What Is DHEA?
DHEA (or dehydroepiandrosterone) is a naturally existing hormone that the female body converts into androgens, mainly testosterone. Even though androgens are male hormones, they’re present in both sexes and are essential in the female body for the production and development of healthy eggs. In an infertility setting, particularly in conjunction with IVF, DHEA is used primarily to treat women with diminished ovarian reserve (DOR), which occurs either as a consequence of premature ovarian aging (POA) or female aging.
How DHEA Works
In summary, DHEA’s beneficial effects on female fertility include:
- Increased IVF pregnancy rates
- Increased chance of spontaneous conceptions
- Shortened time to pregnancy
- Increased quality and quantity of eggs and embryos
- Decreased risk of miscarriage and chromosomal abnormalities in embryos
- Improved cumulative pregnancy rates in patients under fertility treatment
Published research by CHR has shown that women with diminished ovarian reserve (due to advanced age or premature ovarian aging, POA) tend to have abnormally low androgen levels and that a good androgen level is essential to the development of eggs in the ovaries.
DHEA supplementation helps these patients by increasing the androgen levels within their ovarian environments to a normal range, which improves egg quality. High-quality, healthy eggs develop into high-quality embryos, which have better chances of implantation and lower risks of miscarriage.
Through our research, we have found that DHEA supplementation in women with DOR raises androgen (testosterone) levels and increases pregnancy chances via androgen receptors on the developing follicles. The increase in pregnancy chances appears to be particularly pronounced in women whose androgen levels rise successfully after DHEA supplementation.
Fertility & Pregnancy Benefits
CHR studies have found, and others have confirmed, that DHEA restores healthy androgen levels in the ovarian environment in which eggs mature. This results in a number of fertility and pregnancy benefits for women with diminished ovarian reserve (DOR):
Like any hormonal treatment, DHEA can have both positive and negative side effects. During the time CHR has been working with DHEA, we have carefully monitored the side effects of DHEA, and have been impressed by how rarely even the most common side effects seem to occur. We often hear from patients how much better DHEA supplementation makes them feel overall, which is likely explained by increased androgens levels in patients with diminished ovarian reserve (DOR).
Side Benefits of DHEA
- Improved overall feeling
- Feelings of improved physical strength, mental acuity, and memory
- Improved sex drive
Negative Side Effects of DHEA
Negative side effects of DHEA are possible but rare, and it is important to note that side effects should disappear when DHEA treatment is stopped. These include:
- Oily skin
- Hair loss
- Stomach upset
The general dose of DHEA is 75 mg daily, which is split into three 25mg doses (to avoid the development of an upset stomach). The treatment is usually started at least 6 weeks prior to the start of IVF cycles so that DHEA has enough time to affect the ovarian environment for the follicle that is still small and growing. Supplementation is stopped once a woman has conceived, as the body produces enough DHEA during pregnancy. Because some women take longer than others to convert DHEA into androgens, the time to get pregnant after DHEA supplementation will be different for each woman.