The over-the-counter hormonal therapy dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) may 1 help treat minor and major depression that begins in midlife, say researchers.

Researchers at the US National Institute of Mental Health studied 23 men and 23 women between ages 45 and 65 who had moderately severe midlife-onset minor or major depression. They initially received either six weeks of DHEA therapy or six weeks of a placebo; then the treatment groups were reversed.

Depression levels were cut in half in 23 volunteers following DHEA treatment, compared with 13 volunteers after the placebo treatment. The study participants were evaluated at three and six weeks during the treatment phases.

These results are promising, because prescription antidepressants work in only approximately half of the patients who take them. While they should be considered the first line of defense, DHEA may be a viable alternative in treating mild to moderate depression when those drugs don't work-or patients are unwilling to try them, say the researchers.

DHEA, a hormone produced naturally by the adrenal gland, is sold in supplement form.

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