YORK - If an over-the-counter
pill that was
Viagra and Prozac all in one, and was specifically targeted
needs of baby boomers, it would be sold by the crateful.
- If you believe the
hype, a supplement called DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone)
fits the bill.
As the building block for hormones like testosterone, estrogen
androstenedione " Mark McGwire's formerly favored muscle booster
" DHEA is clearly powerful stuff.
- Proponents say it can boost
libido, cure depression and
have people in their 40s and older feeling
like young pups.
- Hyperbolic Web sites selling DHEA go futher than that:
"associated with the ability to maintain lean body mass by
reducing fat stores and increasing muscle tissue,"
Power International. "DHEA was shown to provide
100 percent protection
against the potentially lethal effects of stress
on the immune system,"
- DHEA is widely sold at a range
of prices, both online
and in stores that sell dietary supplements. The
hormone does not require
Food and Drug Administration approval.
- Beyond the
from the claims of DHEA marketers, there's new
research suggesting DHEA
can actually do some good.
- A placebo-controlled study in this week's New England
Journal of Medicine found that women with underactive adrenal glands
less depression, anxiety, hostility and obsessive-compulsive
being treated with DHEA for four months.
- And then there was
the sex: Women reported they had more
sexual fantasies, increased
libido and greater sexual satisfaction several
months after beginning
treatment with DHEA.
- German researchers determined the hormone was worth of
a strong recommendation: "DHEA improves well-being and sexuality in
women with adrenal insufficiency." That's fine for women who fit
criteria, but what about the rest of us? To answer that question,
to understand how DHEA works.
- Fountain of Youth?
- The reason the
hormone is being touted as an over-the-counter
fountain of youth is
that DHEA levels, after peaking in the mid-20s, tend
to take a serious
dip as people age, falling about 20 percent every 10
- And a shortage of
DHEA may mean a shortage of testosterone,
especially in women. Women
produce a small amount of testosterone - just
as men produce low levels
of estrogen - and DHEA is the reason why. It
is broken down by enzymes
in the adrenal gland into various hormones, including
- Although sexual function is a complicated mix of hormones,
blood flow and emotion, a number of studies have shown that more
equals more sex. DHEA itself may be the cause of their
well-being, although its effect on neurostransmitters
that govern moods
is as yet unknown.
- A study in April's American
Journal of Psychiatry found
that a significant percentage of patients
with major depression and bipolar
disorder showed definite improvements
after taking 30 mg of DHEA daily
for six weeks.
- "Five of the 11 patients
treated with DHEA, compared
with none of the 11 given [a] placebo,
showed a 50 percent decrease or
greater in depressive symptoms,"
the study concluded.
- For now, DHEA is one of the much-hyped substances that
have emerged in recent years that may prove to be effective but aren't
quite ready for primetime.