Hormone Supplement Boosts Quality of Life in HIV Patients
Jan. 24, 2000 (Eugene, Ore.) -- A study of the effects of
dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) on HIV patients found they experienced more
energy, improved mood, more interest in sex, and increased muscle mass after
eight weeks of treatment. DHEA, a hormone produced in the adrenal glands, is
readily available in health food stores and drugstores without a
"This is preliminary research; the results are suggestive but far from
conclusive," says principal author Judith Rabkin, PhD, professor of
clinical psychology in psychiatry at Columbia University in New York.
A representative of the HIV/AIDS community expressed guarded optimism about
the study. "It's difficult to say how significant or important this
research may be, because DHEA hasn't been widely tested, and this is only one
study," says Michael Cover. He is director of communications at the
Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, the nation's largest provider of HIV/AIDS
services, with 10,000 client visits a year. "We are encouraged that the
medical research community is continuing to look at alternative forms of
treatment for HIV complications," he adds.
The study, published in a recent issue of the journal
Psychoneuroendocrinology, looked at 45 patients (including six women)
who were HIV positive. They were all experiencing mild to moderate depression,
but they were not psychotic nor were they current substance abusers. Just over
half had been diagnosed with AIDS, while 85% were taking three or more
antiretroviral medications for the disease.
Participants in the study first received 100 mg/day of oral micronized DHEA,
supplied by Belmar Pharmacy of Lakewood, Colo. During the second week, the dose
was increased to 200mg/day, and at the fourth week it was increased to 300
mg/day. For those who didn't experience improvements on this dosage, and didn't
have any significant side effects, the dose was gradually increased to a
maximum of 500 mg/day.
Stephen Ferrando, MD, also an author of the study, says, "We observed a
high response rate. Mood was improved in 72% of participants, while 81% had
less fatigue. Now that may just be a high placebo effect, but there were also
increases in muscle mass, which indicates a real anabolic effect of DHEA."
Ferrando is an associate professor of psychiatry at Cornell University Weill
Medical College in New York.
Among patients who reported low libido at the start of the study, 50% were
rated much improved or very much improved after eight weeks. Men who reported
improvements in mood and energy levels also reported increased strength of
morning erections. By week eight, there was also a statistically significant
increase in muscle mass, which stayed at the same level after four additional
weeks of treatment.
Three patients dropped out of this study during the first two weeks due to
side effects including acne, irritability, and headaches. An additional seven
patients reported minor side effects, such as irritability, insomnia, and nasal
congestion during the study. Occasionally DHEA does produce more significant
side effects, which were not observed in this study, says Owen Wolkowitz, MD, a
professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco Medical
Center. "Sometimes a person responds to DHEA by getting manic or
overaggressive; these reactions are rare but they have been reported."