DHEA for Age-Related Fertility Issues
Increasingly, more women are choosing to have children later in life. In many ways, this is a good thing: we may have a career under our belts; we have gone though our wild twenties and are more responsible (hopefully); we have settled down (probably) and know more what we want in our lives.
But the flip-side of that choice is that, often, we have left it until it's too late. Our bodies do not remain the baby-making machines they once were in our twenties. When we’re younger, and in our prime baby-producing years, we tend to not think about the impact of time, and age, on our bodies. On the outside, yes, we see wrinkles appearing, a few grey hairs sprouting, and gravity eventually takes its toll. But we tend to forget about what’s happening inside. I know, because I am one of the women who made that choice.
Egg Production Facts and Figures
When a girl is born, she already has all her eggs in her basket, for want of a better description. In other words, she has all her eggs that she will produce during her lifetime, nestling amongst minuscule cavities called follicles, in her ovaries. This is called the Ovarian Reserve. She has millions of them, but most of those will be reabsorbed into her body before she even reaches puberty. Weird thought, I know, but there you are. Still, on reaching puberty, she will retain about 300 000 eggs in her reserve.
From the age of about 12 years old, when a girl starts menstruating, she will release a fertile egg once a month. The body releases a hormone called the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and this, as the word suggests, stimulates the follicles to prepare and release the egg. The body, at his stage, is something of an over-achiever, and can afford to be; so several dozen follicles are stimulated into producing one of the fine egg.
What happens to all those hundreds of thousands of eggs then, you ask? The ones still waiting to be released. They just die off, unfortunately. We lose about a thousand of the under-achievers a month, apparently.
During our egg-producing years, we will probably release only about 400 of the original massive reserve. As we get older, that reserve is decreasing. While men can continue producing sperm their entire lives, our egg reserve decreases more rapidly with age. A bizarre twist in nature’s tale, all things considered. Many women assume, mistakenly, that because they are still ovulating, and therefore producing an egg every month, that their reserve is just fine, thank you very much.
This is not the case.
In our twenties, we will have that fantastically high reserve, but by the age of thirty we will only have about 12% of our reserve left. By the age of forty, that number will have dropped to about 3%. Yes, a mere 3%. This is known as Diminished Ovarian Reserve (DOR). Given that more and more women are choosing to start their families by the time they’re in their mid-to-late thirties, or even early forties, we can see why it is so hard for them to fall pregnant with ease. Added to that, it is not only the quantity, but the quality of the eggs that we produce, which is important if we want to fall pregnant.
But all is not lost. In my research on all things baby, I came across some fascinating facts regarding supplements that can help your ovarian reserve, even in your forties.
The Centre for Human Reproduction (CHR), in the United States, has been conducting research into the use of a supplement called DHEA in women with DOR, with incredible results. Their studies show that ovarian function may be restored, even at a *cough* advanced age.
What is DHEA?
Dehydroepiandrosterone is a male hormone that is converted into testosterone and estardiol in the body. It is an endogenous (that which originates from within an organism, tissue, or cell) steroid hormone, and the most abounding steroid in the body. It is produced in the gonads, the adrenal glands, and in the brain.
The Good and the Bad
Taking DHEA has proved to:
- improve quantity and quality of eggs and embryos
- increase the chance of falling pregnancy during IVF
- decrease the chance of abnormality in chromosomes in the embryos
- reduce the risk of miscarriages
- increase the chance of falling pregnant naturally
- increase the rate of pregnancy in women undergoing fertility treatment
- cause some of your hair (on your scalp) fall out
- cause oilier skin than normal
- cause your skin to break out in spots or acne
- cause irritability or sleeplessness
- cause increase in growth of facial or body hair
Some other reported side-effects from women taking DHEA are:
- increased overall feeling of well-being
- a feeling of being mentally sharper
- feeling physically stronger
- increased libido
(These side effects are not conclusive, however, but studies into these benefits are ongoing.
I can, however, confirm the heightened sense of well-being and the increase in libido)
DHEA for Fertility
During clinical trials conducted at the CHR, women with diminished ovarian reserve (DOR) took DHEA as a supplement, over a period of a few months, resulting in some amazing results: their egg quality, as well as quantity, was radically improved.
Women in their early forties were producing eggs that matched those of much younger women.
The trial results showed that women who had taken DHEA produced more fertile eggs, confirming that ovarian function benefitted from the supplement. In another case study, 120 women were divided into two groups, one using DHEA. In that group, the pregnancy rate more than doubled. Tests also proved that miscarriage rates were significantly lower in women taking DHEA.
Of course, like any supplement, there are side-effects, but these are minimal. The trials are also quite recent (as recent as 2010), and are on-going, so there are no know effects of the long-term usage of DHEA. At this time, it is not advisable to take the supplement for extended periods of time.
- It is advisable to begin taking the supplement a few months before you try to conceive, to give it a chance to have a significant effect on your body.
- If possible, I would have my ovarian reserve checked (you can have a blood test for this), and then again after taking DHEA for about four months.
The Centre for Human Reproduction recommends a dosage of 25mg, taken three times per day (totalling 75mg), for 4 months.
At present, many doctors are still not familiar with the benefits of DHEA, or are hesitant to prescribe it because the long-term effects are not yet conclusive.
In some countries, you need a prescription for it, while it is not available at all in others. It has been banned in professional sports because it is seen as a steroid.
While many may not yet know about DHEA, more and more health practitioners are acknowledging the incredible benefits of this supplement, and are prescribing it to their patients.
The results, at this stage, may be deemed ‘inconclusive’ to some, but the proof is out there: many women with low ovarian reserve are managing to fall pregnant through the use of this wonder-drug. DHEA is currently also being prescribed by the CHR for women who have high Follicle-stimulating Hormone (FSH) levels.
Note: I am not a medical practitioner, and do not prescribe medication to anyone. This is my own research and my own testimony.
I did not experience any adverse side-effects such as acne or hair-loss. I only noticed the feeling of well-being and an increase in libido, but everyone is different and it does not affect everyone in the same manner.