Background: This study evaluated the efficacy of the adrenal androgen, dehydroepiandrosterone, in the treatment of midlife-onset dysthymia.
Methods: A double-blind, randomized crossover treatment study was performed as follows: 3 weeks on 90 mg dehydroepiandrosterone, 3 weeks on 450 mg dehydroepiandrosterone, and 6 weeks on placebo. Outcome measures consisted of the following. Cross-sectional self-ratings included the Beck Depression Inventory, and visual analogue symptom scales. Cross-sectional objective ratings included the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, the Cornell Dysthymia Scale and a cognitive test battery. Seventeen men and women aged 45 to 63 years with midlife-onset dysthymia participated in this study. Response to dehydroepiandrosterone or placebo was defined as a 50% reduction from baseline in either the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale or the Beck Depression Inventory.
Results: In 15 patients who completed the study, a robust effect of dehydroepiandrosterone on mood was observed compared with placebo. Sixty percent of the patients responded to dehydroepiandrosterone at the end of the 6-week treatment period compared with 20% on placebo. A significant response was seen after 3 weeks of treatment on 90 mg per day. The symptoms that improved most significantly were anhedonia, loss of energy, lack of motivation, emotional "numbness," sadness, inability to cope, and worry. Dehydroepiandrosterone showed no specific effects on cognitive function or sleep disturbance, although a type II error could not be ruled out.
Conclusions: This pilot study suggests that dehydroepiandrosterone is an effective treatment for midlife-onset dysthymia.