DHEA supplement shows no effect on Alzheimer's disease

ST. PAUL, MN - The supplement dehydroepiandrosterone, or DHEA, which has been touted by some as an anti-aging hormone and a treatment for diseases such as cancer, AIDS, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease, showed no effect for Alzheimer's disease patients who took the supplement for six months, according to a study published in the April 8 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

DHEA is a hormone produced naturally in the adrenal glands. The body then converts it into the hormones estrogen and testosterone. DHEA as a supplement is made from plant chemicals.

In the first randomized, double-blind trial of DHEA for Alzheimer's disease, researchers gave 58 Alzheimer's patients either 100 mg per day of DHEA or a placebo. Before the study began and at three and six months, the patients were tested for cognitive functioning and rated by physicians and caregivers on any changes in the severity of the disease.

DHEA did not significantly improve cognitive performance or ratings of disease severity. A transient benefit on cognitive performance may have been seen on the tests at three months, but the benefit narrowly missed statistical significance, according to study author Owen Wolkowitz, MD, of the University of California at San Francisco.

Of the 58 people who started the study, 46 completed three months of treatment and 33 completed six months of treatment.

According to neurologist David Knopman, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, the small size of the study and the high number of people who dropped out may limit the findings of the study. He said that larger studies are needed to test these findings.

The study was limited to people who were not taking medications that affect cognitive functioning, including drugs commonly used for Alzheimer's. Wolkowitz said this criterion may have contributed to the high drop-out rate, with people

Contact: Marilee Reu
American Academy of Neurology

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