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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Oct 18;(4):CD006221.

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) supplementation for cognitive function in healthy elderly people.

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  • 1University of Oxford, Division of Clinical Geratology, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, Radcliffe Infirmary, Woodstock Road, Oxford, UK.



In view of the theoretical possibility of beneficial effects of DHEA or DHEAS in retarding age-associated deterioration in cognitive function, we have reviewed studies in this area.


To establish whether administration of DHEA, or its sulphate, DHEAS, improves cognitive function or reduces the rate of decline of cognitive function in normal older adults.


Trials were identified from a last updated search of the Specialized Register of the Cochrane Dementia and Cognitive Improvement Group on 10 October 2005 using the terms dhea*, prasterone, dehydroepiandrosterone*. In addition MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO and CINAHL were searched to find trials with volunteers who had no or minor memory complaints. Relevant journals, personal communications and conference abstracts were searched for randomized controlled trials investigating the effects of DHEA/S on cognition in older adults.


All randomized placebo-controlled trials enrolling people aged over 50 without dementia and to whom DHEA/S in any dosage was administered for more than one day were considered for inclusion in the review.


Data for the specified outcomes were independently extracted by two reviewers (JGE and RM) and cross-checked. Any discrepancies were discussed and resolved. No data pooling was undertaken owing to the lack of availability of the relevant statistics.


Only three studies provided results from adequate parallel-group data. Barnhart 1999 enrolled perimenopausal women with complaints of decreased well-being and, using three cognitive measures, found no significant effect of DHEA compared with placebo at 3 months. Wolf 1998b enrolled 75 healthy volunteers (37 women and 38 men aged 59-81) in a study of the effect of DHEA supplements on cognitive impairment induced by stress; after two weeks of treatment, placebo group performance deteriorated significantly on a test of selective attention following a psychosocial stressor (p<0.05), while deterioration was not evident in the DHEA group (p=0.85). However, when compared with placebo, DHEA was associated with a significant impairment on a visual memory recall test (p<0.01) following the stressor. No significant effects were found on a third cognitive task. Effects were not found on tasks when administered in the absence of a stressor. van Niekerk 2001 found no effect on cognitive function in 46 men aged 62-76 from three months of DHEA supplementation. DHEA supplements were well tolerated and without significant adverse effects apart from the reduced performance in the visual memory recall test observed in one trial.


What little evidence there is from controlled trials does not support a beneficial effect of DHEA supplementation on cognitive function of non demented middle-aged or elderly people. There is no consistent evidence from the controlled trials that DHEA produces any adverse effects. In view of growing public enthusiasm for DHEA supplementation, particularly in the USA, and the theoretical possibility of long-term neuroprotective effects of DHEA/S, there is a need for further high quality trials in which the duration of DHEA treatment is longer than one year, and the number of participants is large enough to provide adequate statistical power.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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