DHEA and Depression

Discovered in 1934, Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a valuable hormone secreted predominantly from the adrenal glands. For decades, DHEA has been correlated to numerous functions, including reducing abdominal fat, improving insulin sensitivity, helping with bone mineral density, improving quality of life in lupus patients, improving energy and an overall sense of well-being. Studies have additionally reviewed the effect of DHEA on depression.

DHEA peaks at around age 20 in men and women. With aging, DHEA begins to decline. By age 70, most of us are hardly producing any DHEA. Other potential causes of DHEA reduction include adrenal hormone disorders, pituitary gland disorders and certain medications, including steroids.

In one study consisting of 46 patients ages 40-65, 50% of the patients who were taking DHEA showed improving signs of depression. Ten patients opted to continue to take DHEA long term and “remained depression free for up to a year.” No serious side effects were noted. The authors of the study concluded that “short-term treatment with DHEA might be useful for some patients with mild to moderate depression who do not respond to standard treatments or cannot tolerate antidepressant drugs.”

In a 4 year longitudinal study of men and women ages 50 and over, an inverse association was found between DHEA and depressive symptoms. Lower DHEA levels were associated with poor mental health. Those who developed depression had 19% lower DHEA than those who did not.

DHEA plays an important role in its relationship with cortisol, a stress hormone released from the adrenal glands. “There is preliminary evidence that DHEA lower cortisol levels.” Cortisol that is persistently high can contribute to damage to our brain health, increasing the risk of depression and mood disorders. The regulation of cortisol by DHEA may promote neurogenesis and neuroprotection of the brain.

For a comprehensive hormonal evaluation, women benefit from having both their ovarian hormones (testosterone, progesterone, estrogen) and their adrenal hormones (DHEA and cortisol) assessed. Monitoring and managing this balancing act of the hormonal symphony can contribute to significant changes in a woman’s quality of life, including reducing the risk of many chronic diseases.

This article is for educational purposes only. Be sure to always consult with your healthcare provider before starting any medications or supplements


Schmidt PJ, et al. "Dehydroepiandrosterone Monotherapy in Midlife-Onset Major and Minor Depression," Archives of General Psychiatry (February 2005): Vol. 62, No. 2, pp. 154–62.

“In brief: DHEA for depression,” Harvard Health Publishing. 2014, Mar.

Souza-Teodoro L, de Oliveira C, Walters K, Carvalho L, et al. Higher serum dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate protects against the onset of depression in the elderly: Findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA). Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2016, Feb.

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