An important, naturally produced steroid in female bodies, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), begins to decline after women enter their twenties and continues to do so through the aging process. Studies have shown low levels of DHEA can speed up a variety of health problems normally seen in older patients such as cancer, heart disease, dementia, and premature infertility.
DHEA is normally secreted by the adrenal gland. Over the last few decades, scientist have been working to reverse the cycle for women who suffer low DHEA levels and have developed various ways to use the hormone for infertility treatments.
Since 2000, DHEA supplementation has been used as a remedy for premature ovarian failure, also known as primary ovarian insufficiency, a condition where females lose ovarian function before the age of 40. According to New York’s Center for Human Reproduction, premature ovarian failure can affect women at various ages from teenage years to thirties.
Women with the condition are at a greater risk of a range of health issues, including osteoporosis, estrogen deficiency (hot flushes, vaginal dryness, etc.) and heart diseases. These issues can usually be managed well with hormonal replacement. However, in an infertility context, premature ovarian failure poses a challenge, as the loss of ovarian function means that the probability of pregnancy in women with the condition is greatly reduced.
Although it is sometimes called early menopause, premature ovarian failure is different from menopause because it is not a result of natural aging process of a woman. They are distinct because women with the condition may continue to have menstrual cycles, though they may be irregular, which means a small percentage of women with premature ovarian failure can conceive naturally.