DHEA: What is Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)?

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)’s Functions In the Body

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a mild male hormone that human bodies—both men and women—produce naturally. DHEA is a precursor hormone to many other hormones. Male hormones (androgens) like testosterone and female hormones like estrogen are synthesized from cholesterol in the body. DHEA is one of the steps involved in this process called steroidogenesis. It’s one of the most abundant hormones in the human body.


In the United States, DHEA is available as a dietary supplement without a prescription, although in most other developed countries, it is treated as a controlled substance. Many alleged benefits have been suggested—and heavily marketed in many cases—for DHEA, including anti-aging, mood enhancement, memory improvement, muscle enhancement, cancer prevention and sexual wellbeing. However, most of these DHEA claims are scientifically unfounded, with the exception of female sexual health and, more importantly for fertility patients, female fertility, especially in fertility treatments for diminished ovarian reserve. While DHEA side effects are only mild and temporary, use of DHEA without physician supervision is not recommended.

What is DHEA?

Watch Dr. Gleicher explain what DHEA is and how DHEA increases your chances of pregnancy.

DHEA Uses for Female Fertility

"Four top infertility clinics told me I'd never have a baby without using a donor egg. However … five months after starting DHEA [we discovered] I was pregnant!"

Even though androgens are male hormones, they are present in both sexes. Androgens are essential in the female body for the production and development of healthy eggs. In an infertility setting, particularly in conjunction with IVF, DHEA is used primarily to treat women with diminished ovarian reserve (DOR), which occurs either as a consequence of premature ovarian aging (POA) or natural female aging. When DHEA is converted in the body into testosterone, the additional testosterone restores the ovarian environment to its “youthful” state, thereby improving the quality of eggs that go through the maturation process in the restored environment.

DHEA’s beneficial effects on female fertility include:

  • Increased IVF pregnancy rates
  • Higher chance of spontaneous conception
  • Shorter time to pregnancy
  • Higher number of eggs and embryos in IVF cycles
  • Improved egg quality and embryo quality in IVF cycles
  • Lower risk of miscarriages
  • Lower rate of chromosomal abnormalities in embryos
  • Higher cumulative pregnancy rates in patients undergoing fertility treatments

CHR’s Role In the Introduction of DHEA for DOR

CHR was instrumental in introducing DHEA use for female fertility. In 2004, CHR became the first IVF center to use DHEA as a part of comprehensive fertility treatments. Since then, DHEA supplementation has demonstrated remarkable results worldwide. In fact, in a 2010 survey, a third of all IVF centers in the world reported prescribing DHEA to improve pregnancy chances in women who have been found to have diminished ovarian reserve in ovarian reserve testing.

Many women with severely diminished ovarian reserve come to CHR after they were advised by other fertility centers that their only chance of conception would be with egg donation. After treatment at CHR through IVF and DHEA, a significant number of these women--about a third of them, in fact--have conceived with their own eggs.

Worldwide DHEA use at IVF centers

How Does DHEA Improve Fertility?

Published research by CHR has shown that women with diminished ovarian reserve (due to advanced age or premature ovarian aging, POA) tend to have abnormally low androgen levels, and that a good androgen level is essential to the development of eggs in the ovaries. DHEA supplementation helps these patients by increasing the androgen levels within their ovarian environments to a normal range. Elucidating DHEA’s mechanism of action has been a focus of CHR’s research in the last decade, and based on that research, CHR physicians use DHEA for IVF cycles in a well-controlled, individualized way to maximize the DHEA fertility benefits.

Read more about DHEA Treatment

infertility physician

Norbert Gleicher, MD, FACOG, FACS

Norbert Gleicher, MD, leads CHR’s clinical and research efforts as Medical Director and Chief Scientist. A world-renowned reproductive endocrinologist, Dr. Gleicher has published hundreds of peer-reviewed papers and lectured globally while keeping an active clinical career focused on ovarian aging, immunological issues and other difficult cases of infertility.

Follow Dr. Gleicher on LinkedIn Center for Human Reproduction: Follow us on Google+. IVF center with best fertility options for each infertility patient. or watch his videos on YouTube Center for Human Reproduction: Follow us on Google+. IVF center with best fertility options for each infertility patient.

Last Updated: December 3, 2019

Additional Resources

January VOICE is here! Updates on CHR’s view on IVF add-ons, HGH use in fertility context, and more. Read the January 2020 CHR VOICE


Update on human growth hormone (HGH) use in female fertility Human growth hormone (HGH) increasingly appears to be yet another “fashion of the moment,” as more and more IVF centers

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1/3 of women who have been told they need egg donation actually wind up conceiving at the CHR with their own eggs.