Research indicates that DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, may offer fresh hope to women undergoing fertility.
As a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, I have seen many women come to my clinic, with the simple plea to help them have a baby.
Many of them have tried for a long time to conceive but could be facing problems due to one or several factors. Although many women think that the fault lies with them, it is just as likely that the cause of their inability to conceive lies in their partner, or that there is just no known cause at all.
Fertility problems are actually far more common than most people realise, as the demands of modern life make it difficult for many couples to easily conceive. True infertility, however, is defined as the inability to conceive after a year of trying.
There are various ways of improving fertility by targeting the root cause of the problem, whether it be the man or the woman. The method of treatment chosen also depends on how long a person has been infertile, his/her age, and their personal preferences.
Fertility drugs that target the ovulation process are the most common treatment options. These medications generally imitate the action of natural hormones to stimulate ovulation.
Hormones can also be used to treat infertility in men, if a lack of sperm is found to be the cause.
Other types of medication include drugs for premature ejaculation in men, which has been found to be one of the causes of infertility in young couples.
Surgery is another option, especially for women who have problems with their fallopian tubes or men who have blocked ejaculatory ducts.
Even if none of the above options are able to correct the causes of infertility, there is still hope for couples, through the use of assisted reproductive technologies (ART).
The most common forms of ART include in vitro fertilisation (IVF), intrauterine insemination, ovarian stimulation, surgical sperm aspiration and assisted hatching.
All the treatment options described here have varying success rates in different couples. Even as reproductive technology has improved over the years, there is no guarantee for the effectiveness of any particular form of treatment.
Couples going through fertility treatment need a lot of commitment and patience. It can be a frustrating journey, filled with painful procedures and no known answers.
Research has pointed to a supplement that may offer fresh hope to women undergoing fertility treatments. DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, is a hormone that occurs naturally in the body. It is produced by the adrenal gland.
DHEA are precursors to male and female sex hormones, including testosterone and oestrogen. This means that DHEA is eventually converted into these sex hormones in the body. This is why DHEA supplements are believed to help with conditions caused by low levels of these hormones.
DHEA supplements have been claimed to aid in a variety of conditions, including testosterone deficiency, ageing and infertility.
Let us look at the research on DHEA and infertility to see whether there is scientific evidence to back up the claim. In 2010, researchers conducted the first controlled study of DHEA supplementation in women undergoing fertility treatment for poor ovulation. A control group of women received treatment for poor ovulation, and another group received the same treatment, but with the addition of the DHEA supplement.
The treatment group, which consisted of 20 women, received 75mg of DHEA supplementation daily for 40 days before starting fertility treatment.
The results showed that the women who received DHEA supplements were three times more likely to conceive compared to the women who only received fertility treatment alone. The former were also more likely to experience a healthy pregnancy and delivery, with a 23% live birth rate, as opposed to a 4% rate in the control group.
The lead researcher of the study, Professor Adrian Shulman, recommended that women try this DHEA treatment for four to five months in conjunction with fertility treatments, especially if the treatments have not been successful.
DHEA is believed to improve fertility by increasing the number of eggs and embryos, improving the quality of eggs and embryos and reducing chromosomal abnormalities in embryos. There have also been claims that DHEA reduces the risk of miscarriages.
Using DHEA Safely
It is worth remembering that DHEA is not a miracle cure for infertility. There is still not enough known about how DHEA influences the process of conception and more research will have to be carried out in this area.
It may not be safe to use DHEA over the long term as it may cause hormonal imbalance. After all, the body is not meant to have high levels of DHEA all the time, especially as we get older.
This article is not meant to be a testimony for self-medication with DHEA. Many over-the-counter forms of DHEA supplements contain high doses of the substance and could cause harm to the body.
Instead, talk to a doctor who can give you proper advice on safe DHEA supplementation, prescribe bio-identical DHEA, and help you manage your overall hormone levels.
By Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar, Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist at PrimaNora Medical Centre.