AUSTIN -- Could the newest treatment to improve the success rate of in vitro fertilization come from an over-the-counter supplement? Doctors at the Texas Fertility Center are studying the impact of DHEA on women trying to get pregnant.
The hormone DHEA naturally occurs in the body, but levels decrease as we age. DHEA supplements can be bought over the counter. They have helped slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's, and arthritis. Now doctors are paying attention to how DHEA helps fertility.
Dana Villanueva had trouble trying to conceive, so she turned to fertility experts for help. She and her husband started the process of in vitro fertilization, and her doctor suggested she start taking DHEA supplements. Soon after, she got pregnant and is now 13 weeks along.
"It was easy to take," said Villanueva. "I took it with the other medications I had to take for IVF."
Dr. Natalie Burger, a physician at Texas Fertility Center, has implemented the DHEA supplement among dozens of patients pursuing IVF on a trial basis.
"It seems to improve the egg quality, the embryo quality, and the live birth rate. The problem is, there aren't huge studies showing that," said Dr. Burger.
Dr. Burger has seen anecdotal but positive results. She says it's not clear how DHEA helps, but it has shown a six-fold increase in IVF success rate according to a recent study in Israel.
"It's very exciting because compared to an IVF cycle, DHEA is much cheaper, and DHEA doesn't have as many side effects and other issues as other fertility medications we use."
Doctors warn DHEA should only be used under a doctor's orders for women trying to conceive, otherwise, in some cases, it could hurt a woman's chances.
"It should really be used in very specific scenarios, and if people have questions about who should use it or who should not use it, definitely talk to a fertility specialist," said Dr. Burger.