DHEA and Depression

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What is DHEA?

DHEA stands for dehydroepiandrosterone, a steroid hormone that occurs naturally in the human body and is also available as a supplement. It is a precursor hormone to a number of others, including estrogen and testosterone. As we age, DHEA levels naturally decline--we make about half as much at 40 as we did in our 20s, and that declines to 10-20% by age 70.

Does DHEA supplementation improve depression?

There has not been extensive research into DHEA as a treatment for depression, but the studies that have been conducted have consistently demonstrated improvement in depression with DHEA supplementation.

One study found that subjects with dysthymic disorder had low levels of DHEAS, the form of DHEA commonly measured in the bloodstream. Another study found that depressive symptoms in elderly subjects were linked to low DHEA levels.

Several other studies have found that depressive symptoms and depression improved with DHEA supplementation. For instance, an NIMH study of 46 patients aged 40-65 found that 6 weeks of DHEA supplementation decreased depressive symptoms by half in half the subjects.

A comprehensive review of these studies was completed in 2009, with the authors concluding that "to date, every controlled trial of DHEA in depression has reported significant antidepressant effects."

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