Hormones and Fertility

Submitted by Nic on December 20, 2012

Hormones and fertility are closely related, with the reproductive process in human beings being regulated by hormones. Hormones are proteins used by the body as messengers to trigger off specific changes that are required for conception. The hormones that govern fertility play a vital role in the reproductive process and the smallest of imbalances in their levels can have far reaching consequences, often resulting in infertility. For example, inadequate ovarian stimulation during the follicular phase may result in the development of an inadequate number of follicles. The end result is that a mature ovum or egg will not be released and conception will not be possible...

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Infertility caused by hormonal imbalances can be diagnosed with the help of blood tests that measure specific hormone levels. Treatment in such cases usually involves using ovulation and IVF techniques. There are three areas of the body that are responsible for the regulation of hormone levels.


A problem in any three of these areas may cause hormonal imbalances resulting in infertility. They include:

  • The hypothalamus – This region of the brain controls body temperature, hunger and thirst and is responsible for the production of gonadotropin releasing hormone or GnRH. This hormone regulates the release of luteinizing hormone or LH and follicle stimulating hormone or FSH.
  • The pituitary gland – This gland which is situated at the base of the brain, is responsible for the secretion of FSH and LH. The secretion of these hormones is regulated by hormonal signals from the hypothalamus. Problems in the secretion of these two hormones by the pituitary gland are responsible for almost one tenth of all cases of anovulation in women.
  • The thyroid gland – Situated in the neck, this gland secretes hormones that are vital for good health and the maintenance of fertility. Regulating thyroid hormone levels is essential both during and after pregnancy and also plays an important role in the well-being of the baby.

Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH)

FSH or follicle stimulating hormone is known as a gonadotropin due to its stimulating effect on both the male (testes) and the female (ovaries) gonads. It is essential in the reproductive system and is secreted by the anterior pituitary gland. In women, this hormone stimulates the production of ova or eggs, as well as the hormone estradiol during the first part of the menstrual cycle. It is also responsible for causing ovarian follicles to mature. In men, this hormone stimulates the production of sperm cells.

Estradiol

This hormone is an important type of estrogen and is released from the ovaries, the adrenal cortex and the placenta that forms after conception. It helps to regulate the growth of the uterus and the fallopian tubes and also the development of the vagina. This makes it an important component of the reproductive system and helps determine whether the pregnancy is viable or not.

Luteinizing Hormone

LH or luteinizing hormone is another gonadotropin that helps stimulate the gonads of both men and women. Along with FSH, it is a vital component of the reproductive system and is secreted by the anterior pituitary gland. LH stimulates the release of sex steroids from the gonads. In the case of men, LH stimulates the synthesis and secretion of testosterone while in women it stimulates the release of testosterone by the ovaries, which is then converted to estrogen by specialized cells known as granulosa cells.

LH simulates ovulation and causes ovarian follicles to mature and is also responsible for regulating the production of steroid hormones such as estradiol and progesterone. It is also essential for the maintenance of pregnancy.

Prolactin

This hormone is secreted by cells in the anterior pituitary gland as well as other cells such as immune cells. It was initially thought to affect the functioning of the breasts and plays a major role in the production of milk. However, it was later observed that higher than normal levels of this hormone were also associated with infertility. Studies showed that high levels of prolactin caused a condition known as hypogonadism or low blood testosterone levels which results in diminished sex drive and adversely affects sexual function.

References

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