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What Are the Side Effects of DHEA?

CHR's doctors have experience treating thousands of women with DHEA and have found few side effects related to its use. In this video, Dr. Gleicher discusses those side effects, and why you should speak with your physician before supplementing on your own.

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Hello, I'm Norbert Gleicher MD and I'm the Medical Director of the Center for Human Reproduction. I am very pleased to talk to you about a supplement that we, here at CHR, use very widely and that is dehydroepiandrosterone, or, in short, DHEA. Indeed, our center probably was instrumental in bringing DHEA (and in general androgen supplementation) into fertility practice. It is now almost 15 years since we (thanks to one of our patients) stumbled on the fact that many infertility patients have low androgen levels (those are the male hormones) and women have male hormones, just as we men have female hormones. And [we] learned over time that supplementing those women with low androgen levels can significantly improve their pregnancy chances if they have low androgen levels to start with. And, ever since we here at CHR have been using DHEA, and on occasion testosterone directly, to treat many of our patients because particularly older women and women who prematurely age their ovaries usually have low androgen levels and, therefore, will benefit from DHEA supplementation. One question that we have not addressed in this framework here is, "What are the side effects of doing all of this?" And this is a question which we receive quite frequently. We probably haven't addressed it in the past because there are very few side effects and there's a good reason why DHEA does have a few side effects. Because it is a natural hormone that we are all-- both women and men-- producing routinely. And so, we are not introducing a new chemical into the body, as with some other fertility drugs like, for example, clomiphene. DHEA is a natural hormone, and therefore, one wouldn't expect many side effects. And indeed, there are not many side effects that we have experienced treating thousands and thousands of women over those 15 years. In principle, the side effect that we hear most about is actually a positive one. The side effects patients tell us about most frequently is that they feel more vigorous, that they have better sex drive, and, not infrequently, we have quite a difficult time, for that reason, to convince patients (once they conceive), to stop taking DHEA. So, that is obviously a positive side effect. Amongst negative side effects, there are really only three that we have noticed. Women who have a tendency towards oily skin may get more oily skin. Women who have a tendency towards acne may break out. That is entirely possible and we then recommend that you just increase the intensity of your skincare. And finally, very very rarely some patients complain about hair loss. All of these side effects are immediately reversible-- either by reducing the dosage of DHEA or by stopping treatment. It is, however, important that DHEA (and we have made this point repeatedly), even though in the U.S. It is available over-the-counter, we feel here at CHR that DHEA should be taken only under physician supervision. In other words, we strongly recommend that you as a patient do not self-prescribe or purchase DHEA on your own, and certainly not that you initiate taking DHEA without your physician knowing. The reason is not (as will be apparent from what I said before) that the DHEA is dangerous, it is indeed a hormone that, in itself, has very little function. And, the reason is that as an androgen hormone (as a male hormone), it has what's called, "very low affinity to the androgen receptor." And, therefore, it doesn't do very much. But, DHEA is obviously important, as a hormone, because our bodies make testosterone from DHEA and testosterone is a very active hormone and a very important hormone. And it can also interact with medications, and with other hormones. And, therefore, again, even though DHEA is an over-the-counter product (you can buy it without the prescription), please use it only under physician supervision. Thank you.

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