Aging is particularly hard on women’s reproductive systems, specifically their ovaries. However, recent studies suggest that replacement therapy involving the endogenous hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) may offer help for some women dealing with fertility issues relating to egg quality when prescribed and closely monitored by a physician.
Diminished Ovarian Reserve
A woman is born with all the eggs she will ever have. The supply of eggs begins to diminish before she is born and continues until she is through menopause. Each menstrual cycle, a portion of her remaining eggs emerge as "candidates" to be released into the fallopian tubes, and thus become available for fertilization. As she ages, the number and quality of those candidates declines, most sharply after age 35. In some cases, women much younger than 35 can be diagnosed as having premature ovarian failure (which results in diminished ovarian reserve). When combined with increased fluctuations in hormone levels, this can have a negative affect on a woman's ability to conceive.
DHEA is a steroidal hormone that is able to turn into other steroidal hormones (estrogen and testosterone). DHEA is manufactured and secreted primarily by the adrenal grades of young men and women and appears to begin to diminish after age 30. DHEA is associated with mental acuity, physical strength, sex drive and memory.
Based on research conducted by the Center for Human Reproduction in New York, DHEA replacement therapy has been associated with increased embryo counts, increased embryo quality, improved fertility treament results, and decreased miscarriage rates in some women whose primary fertility challenge is diminished ovarian reserve. For women who experience Diminished Ovarian Reserve as a result of a sluggish adrenal system (often caused by stress, blood sugar imbalances and lifestyle factors) and, therefore, lack naturally occurring DEHA, carefully monitored DEHA replacement can provide the support aging ovaries need and, thereby, increase the chances of pregnancy.
Because DHEA often turns to testosterone in the body, it can also negatively affect fertility in women who already produce average to above average of levels of testosterone. High levels of testosterone, in extreme cases, can cause a woman to stop ovulating. Even moderately increased amounts of DHEA or testosterone can affect a woman’s cycle and result in undesirable side effects including acne and excessive hair growth. Although DEHA is available over the counter in the United States, testing should be carried out by a physician in order to determine need and appropriate dosages.
Diagnosis & Therapy Protocols
The first step in determining whether DHEA replacement is warranted is checking hormone levels. This is most often done through a 2-3 week battery of saliva tests (with testing occurring 1 day of each week) to determine whether a DHEA protocol will help or hamper a given woman's situation. These tests may not be available through a traditional doctor, but are often performed by naturopaths. Once it is decided the DHEA may benefit a woman, dosage should be determined by a qualified medical professional and hormone levels should continue to be monitored throughout the treatment cycle.