within two months, discontinue use. Because both physical and mental well-being contribute to a healthy sex life, you might also try hypnotherapy or guided imagery to help restore your libido.