Is DHEA right for you?
You read about using DHEA for infertility somewhere on the internet and you’re wondering whether this might help you. There are multiple natural and drug options to treat infertility mentioned on the internet. The key is to know whether the particular treatment being espoused is right and appropriate for you. You are a unique individual and you have a specific reason why you are having difficulty conceiving. What worked for your best friend, cousin or sister-in-law will not necessarily be the best option for you, she has an entirely different genetic and hormonal makeup than you.
What is it?
DHEA is the short form for a hormone known as Dehydroepiandrosterone. It is a weak androgen (male-type hormone), but also a building block to produce testosterone and estrogen.
What does it do?
DHEA affects the lining of the blood vessels, reduces inflammation, improves insulin sensitivity, blood flow, cellular immunity, body composition, bone metabolism, sexual function, and physical strength and provides protection of the nervous system, improves cognitive function, and memory enhancement. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? BUT too little is a bad thing, AND so is too much.
How does it impact fertility?
Because DHEA is a building block for estrogen, it is intimately involved in the development of eggs (ovulation). So you need a certain amount of it for healthy egg development. DHEA levels decline as we age. The other function of the androgens in egg development is to act as moderators. Rather than having an egg only being influenced by estrogen and being popped out too quickly before it has time to fully mature, DHEA and testosterone put the brakes on (lightly) to slow the egg down and give it time to develop fully. However, too much DHEA (as is often the case in PCOS), can inhibit ovulation.
How do I know if DHEA would be helpful for me?
There is research showing that DHEA can help with ovulation, particularly in older women who are trying to conceive. The particular person that DHEA will help is someone whose DHEA is on the low side. How would you know this? Well, it starts with having a blood test done for DHEAs. Wouldn’t the fertility clinic have done this? NO. I would estimate that only about 1 out of 20 women who are working with a fertility clinic have had their DHEAs level tested. You can’t (nor can the fertility clinic) possibly know whether DHEA is right for you without this vital bit of information!
Why would my DHEAs be low?
DHEAs levels decline with age, so it may just be an age thing. But, half of your DHEA comes from your adrenal glands. What are they? Adrenal glands are your stress glands. They are what helps you to deal with stress, but for most of us, they are overworked and underpaid. They require copious amounts of vitamin C, B5, B6, magnesium, potassium and zinc. These vitamins and minerals get depleted, then your adrenals can’t work properly and they can’t support the ovaries in producing estrogen and therefore eggs.
Why would my DHEAs be high?
This happens in PCOS and is related to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is where your body is making insulin, but your body isn’t responding to it well. Insulin promotes the excessive production of DHEA from the ovaries and the adrenal glands. Too much will inhibit ovulation. In addition to infertility, too much DHEA also causes several unwanted symptoms like acne, head hair loss, irregular periods and excessive body or facial hair growth.
What should I do?
Have your DHEAs blood level checked. It’s one of many hormones that are often NOT checked by your family doctor OR fertility clinic, but healthy levels are vital to healthy fertility. In my patients, if it hasn’t been done, I always order it along with all of those other hormones that haven’t been checked, even at a fertility clinic.
Traish AM, Kang HP, Saad F, Guay AT. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)–a precursor steroid or an active hormone in human physiology. J Sex Med. 2011 Nov;8(11):2960-82; quiz 2983. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2011.02523.x.
Malik N, Kriplani A, Agarwal N, Bhatla N, Kachhawa G, Yadav RK. Dehydroepiandrosterone as an adjunct to gonadotropins in infertile Indian women with premature ovarian aging: A pilot study. J Hum Reprod Sci. 2015 Jul-Sep;8(3):135-41. doi: 10.4103/0974-1208.165142.
Singh N, Zangmo R, Kumar S, Roy KK, Sharma JB, Malhotra N, Vanamail P. A prospective study on role of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) on improving the ovarian reserve markers in infertile patients with poor ovarian reserve. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2013 Nov;29(11):989-92. doi: 10.3109/09513590.2013.824957. Epub 2013 Sep 4.
By Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND