In brief: DHEA for depression

In brief

DHEA for depression

DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is best known as a "natural" substance taken by some major-league ballplayers. It's a hormone secreted by the adrenal glands and converted by the body to male and female hormones. Although not, strictly speaking, a dietary ingredient, it's widely available on grocery and pharmacy shelves as a nutritional supplement.

Production of DHEA in the body peaks around age 20 in both sexes and quickly declines until, by age 70, most of us are making hardly any. So the supplements have been promoted as an anti-aging panacea. DHEA has been credited with the capacity to resist infection, bulk up muscles, produce weight gain or weight loss, prevent cancer and heart disease, improve sexual performance, and change the way the body metabolizes and stores fat. The National Institute on Aging rejects these commercial claims.

DHEA does seem to lift mood, at least temporarily, in many people, and the treatment of mood disorders is one of its more plausible potential uses. In studies on more lasting mood change, the results have been inconsistent, but research sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health suggests that DHEA can relieve depression in middle-aged people.

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