Dietary supplement may boost pregnancy chances in women undergoing IVF

November 14th, 2007 - 2:50 am ICT by admin  
A number of women undergoing IVF are self-medicating with a dietary supplement in a bid to improve the chances of using their own eggs to conceive, instead of resorting to donors.

The supplement, called dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), is classified as a “dietary supplement” in the US and is sold without a prescription.

Researchers at the Center for Human Reproduction in New York began exploring the effects of DHEA in 2004, when they learned that an older patient of theirs had been taking the drug without telling them. Desperate to conceive a child using her own eggs, the then 42-year-old woman had scoured the scientific literature and found a very small trial suggesting that DHEA could improve ovarian function.

After the course of seven cycles, the number of eggs doctors could extract from her jumped from one per cycle of IVF to 19.

“We were kind of stunned,” says Norbert Gleicher, the doctor who treated the woman.

Since then, Gleicher has been advising some of his patients aged 40 and above to take three dose of DHEA every day. Each 25-milligram dose costs less than 1 dollar.

At a meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Washington DC last week, Gleicher’s colleague David Barad presented data from a pilot study involving 27 women, eight of whom had received DHEA. Women taking the drug produced more eggs and had twice as many high-quality embryos suitable for transfer into the uterus per cycle. The use of DHEA appears to have helped boost the pregnancy rate from 11 per cent to 23 per cent among patients aged 40 and above in Gleicher’s clinic.

However, Janet Hall, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, believes the studies so far suggest DHEA warrants further investigation.

“It’s very tantalising data,” she says, but stresses that large, placebo-controlled studies are needed to assess the true impact of the drug,” she said.

Other fertility experts also warn that it is too early to say whether DHEA offers a genuine benefit to women undergoing IVF and note that its side effects include acne and excess growth of body hair. Others speculate that high doses of the drug could increase breast cancer risk.

Even Gleicher is worried that women may take DHEA without consulting their doctors.

“We urge women not to do it on their own,” Gleicher said. (ANI)

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