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Medical News

DHEA May Reduce Depression Symptoms in HIV Patients

February 1, 2006

A new report suggests DHEA may alleviate the symptoms of minor depression in HIV-positive patients. DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, is an unregulated steroid-like dietary supplement used by individuals for a variety of purposes, including to build muscles, reduce abdominal fat, improve blood sugar levels, and fight aging.

Dr. Judith G. Rabkin of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and colleagues performed an eight-week study involving 145 HIV-positive adults with mild depression. Two-thirds of the patients had been diagnosed with AIDS. The subjects were randomly assigned to take a placebo or DHEA tablets. Dosage began at 100 milligrams per day and was increased to 400 milligrams per day over four weeks if symptoms did not improve and there were no side effects.

DHEA patients showed a higher response rate (56 percent) than placebo patients (31 percent). Men and women responded equally well to DHEA. Blood levels of DHEA did not differ significantly between responders and nonresponders. The treatment was associated with a significant increase in testosterone levels in women but not in men. DHEA was not found to significantly affect CD4+ cells counts or HIV viral load. Side effects were relatively uncommon and did not differ between treatment groups.

"In response to many requests, we added a four-month extension phase for patients who responded to DHEA," the authors wrote. "Overall, the results of this intermediate-term eight-month follow-up suggest that mood response is maintained with minimal and possibly nonspecific side effects, although long-term effects remain unknown."

"It would be extremely useful if there is some federal regulation/oversight of the purity and contents of substances such as DHEA that are sold over-the-counter," Rabkin said. She noted that the amount of DHEA in products the researchers purchased at health food stores ranged from 0 to 150 percent of what was claimed on the label.

"Based on our trial and the handful of others in the literature, I don't think any of us would recommend DHEA as first-line treatment for depression," Rabkin said. "DHEA is, however, attractive for patients who refuse to take antidepressants or for patients with mild chronic depression who are particularly enthusiastic about complementary-alternative medicine strategies."

The full report, "Placebo-Controlled Trial of Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) for Treatment of Nonmajor Depression in Patients with HIV/AIDS," was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry (2006;163:59-66).

Back to other news for February 1, 2006

Adapted from:
01.27.06; Will Boggs, M.D.

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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