Can DHEA affect the menstrual cycle?

January 21, 2020

Can DHEA affect the menstrual cycle?

Can DHEA affect the menstrual cycle?

If you're taking dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), you may be wondering how it affects your menstrual cycle. And for a good reason, DHEA plays a vital role in menstruation and fertility. People take DHEA supplements to help conception when struggling with infertility, improve athletic performance, muscle strength, and slow the signs of aging. Research is still in its early stages, but it can change your menstrual cycle.


What is DHEA?

It's an androgen hormone produced in the adrenal glands and a precursor to estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. DHEA helps build these sex hormones in the body. Since DHEA is responsible for healthy hormone production, having lower levels affects the amount of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone produced.


If the amount of estrogen in your body is low, your adrenal glands may not be producing enough DHEA. Or if you're estrogen dominant, you may be producing too much. Your adrenal glands also yield other essential hormones, such as human growth hormone (HGH), adrenaline, and cortisol.


Levels of DHEA increase during puberty and peak by age 25. After that, levels begin to lower naturally. Even though the process of decreasing levels of DHEA is natural, you may need a supplement to help with specific conditions such as infertility.


Can DHEA affect the menstrual cycle?


The menstrual cycle refers to the time it takes for a woman's body to prepare for the possibility of pregnancy. Hormones help regulate the menstrual cycle. In the first part of the cycle, the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and the luteinizing hormone encourage ovulation. At the same time, it helps generate estrogen and progesterone. In response, estrogen and progesterone signal to the uterus and breasts to prepare for the possibility of conception. During this time, levels of estrogen and progesterone are high. 


DHEA and the menstrual cycle 

If the egg isn't fertilized, estrogen and progesterone decrease, and a woman's period begins. Since the hormones estrogen and progesterone are critical for conception and sustaining pregnancies, any imbalance affects the menstrual cycle and fertility.


DHEA is the building block for estrogen, and low levels may result in a short or interrupted cycle. It's best to have optimal levels of estrogen to maintain a healthy menstrual cycle. In essence, DHEA and estrogen work together.

DHEA and fertility

When a woman experiences infertility, especially if it's for an extended period, it can cause depression, shame, and hopelessness. Infertility problems occur for different reasons, including a normal part of aging, diminished ovarian reserve (DOR), polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and premature ovarian aging (POA). Some research has shown that supplementing with DHEA helps increase fertility.


Research has shown that using DHEA to help with DOR and POA has increased the quality and number of embryos during ovulation. An additional study by the Center of Human Production showed that women with advanced maternal age, DOR, and POA tend to have low levels of androgen in the body. 


Healthy ovulation

DHEA is an androgen hormone and needed for healthy ovulation. Ovulation is the time in a woman's cycle when she produces an egg for possible fertilization, and DHEA supplementation increases the number of androgen levels and thus improves egg quality. Women undergoing IVF with DHEA supplementation maximizes fertility outcomes.


DHEA and menopause

DHEA may help improve menopausal symptoms, sexual function, and increase sexual libido. A small study in Italy showed that women taking low doses of DHEA, experienced the same improvements in alleviating menopausal treatments as those undergoing hormone replacement therapy (HRT).


During menopause, the amount of estrogen women produces lowers dramatically, resulting in hot flashes, low sex drive, weight gain, vaginal dryness, and more. Treatment for reducing these painful symptoms can be HRT. HRT uses bioidentical estrogen to replace the missing hormones naturally. Common forms come in estrogen creams, tablets, and suppositories. However, instead of undergoing HRT with estrogen, DHEA is an alternative.


DHEA dose and side effects

The exact dose of DHEA may change based on your doctor's recommendation. Or if you're experiencing infertility problems and undergoing fertility treatments. The average daily dose is 25mg to 50mg per day. However, some men and women report higher doses of up to 500 mg. 

Generally, taking a lower dosage of 25mg of DHEA for up to two years has been shown to have few side effects. Some minor side effects like abnormal hair growth, greasy skin, and acne may occur. If your menstrual cycle is being affected, this is a side effect as well. 


For those having cancer treatments shouldn’t take DHEA supplements. If you’re unsure whether DHEA is right for you, speak to your healthcare provider for commencing treatment.


Testing for DHEA levels

If you suspect you have low DHEA levels, a simple blood test will give you answers. When you test for DHEA levels, you're also testing for adrenal gland function. Proper functioning of the adrenal gland is essential for DHEA production.  The test requires no special preparation.


Signs of low DHEA levels

While the exact cause of low DHEA happens naturally as one ages, it may be due to a diet high in fats, sweets, and high-fiber cereals. The signs of low DHEA may be hard to spot in some cases, but there are some symptoms to watch for, including:


  •     Increased amounts of armpit and pubic hair
  •     Feeling fatigued
  •     Experiencing depression
  •     Poor immune system function
  •     Lack of sexual libido
  •     Loss of muscle tone
  •     Unable to handle exercise
  •     Dry eyes and skin

If you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms, speak to your doctor about DHEA supplementation.


In the end, women can and do benefit from DHEA supplementation. Research shows that it increases fertility and helps with sexual function. However, it may affect the menstrual cycle. For some women, DHEA creams may extend the length of the cycle and increase egg quality. In essence, the side effect is positive; for others, this may not be a benefit.


When considering DHEA, ask your doctor whether it’s right for you. DHEA creams are a safe and effective way to improve the quality of your life.