So. You’ve been told you have high FSH. Or maybe it’s low Progesterone. On the other hand it might be Prolactin that’s high.
Stabilising and optimising hormones is a delicate balancing act. The glandular (endocrine) system is one of the most important and complex systems in the body. It’s tempting to want to fix the single hormone that’s out of whack. It can work in the short term, but focusing on the one thing that’s too high or too low isn’t a solution in the long run. This approach can cause knock on effects to other hormones which are just as important as the first. It’s quite easy to find yourself rattling with drugs, prescribed to fix a new imbalance caused by the drug that you took to resolve the first problem. It’s a complete head melt, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Remember this – Everything is connected.
Our digestive system can impact our mood and our reproductive health. Our mood can have an effect on reproductive hormones. Stress hormones are made from the very stuff we use to make reproductive hormones. You don’t need to understand the chemistry of it all. Just remember that everything is connected, so if you provide the best possible environment for healthy digestion, happy brain function, healthy cell production and get into a new groove of supporting your body during stressful periods, your hormones will come into balance.
Need an example? Let me introduce you to Cortisol.
Cortisol is a hormone made in the adrenal glands (those little guys that sit on top of your kidneys). It rises naturally in the morning, helping us to wake up and get moving. It will gradually decline as the day goes on, dropping off completely late in the evening, helping us to get to sleep. Cortisol levels rise if our body perceives a threat of any kind, real or otherwise. Cortisol’s role when we are stressed is to keep glucose in circulation in the blood so it is available if we need to run or fight. Cortisol also narrows blood vessels, which, along with adrenaline increasing the heart rate, causes blood to pump faster and harder. Once the threat has passed, cortisol drops off and everything returns to normal. That’s assuming we function like the text books say.
What if we feel a bit stressed ALL the time? What if there’s a constant discomfort in our belly and a weight on our chest? What then? Well…our cortisol levels can remain high. Persistently high cortisol can disturb sleep, suppress the immune system, interfere with digestion and, yep, you guessed it – mess up progesterone levels. A little known fact among those of us who are trying to conceive, is that cortisol is made from progesterone.
You read right. If we are permanently stressed or anxious, we need more and more cortisol. Our body will prioritise survival over reproduction and “steal” progesterone to make more cortisol. Is it becoming clearer? I know I’m like a broken record, but honestly…EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED.
Want another example? Let’s look at Elevated Prolactin:
Prolactin is a hormone made in the pituitary gland, in the brain. It is involved in milk production for breastfeeding, hence the name – Pro Lactin – for lactation. So, why the hell would it be high when there’s no sign of a baby? Well, like I said before, everything is connected. There are a few mechanisms by which prolactin could be inappropriately high. The most common are low dopamine and high oestrogen. S
We have to keep digging to find out where the root of the problem is.
Mechanism No. 1: Dopamine is a neurostransmitter that acts in the brain to promote the feeling of pleasure. It is also a precursor to adrenaline, which means our body will turn dopamine into adrenaline if it’s needed. If we are stressed, our need for adrenaline increases so our dopamine levels drop. Low dopamine levels can result in high prolactin. High prolactin can inhibit ovulation, which explains why it’s less likely that a breastfeeding woman will become pregnant. It’s Nature’s clever technique to ensure both mother and baby are well nourished.
Mechanism No. 2: The other likely cause of high prolactin is high oestrogen. It’s not always possible to identify which comes first, high prolactin or high oestrogen – The chicken or the egg? However, working to stabilise oestrogen levels can only help to lower prolactin and increase the chance of ovulation.
Why would oestrogen levels be high in the first place?
A few reasons. 1. A slow moving gut, IBS, constipation and other digestive problems can result in digested food and toxins sitting in the bowel for longer than is healthy. Oestrogen that has done it’s job in the body is eliminated through the bowel. If it hangs around for long enough, it can be reabsorbed, causing oestrogen levels to elevate. 2. Xenoestrogens, or synthetic chemicals that mimic the action of oestrogen, can also be the culprit. We are exposed to xenoestrogens in many ways – through the plastic bottles we drink from, the plastic packaging our food comes in, the body lotions, make-up, shampoos and tanning creams we use. These chemicals can connect with the receptors our cells have for oestrogen and act as a stronger form of oestrogen. Elevated oestrogen can be implicated in high prolactin and also messes up the balance with progesterone.
Sheesh! Who’da thunk it would be so complicated?
It is complicated. The human body is a beautiful, complex, messy web of interconnection. Nothing happens in isolation. Which is actually good news rather than bad. Understanding that everything is connected means that even the smallest change you make to your diet, how you sleep, how you manage stress…can support your efforts to conceive and have a healthy pregnancy. We don’t have to hand over complete control of our bodies to pharmaceutical drugs. We do not have to stand back and feel helpless.