DHEA (dehydroepiandosterone) is an important building block and precursor for many sexual and steroid hormones.
You can best imagine a DHEA molecule as a kind of basic IKEA building box, which can easily be transformed in various combinations in a series of simple biochemical steps. Cells take DHEA directly from the blood and convert it into molecules that are important for the fertility, immune function, cellular signaling, and aging.
DHEA improves egg quality and pregnancy rates
The benefits of DHEA were discovered decades ago (read here: who discovered the effects of DHEA) and are heavily used (sometimes abused!) in anti-aging programs and sports medicine – just take a look at the shops selling supplements that increase testosterone or muscle mass.
The concentration of DHEA peaks in our bodies at about 20–25 years and then declines at the rate of ~20% per decade, falling in the elderly to less than 10% of the initial value. So, it is a fact of life that, if you want to increase your fertility at an advanced age, you most likely need to supplement DHEA to bring your eggs and ovaries in the best shape possible.
How much DHEA to improve egg quality? Who should take DHEA? What about side effects?
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The most successful centers reported women taking 75mg DHEA daily and utilizing simple, over-the-counter available food supplements. However, there is still lots of confusion going on. For example:
1) In the USA, food supplements are not strictly regulated by the FDA, making it possible for inconsistent products to occur on the market.
2) Some studies also report increased pregnancy success rates with 50mg daily doses of DHEA.
3) There are no clear guidelines on maximal dosage. One study performed at the reproductive medicine department at UCLA in 1998, aimed to assess the effect of supplementation with larger oral dose (100mg) of DHEA in both women and men. After 6 months, prolonged DHEA supplementation in women restored serum DHEA levels to those of young adults. Interestingly, this result was gender specific and no change was detected in men. Neither gender had changes in basal metabolic rate, bone mineral density, or lipid profiles. No significant adverse effects were observed. (Please read here my post: Why to NOT be afraid of DHEA).
4) In some countries (like Germany), DHEA is not regulated as a food supplement and needs a prescription, which leaves women with an uneasy feeling when self-administering and purchasing it through the Internet.
According to the report in Biology and Endocrinology and the references within (please see below), side effects of DHEA at dosages of 50-75mg are insignificant and rare.
To date, combined data from several institutions mention only occasional reports of oily skin, acne, increased sweating, and even more frequently, improved energy levels and better sex drive among women subjects.
What is the exact interplay between the DHEA and egg quality, what DHEA exactly does to woman’s eggs, how DHEA improves implantation rates and lowers miscarriages is, ultimately, still unknown.
But do women who are over 35 or otherwise impatient to get pregnant need more evidence, or wait for every mechanistic detail to be worked out? DHEA, CoQ10 and vitamin D are safe and helpful in improving egg quality and pregnancy rates. So make sure to give them a chance to improve yours.
DHEA Supplements (regular or vegetarian):
Scientific reports on DHEA improving egg and embryo quality:
- Barad D, Gleicher N. Effect of dehydroepiandrosterone on oocyte and embryo yields, embryo grade and cell number in IVF. Hum Reprod . 2006 Nov;21(11):2845-9.
- Barad DH, Gleicher N. Increased oocyte production after treatment with dehydroepiandrosterone. Fertil Steril. 2005 Sep;84(3):756.
- Gleicher N, Barad DH. Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) supplementation in diminished ovarian reserve (DOR). Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2011 May 17;9:67.
- Morales AJ, Haubrich RH, Hwang JY, Asakura H, Yen SS. The effect of six months treatment with a 100 mg daily dose of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) on circulating sex steroids, body composition and muscle strength in age-advanced men and women.Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 1998 Oct;49(4):421-32.
- Tummala S, Svec F. Correlation between the administered dose of DHEA and serum levels of DHEA and DHEA-S in human volunteers: analysis of published data. Clin Biochem. 1999 Jul;32(5):355-61.