Dehydroepiandrosterone, usually called simply DHEA, is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands that helps manufacture male and female hormones. Testosterone and estrogen production both depend on DHEA. Levels of DHEA drop as people age; a man of 70 produces only 20 percent as much DHEA as he did as a young adult. Because DHEA decreases with age, proponents of DHEA supplements call it the anti-aging hormone and suggest that supplementation will restore youthful effects, including increased fertility. However, taking DHEA can decrease rather than increase sperm production. Do not take this supplement without your doctor’s approval.
Men may take anabolic steroids to improve muscle mass by increasing testosterone production. DHEA has effects similar to that of anabolic steroids. DHEA can increase testosterone levels but can also suppress the body’s natural production of sex hormones.
DHEA behaves similarly to androgen supplements, which can have negative effects of sperm production by inducing hypogonadotropic hypogonadism. Reversal of the condition can take three to six months, and some men may not recover pituitary function, urologist Mark Sigman, M.D., of Brown University reported in the May 2007 issue of “SRM,” a clinical publication of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. DHEA can suppress male hormone production. A decrease in circulating levels of hormones that regulate sperm production will result in fewer sperm being produced. Sperm quality may also decrease. Testicular shrinkage may occur; if the size and firmness of the testicles are poor, it may take longer to improve the sperm count, urologist Russell Williams,M.D. of the Male Reproductive Clinic explains.
It takes around three months to produce and mature sperm. Stopping DHEA won’t give immediate results or a better sperm count overnight. A normal sperm count exceeds 20 million sperm per milliliter of semen; when levels drops below this point, called oligospermia, fertility problems can ensue. Other factors that play a part in a normal sperm count include the appearance of the sperm and their motility, or ability to move forward in a straight line.
Sufficient studies on humans have not been conducted to assess the effects of DHEA on sperm count, Dr. Sigman states. Men who wish to preserve their fertility should not take DHEA supplements without discussing its use with their medical practitioner.