improve egg quality with dhea

DHEA helps improve egg quality. Image courtesy jannoon028 at

Improving Egg Health: DHEA

If you’re over 35 and waiting to get pregnant for longer than a few months, chances are that somewhere among the forum threads, you’ve come across women mentioning DHEA.

The real name of DHEA sounds scary: Dehydroepiandosterone.

But everything else about DHEA is actually quite nice. Here are the most important facts:

DHEA is produced naturally in our adrenal glands in large amounts. The reason why our bodies need a lot of DHEA is because it is a basic building block for most sexual and steroid hormones. Hormones act as important messengers and affect how we act, feel, and sleep; they drive our immune response and basically every other function in our body.

DHEA peaks in our bodies between the ages of 20-25 and then declines at a rate of about 20% per decade, falling in the elderly to levels of less than 10% of initial values. So if you are trying to get pregnant at the age of 35 and above, there is less DHEA for your ovaries to work with from the beginning.

The fact of life is that the decline in DHEA coincides with us getting old, so if you want to increase your fertility at that age, you will most likely need to supplement DHEA (with a supplement like this, for example) to bring your eggs and ovaries to the best form possible. However, if you have any medical conditions you should talk to your doctor before self-administering DHEA.


DHEA Supplements (regular or vegetarian): 

Natrol DHEA 25mg Tablets, 300-Count                    Life Extension DHEA, 25 Mg, Capsules, 100-Count                    MRM Micronized DHEA Vegetarian 50 mg Caplets, 90-Count Bottles


I often get asked whether DHEA itself is a hormone, as most women feel uneasy with that word and would not supplement any hormones.

As you may have already realized, the answer is: YES and NO.

YES in the sense that many hormones are built by using DHEA as raw material, and NO in the sense that DHEA itself is not some crazy steroid you should be afraid of.

DHEA is simply an important building block, you would be best off imagining a DHEA molecule as a kind of basic IKEA flatpack piece – a Billy bookcase which easily becomes transformed in your body through simple biochemical steps into a range of compounds.

The nice thing is, cells suck up DHEA directly from the blood and decide themselves what they will transform it into. And if those cells are your eggs getting ready to ovulate, you need to make sure DHEA is available when they look for it.

How were the effects of DHEA on aging eggs discovered on the first place?

Well, there are discoveries in science which come after a long period of systematic research.

Others are due to erors in the lab, like the discovery of several artificial sweeteners.

However, the vast majority of groundbreaking discoveries are due to pure chance.

The case of DHEA is quite untipical: DHEA is a story of persistency, despair and the strength of one single person. Medical literature nowadays calls her DHEA Index Patient. 


Recent scientific reports on DHEA

In the review paper on DHEA published in Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology in 2011, Drs. Gleicher and Barad from the Center for Human Reproduction in NY took a look at the scientific data on DHEA from 1995 until today.

Altogether, they analyse 64 publications, summarizing all DHEA data relevant for fertility research, regardless of the format of the study. Here are some of the highlights:

1) Approximately one third of fertility clinics around the world include or recommend DHEA supplementation for some of their patients.

2) DHEA supplementation improves both the quantity of eggs which mature to ovulation (this is called “follicle recruitment”), as well as embryo quality (this is measured as “embryo grades”, “average embryo scores” and “total embryo numbers”).

3) DHEA improves eggs in both quality and performance and results in increased pregnancy success in women where diminishing ovarian reserve or poor egg quality were the issue.

How much DHEA did study women take and for how long (many more details you can find in my book here)?

In most studies, women took 75 mg DHEA daily. The effects of DHEA occurred relatively quickly, sometimes after only 2 months, but peaked after around 4-5 months following supplementation.

Therefore it is essential to give your eggs and ovaries sufficient time before trying to get pregnant.

Recently, enough DHEA-pregnancies have been examined in a combined effort between the fertility centers in NY and Toronto, to allow for a statistically robust analysis of miscarriage rates. Depending on the statistical method utilized, pregnancy loss after DHEA supplementation was reduced by 50-80%.

To summarize, DHEA can not only help women to get pregnant, but also enables them to stay pregnant.

How this exactly happens science still needs to find out, but it appears that DHEA helps embryos to have more accurate cell divisions and regular growth during their early development.


How much DHEA should you take? Who should take DHEA? What are the side effects?

The most successful studies 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 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.

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, 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.

Supplement potency can vary depending on the manufacturer. Therefore, if you are taking DHEA over a long time and want to be on the safe side, you can ask your health provider to monitor your total testosterone levels. The goal is to maintain total testosterone at normal young adult levels, greater than 30 ng/dL.

To conclude: what DHEA exactly does to woman’s eggs, how it improves pregnancy changes and lowers miscarriage rates is, ultimately, still unknown. But do women who are over 35 or otherwise impatient to get pregnant need more evidence, or should they wait for every mechanistic detail to be worked out? DHEA, CoQ10 and vitamin D are safe and helpful in improving pregnancy rates. So make sure to give them a chance to improve yours.


DHEA Supplements (regular or vegetarian): 

Natrol DHEA 25mg Tablets, 300-Count                    Life Extension DHEA, 25 Mg, Capsules, 100-Count                    MRM Micronized DHEA Vegetarian 50 mg Caplets, 90-Count Bottles

Supplements which are scientifically proven to increase egg quality:

(DHEA, CoQ10, Vitamin D3, Omega-3)

Life Extension DHEA, 25 Mg, Capsules, 100-Count               Life Extension Super Ubiquinol CoQ10 with Enhanced Mitochondrial, 100 Mg, Softgels, 60-Count               NOW Foods Vitamin D-3, Structural Support 2000 I.U., 240 Softgels               Omega 3 Fish Oil By Naturo Sciences (120 Counts) - High Potency, Ultra Concentrated Fish Oil Supplement; Just 1 Pill Contains 1000mg of Omega 3 Fatty Acids (EPA +DHA); Burpless, Odorless Capsules with Enteric Coating Make For No Fishy Aftertaste or Reflux; Even The Top Sellers Can't Beat Our “Honest” Pricing Policy!


Recent scientific reports on DHEA in 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.