DHEA. It’s that supplement that’s often touted as a magical egg quality enhancer, and it seems there’s some good research to back that up. That doesn’t mean it’s good for everybody, and I’ve learned that the hard way.
I first read about DHEA in the book, “It Starts with the Egg,” which is a great book for women who are looking to improve egg quality and enhance fertility. Like every good student, I diligently read every word. Still, I was uncertain about DHEA as I knew it impacted hormones. My doubt was quickly set aside when my RE recommended I take it, along with a laundry list of other supplements, to help improve my egg quality when I first went back to him to begin the IVF process again at age 39 (and 8 months). I assumed that because my RE told me to take it that I should. Not really my smartest move. The problem is that my RE never tested my testosterone, which DHEA can increase.
I didn’t think much about it during my first IVF for baby #2. We got a PGS normal embryo and I thought all was well. After the FET failed we went right into another egg retrieval. When that one was a bust – resulting in zero blastocysts – I began wondering about my testosterone level. At the consultation to prepare for yet another egg retrieval I asked my RE about testing my level and he said we could. Then, unexpectedly, we changed protocols and started stimulation meds that same day. So there wasn’t any time for testing. During a monitoring appointment I asked the physician assistant who was doing my ultrasound if we could get that test done, and she said that it wouldn’t be good to do mid-stim cycle because my hormones would be all over the place. After that one failed too, I brought up the topic again with my RE. That time we had time to test as I waited for my period to start. I got the results on cycle day 1, which was also the day I began my meds for this current round of IVF.
When the results came back they were high. My intuition was correct. Honestly, I was irritated that they never bothered to test this before and I regret not testing it from the very beginning. The RE instructed me to stop DHEA cold turkey that day. I was told that high testosterone “could” suppress follicle growth and “possibly” negatively impact egg quality, though there aren’t definitive answers on this. He also said that my testosterone level would drop back to normal quickly, so that by the following week when my follicles are doing the majority of their growth, there won’t be a negative impact. What I didn’t ask was, “is the damage to my egg quality already done?” I’m thinking that since eggs take about 3 months to mature, it might not have been good that for the majority of those 3 months my testosterone was high. But I don’t know what, if any, impact testosterone could have at that early stage. I’ll hold that question for the next consultation if it comes to that.
I decided not to worry about this as I’m going forward with the cycle anyway, since the potential impact is really an unknown. There’s nothing I can do about it now. I’m hoping that I stopped in time to mitigate any significant harmful effect, and keeping my fingers crossed for finding that golden egg.
Tonight is my trigger shot for a retrieval on Friday morning. We are expecting about 7 eggs based on my follicle count and size. I feel like an old pro at this egg retrieval thing, but I hope this can be my last one.
I took DHEA for 6 months and was never able to grow follicles big enough for retrieval or IUI, and also my ovulation went from day 16 to day 19-28 with a shortened luteal phase. The month after I stopped taking it, my cycles went to normal, though my testosterone was always normal. I know that’s not your same situation, but I really do think that DHEA has a bad affect on some (not most) women. I couldn’t find any studies but there’s so many anecdotes out there of women who weren’t the norm and responded poorly with DHEA.
I’m sorry that happened to you. Honestly I’m hoping that I can blame my poor egg quality of late on my response to DHEA. I guess I’ll find out soon enough. I know it helps many women, but like you, I’m just not one of them.