Endogenous levels of dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, but not other sex hormones, are associated with depressed mood in older women: the Rancho Bernardo Study

J Am Geriatr Soc. 1999 Jun;47(6):685-91. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.1999.tb01590.x.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to determine whether endogenous steroid hormone levels are associated with depressed mood in community-dwelling older women.

Design: A cross-sectional population-based study.

Setting: Rancho Bernardo, California

Participants: A total of 699 non-estrogen using, community-dwelling, postmenopausal women (aged 50 to 90 years) from the Rancho Bernardo cohort who were screened for depressed mood and had plasma obtained for steroid hormone assays in 1984-1987.

Measurements: Plasma levels of total and bioavailable (non-SHBG-bound) estradiol and testosterone, estrone, androstenedione, cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone, and (DHEA) and its sulfate (DHEAS) were measured by radioimmunoassay. Mood and depression were assessed using the Beck Depression Inventory.

Results: Only DHEAS levels were significantly and inversely associated with depressed mood, and the association was independent of age, physical activity, and weight change (P = .0002). Age, sedentary lifestyle, and weight loss were positively associated with depressed mood. Alcohol intake, cigarette smoking, marital status, type of menopause, and season of testing were unassociated with depressed mood. A subset of 31 women with categorically defined depression had lower DHEAS levels compared with 93 age-matched nondepressed women (1.17 +/- 1.08 vs 1.57 +/- .98 micromol/L; P = .01).

Conclusions: These results add to the evidence that DHEA/S is a neuroactive steroid and point to the need for careful long-term clinical trials of DHEA therapy in older women with depressed mood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Affect / physiology*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / blood*
  • Aging / psychology
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate / blood*
  • Depression / blood*
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones / blood*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Middle Aged
  • Postmenopause / blood
  • Postmenopause / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Gonadal Steroid Hormones
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate