DHEA came on the infertility scene back in 2005, when a well-known infertility clinic (The Center for Human Reproduction, NYC) pioneered DHEA’s use for diminished ovarian reserve (or DOR).
Over the last decade, DHEA’s use for DOR gained momentum – a survey of IVF centers in 2010 found that about one third of centers around the world use DHEA to improve the pregnancy chances of women with DOR.
DHEA’s particularly effective when combined with IVF treatment – the two together can improve the pregnancy chances of young women with DOR and women of advanced maternal age. Both groups of women tend to have low quality eggs – which drastically damages their chances of conceiving with IVF.
What is DHEA?
DHEA is a hormone every woman naturally has in her body. It’s mainly converted into testosterone – an androgen hormone.
How DHEA Supplementation works
Reproductive researchers found in numerous studies that women with DOR and/or of advanced maternal age have very low androgen levels. Although the exact role that androgen plays in improving ovarian reserve isn’t known, what we do know is that a woman’s eggs that mature in an androgen rich ovarian environment tend to develop into high quality eggs.
High quality eggs are important because they result in creating higher quality embryos (95% of embryo quality relies on the quality of the egg).
When a woman has high quality embryos, she has:
- Increased pregnancy chances
- Increased spontaneous conception chances
- Decreased risk of miscarriage
- Decreased risk of chromosomal abnormalities
A DHEA supplement (which a woman takes in the form of a pill) can help raise her low androgen levels to a more optimal range – allowing an androgen rich environment to develop in her uterus.
Why DHEA Supplementation with IVF?
A woman is usually put on DHEA supplementation for around 6 weeks prior to her IVF treatment. The reason for this is simple:
- During IVF treatment a woman’s ovaries are stimulated with drugs – so she releases a larger number of eggs into her uterus than she would during a regular cycle.
- These eggs released are pre-mature, i.e. they haven’t completed the full aging process – they do this in the uterus.
- Eggs that come into full-age in an androgen rich environment develop into higher quality eggs
- Eggs that come into full-age in an androgen poor environment develop into lower quality eggs
- DHEA supplementation pre-IVF treatment means the premature eggs will have an androgen rich environment in which to become fully matured high quality eggs.
There’s a wealth of fertility research out there supporting DHEA supplementation for women with infertility. Check out the table on this page, which summarizes it all nicely.
To learn more about DHEA and infertility, here’s a pretty useful Q&A answered by infertility specialists on the subject.