Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is naturally produced in the body’s adrenal glands as a steroid hormone. DHEA in women is converted into estrogen, which is necessary for normal reproduction, and low DHEA levels may indicate low estrogen levels that can have a direct effect on fertility. DHEA supplements may provide a fertility boost in such instances. While the mechanism of the supplements is unclear, preliminary research and anecdotal reports affirm a positive connection between DHEA and fertility. DHEA supplements also are used for health issues not related to fertility, including slowing aging, building muscle and easing or preventing depression.
When women reach their 30s, their bodies house fewer quality eggs. DHEA levels begin to fall about the same time. Combine the two and there is a higher probability of infertility and a higher probability of chromosomal abnormalities in the infants of women who do manage to conceive.
DHEA and fertility are directly related in that increasing DHEA levels has been shown to increase the chances of spontaneous conception and the success rate of in vitro fertilization. Other benefits of increased DHEA levels include a healthier pregnancy and childbirth. As of 2011, it’s unclear how DHEA supplements affect a woman’s hormonal system to increase fertility. Researchers and doctors suggest that boosting DHEA levels may augment egg release, increase egg quantity and improve egg quality. Increased DHEA has also been shown to enhance ovary function, decrease the chances of chromosomal abnormalities in older eggs and decrease miscarriage rates.
A woman should consult with a qualified physician if she is considering taking DHEA supplements to increase her fertility. The physician best understands the relationship between DHEA and fertility and can advise on dosage specific to the woman’s body and medical history. Before treatment, the physician will check the woman’s current hormone levels through a saliva test, because supplements may only be effective for women who have below-average DHEA levels. Overdosing on DHEA can also lead to side effects, such as facial hair or acne. During DHEA replacement therapy, the physician will monitor the patient closely, because each person reacts differently depending on her baseline hormone levels.
In addition to the link between DHEA and fertility, DHEA is known for many other health benefits and positive side effects. Many people purchase DHEA at their local pharmacy as an anti-aging supplement. DHEA is also used as a steroid for muscle building and as a cortisol antagonist to counteract depression by protecting the body against high levels of cortisol. Finally, DHEA may also improve mood, cognition, sex drive and episodic memory in some people.