The image for my article is an actual sperm and egg. Having a baby is such an incredible gift in life, one that many couples take for granted until a problem conceiving occurs. Infertility is becoming widespread these days but in the early 1900’s, families with five children or more were commonplace. A century later, we now have fertility clinics available to women who want to just have one child. Infertility treatment is expensive and painful for couples who often become desperate after years of failed treatments. One common overlooked reason is low DHEA levels.
DHEA is short for DeHydroEpiAndrosterone.
This is the “fountain of youth” hormone and it’s a natural adrenal hormone which peaks at age 25, then steadily declines as we age. DHEA can be converted into testosterone and estrogen. Less DHEA means less of these sex hormones. Blood or saliva tests are available to gauge DHEA levels which must be in balance with other adrenal hormones, especially cortisol. High cortisol will cause you to hold on to belly fat.
Cortisol goes up in response to stress. Remember, these two are supposed to be in balance, like a see-saw. So you can see where I’m going with this. Cortisol climbs up and up in many women given the fast paced 21st century non-stop information overload, lack of sleep, caffeine, work-related stress, financial obligations or relationship stress. When it comes time to have a baby, cortisol could be high while DHEA levels may be seriously tanked! Some signs and symptoms include bad PMS (premenstrual syndrome), fatigue, brain fog, mood swings or high cholesterol.
But wait, the fertility doctor told you it was a low count of eggs! Yes that could be true, it’s technically termed “Low Functional Ovarian Reserve” or LFOR, which could occur from aging ovaries. At puberty, you may have had 250,000 to 500,000 eggs, but by age 37 perhaps there are 25,000 eggs, and by the time you hit menopause you may have less than 1,000 eggs. If you have LFOR, a specialist in this field will often complement in-vitro fertilization (IVF) with DHEA supplements and/or testosterone medications. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Ovarian Research research supports it. Female participants received 75 mg of DHEA for 3 consecutive menstrual cycles prior to IVF experiences. Those who received DHEA had more embryos leading to more successful pregnancies. But don’t do it by yourself, dosing is dependent on many factors, especially genes which I study every day. There are many factors involved in getting pregnant such as timing. Your OB/GYN can share more with you about timing, and how your basal body temperature fluctuates with your cycle… and when the best time is to get pregnant. I have this graphic for you which is the female menstrual cycle and it shows the ovulation process and hormone levels.
Your response and metabolism of DHEA is dependent on your personal genetic variants meaning supplementation can be good or bad depending on your genes. Cellular and animal studies show that SNPs in any of the following genes affect your metabolism of DHEA:
Sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG)
Fragile X mental retardation protein
Breast cancer type 1 (BRCA1 gene)
These can affect levels of androgens in women. Short of screening yourself for all potential genetic variants, I think it’s better for you to just do hormonal assessments to see if you have low DHEA or low testosterone. Evaluate RBC zinc since insufficient zinc status can affect gene variants and thus indirectly affects how your body utilizes DHEA.
You need to know your testosterone and DHEA levels before reaching for over-the-counter products that promote these hormones. I’d urge you to have a doctor handle all of these hormones. And also, please address cortisol levels and the amount of stress you allow in your life. Read that last sentence again. Yes, I chose to use the word “allow” versus “have.” Some of the stress in our life is not changeable, and other stressors are, and you simply just allow them to remain in your life. Carefully consider minimizing what stress you allow, you’ll be shocked how simple affect you. As an example, I allowed 36 different companies to send me their free newsletters and by unsubscribing to 24 of them, my mornings got so much nicer. I also stopped answering so many questions because I wasn’t sleeping enough, it’s not humanly possible to answer all the people who ask me questions from all over the world, via all different forums, so now I only answer several questions each day.
Another change I made was to change my cell phone number, thus minimizing the number of silly texts I get from people I met once who feel compelled to send me a selfie from Half Dome or tell me what they just got on sale from Eddie Bauer’s. [It’s all fine and dandy but I really don’t know who you guys are!] See where I’m going with this?
You have to “allow” certain stressors like caregiving for example, sometimes you can’t get around that kind of stress, or maybe work-related challenges, or moving stress… divorce stress, grief… and so on. But you don’t have to allow all the micro-stressors because those slow you down, weigh you down and clutter up your brain. Grounding yourself and buffering yourself from stress will only help to normalize a disturbed cortisol rhythm (certainly won’t hurt). If you don’t like to meditate, then go sit by a beautiful stream or river and put your bare feet in the cold water. It’s kind of awesome! This can also help reset your mitochondria in a way. They call this kind of thing cold thermogenesis.
If your circadian rhythm is tilted, as in upside down, meaning your cortisol is low in the morning and higher in the afternoon, then you can consider eating protein in the morning (an egg for example) and eating healthy fiber or carbs in the afternoon, for example lentils or a little rice. This, along with stress reduction, and good acupuncture can reset your circadian rhythms in about 30 days. There are books written on this topic. A little DHEA could help as well, it’s normally taken in the morning with something fatty like a spoonful of yogurt. There are other factors too. Consider the role that obesity plays and abnormal blood sugar levels, insulin levels or leptin resistance. Low thyroid hormone also goes hand in hand with DHEA imbalances, and infertility. OTC hormone support with DHEA can be a great thing, but you can’t do it alone. You CANNOT, I don’t want you to try. It’s complicated stuff!
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.