Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
supplementation for cognition and well-being

Huppert FA, Van Niekerk JK, Herbert J
Department of Psychiatry,
Cambridge University,
Box 189 Addenbrooke's Hospital,
Cambridge, UK, CB2 2QQ.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2000


BACKGROUND: In view of the theoretical rationale for beneficial effects of DHEA and DHEAS in aging and dementia, we believe it is timely to undertake a thorough investigation of well-conducted studies in this area. This will provide a basis for confirmation of any effect of DHEA/S administration in humans, in large-scale and properly controlled trials, which would evaluate effective dosage, acceptable route and duration of administration and side effect profiles. This is especially pertinent at this time as DHEA is currently being sold in large quantities in health food stores, particularly in the USA. In some cases the recommended dose is different for men and women (50mg/day for men and 25mg/day for women) and the basis for this recommendation needs to be explored. OBJECTIVES: To establish whether administration of DHEA, or its sulphate, DHEAS, improves psychological well-being and/or improves cognitive function or reduces the rate of decline of cognitive function in older adults or in individuals with dementia. SEARCH STRATEGY: All available electronic databases, hand searched journals, personal communications and conference abstracts were searched for randomised controlled trials of DHEA in well-being and cognition. The total yield from searching was 415 and the detailed breakdown is given in the body of this review. SELECTION CRITERIA: All relevant randomised controlled trials of DHEA or DHEAS were considered for inclusion in the review. Studies where groups are matched, rather than randomised, were also considered. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Data for the specified outcomes were independently extracted by two reviewers (FAH & JvN) and cross-checked. Any discrepancies were discussed and resolved. Where possible and appropriate, data were pooled and the mean differences estimated. MAIN RESULTS: The published DHEA trials fall into 2 categories: 1. four German studies in which DHEA was administered for a period of two weeks or less; 2. a USA study in which DHEA was administered for three months. Well-being was assessed in both sets of studies and a significant improvement was reported in the longer duration USA study, while no effect was reported in the shorter duration studies. The USA study used an open-ended questionnaire for self-assessment of well-being and stated that 67% of men and 82% of women reported enhanced well-being on DHEA compared with placebo. There was no significant change on an analogue measure of libido. The German studies assessed mood and well-being with a number of standardised scales and reported no significant effects of DHEA on any of them. Only the German studies examined performance on cognitive tests, i.e. memory, verbal fluency, speed of processing, etc. They reported no significant benefit of DHEA. REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: The data at present offer limited support for improvement in a sense of well-being following DHEA treatment. This effect was reported only in the longer-term study which used a crude measure of well-being. The data offer no support at present for an improvement in memory or other aspects of cognitive function following DHEA treatment, although cognitive function was only measured in the short-duration trials. In view of the growing public enthusiasm for DHEA supplementation, particularly in the USA, it is clear that high-quality trials need to be undertaken in older adults, in which (a) the duration of DHEA treatment is in excess of two weeks, (b) the number of participants is large enough to detect effects if they exist, and (c) the outcome measures include validated scales for assessment of mood and well-being, and objective tests of cognitive function. Recently, studies of DHEA supplementation in clinical depression and Alzheimer's Disease have been completed in the USA. As soon as the results are available these studies will be reviewed. Currently, two trials (in France and the USA) in normal elderly are in progress.

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