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Hormone Supplement Boosts Quality of Life in HIV Patients

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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."

DHEA is widely available without a prescription. Should the study results encourage consumers to dose themselves? "This is only a preliminary study; if someone wants definitive evidence, they need to wait," says Rabkin. "On the other hand, DHEA is a fairly benign product, so there isn't a great cost in trying it." She warns that no one should take DHEA unless they are experiencing specific indications that would make it suitable. "Consumers should only use DHEA if they have certain symptoms, such as fatigue or depressed mood. Then they need to observe themselves and see if there is a noticeable difference in those symptoms after a period of treatment."

Since this pilot study did indicate DHEA has useful effects for HIV, the next step should be a larger study with more rigorous scientific procedures. Study authors believe they will be funded for this research, and Rabkin expects to begin such a study by late spring.

"The medications used in HIV/AIDS often compromise muscle mass and the ability to maintain body weight in a healthy way," says Cover. "We are looking forward very much to further testing of this compound in people living with HIV and AIDS."

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