Biomedical Tidbits

DHEA and Depression

By Will Block

O f all the studies conducted since the 1950s indicating a wide variety of successful usages of DHEA, one finding stands out: people feel better on DHEA. According to University of California researcher Dr. Owen Wolkowitz, the most consistent finding is that DHEA seems to increase a person’s sense of well-being.1

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that DHEA has now been found to alleviate depression. In a recent study involving six middle-aged and elderly subjects suffering from major depression, all were found to have low basal levels of DHEA.2 After administration of 30–90 mg/day of oral DHEA over a period of four weeks, circulating levels of DHEA were restored to levels characteristic of younger individuals.

Memory performance, by certain measures, improved significantly. Depression ratings were also significantly reduced, demonstrating that DHEA can have powerful neuropsychiatric effects. The researchers increased the treatment span of one resistant patient for 6 added months and her depression ratings improved dramatically (48–72%) and her word identification memory also lunged forward (63%).

When treatment stopped, all measures of improvement returned to what they had been before supplementation, suggesting a deficiency syndrome. The scientists also noticed that the increased benefits were directly tied to serum increases of DHEA and to increases in the plasma DHEA/cortisol ratios. The more pronounced suggestion to come from the study, however, is that DHEA may have antidepressant and promemory effects.

Wolkowitz also conveyed that studies of brain cells suggest that DHEA may help preserve dendrites — outgrowths that branch from one brain cell to another — which serve as the circuitry for signaling between cells. Additionally, he says, there is evidence that DHEA acts by affecting the activity of signaling chemicals called neurotransmitters in the brain.


  1. Healthbeat. KRON-TV (Ch 4). Nov. 6, 1996.
  2. Wolkowitz OM, Reus VI, Roberts E, Manfredi F, Chan T, Raum WJ, Ormiston S, Johnson R, Canick J, Brizendine L, Weingartner H. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) treatment of depression. Biol Psych. 1997;41:311–318.
  3. Norris J. UCSF begins clinical trial of DHEA to treat Alzheimer’s. UCSF Newswire. 12/13/1995.

Will Block is the publisher and editorial director of Life Enhancement magazine.

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