In the realm of fertility and the pursuit of building a family, the journey can often be filled with twists and turns. However, amidst the search for effective solutions, a newfound ally has emerged, offering renewed hope to those seeking to conceive: Dehydroepiandrosterone, also known as DHEA. 

What is DHEA? 

DHEA, short for dehydroepiandrosterone, is a precursor hormone that’s naturally produced by your adrenal glands. A precursor hormone serves as the building blocks for other, specific hormones —  in this case, estrogen and testosterone. 

DHEA is considered an androgen, a class of hormones that are primarily responsible for the development and maintenance of male characteristics. However, it’s produced (and required) in both males and females, though men tend to have more of it. 

man giving a woman a piggyback ride

In males, DHEA contributes to primary and secondary sex characteristics such as facial and body hair growth, muscle development, and voice deepening. In females, DHEA plays a role in the regulation of the menstrual cycle and libido. In both males and females, it influences our bone density, muscle mass, red cell production, mood regulation, hormone balance, energy levels, and more. 

DHEA levels are highest during early adulthood and tend to decrease after we reach 30. By the time you’re 70, for example, your DHEA production may only be 20% of what it used to be. Stress, adrenal dysfunction and fatigue, chronic inflammatory conditions, and certain autoimmune disorders can all affect DHEA production too. 

All of these factors combined have led to an increased interest in DHEA supplementation as a potential way to restore hormone balance and improve various aspects of health, including fertility. 

What is DHEA commonly used for? 

  • Restore low levels of estrogen and testosterone 

  • Increase energy levels 

  • Improve ovarian function, egg quality, and pregnancy rates in women receiving IVF/ART 

  • Support muscle growth and improve body composition (ratio of fat to muscle)

  • Boost exercise performance

woman jogging

How can DHEA help with fertility? 

DHEA supplements have recently gained attention for their potential benefits in improving fertility, particularly in women experiencing age-related infertility or diminished ovarian reserve. Here are a few reasons why more women are considering it: 

1. Improved Ovarian Function 

DHEA is considered an androgen and androgens play a role in promoting the growth and maturation of ovarian follicles, potentially leading to an increased number of mature eggs. This is particularly relevant for women with a diminished ovarian reserve or who are reaching the latter half of their peak fertility window, where they have a lower quantity and quality of eggs.

Some studies have suggested DHEA can improve the response to ovarian stimulation that takes place during IVF cycles, leading to a higher number of egg retrievals. 

2. Better Egg Quality

DHEA enhances the endogenous (ie, internal) production of antioxidants, which can help protect your cells from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when you have a higher ratio of metabolic byproducts called reactive oxygen species (ROS) compared to antioxidants, which neutralize them. 

Oxidative stress can negatively impact egg quality by damaging cell structures, including DNA. By guarding against oxidative stress, DHEA can help protect eggs from damage, thereby improving their quality. 

3. Increased Pregnancy Rates 

In the same way DHEA is thought to improve egg quality, it may also produce higher quality embryos during IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies given its antioxidant effects. Higher-quality embryos are more likely to implant in the uterus. 

In addition, DHEA can enhance endometrial thickness, improve blood flow, and optimize the overall receptivity of the endometrium — all of which can help create an ideal environment for embryo implantation. 

4. Potential for Restored Hormonal Balance

Women naturally produce a small number of androgens, which play a role in maintaining overall hormonal balance, menstrual cycle timing, libido, bone density and strength, energy levels, and body composition. 

Especially if they have low androgens due to age, PCOS, dysregulated cortisol, poor adrenal function, extended birth control use, or chronic stress, supplementing with DHEA can improve hormone equilibrium, which can positively impact fertility outcomes.

DHEA: Dosing, Quality, and Safety

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DHEA can have hormonal effects and interact with other medications or medical conditions, so it’s essential to talk to your doctor before starting DHEA supplementation (and any supplementation protocol in general) to ensure safety, appropriate dosing, and monitoring.

The right dosage of DHEA will vary depending on age, current health conditions, individual needs, and more. In general, it’s recommended to start with a low dose and gradually increase if necessary. A typical starting dose for women is around 25-50 milligrams (mg) per day.

woman taking supplements

It’s also worth noting that while current research behind DHEA supplementation shows promise, there’s still much more research that needs to be done before settling on firm conclusions. 

Results from any supplement are not guaranteed, nor will all uterus owners respond to DHEA in the same way given all bodies are vastly different. 

When finding a high-quality supplement brand, we suggest looking for:

  • Third-party testing

  • GMP (good manufacturing practices) certification

  • Ingredient sourcing transparency

  • Certificate of analysis

  • Clinical studies on their product and, or scientific backing

  • Quality customer reviews

Getting a recommendation directly from your doctor is also a great approach. One of our favorite DHEA supplements at Rescripted is this one from Binto

Lastly, keep in mind DHEA supplementation may have side effects, such as acne, oily skin, hair loss, changes in mood, and irritability which is why you should always talk to your doctor about dosing prior to getting started.

Caroline McMorrow is a Content Manager at Rescripted.