By Lindsey Elling
Hormones account for the many, and often unpleasant, changes a woman goes through each month during her menstrual cycle and every day. Besides being blamed for stereotypical crazy symptoms, hormones play an important role in the bodies of women and can affect mood, weight, even cravings.
A hormone is a protein produced in a specialized tissue and released into the blood to circulate throughout the body. It targets a very specialized tissue that has receptors that only recognize that hormone.
For women dealing with infertility, research has found that hormones play a major role in whether a woman conceives or not. Research has uncovered several silent but easily treatable causes of infertility that stem from hormone imbalances.
The first easily treatable issue in many women is elevated prolactin, or PRL. Prolactin is produced in the anterior pituitary gland in the brain and targets breast tissue. As the name infers, prolactin is the hormone of lactation and breast milk production. As Dr. Ron Thompson explains, an overproduction of prolactin in a non-breastfeeding woman can be a silent cause of a woman's infertility. "If the prolactin level is high, the prolactin will cause milk leakage from the breasts, called galactorrhea, and can cause irregular ovulation and irregular menstrual periods," states Dr. Thompson.
Research from the National Institutes of Health shows that 46 percent of infertile women have elevated prolactin, but only 15 percent show symptoms of galactorrhea. This makes it difficult to diagnose except through a blood test. "A serum prolactin blood test can easily diagnose an elevated prolactin level," said Dr. Thompson. "And an oral medication, bromocriptine, easily treats elevated prolactin and successfully allows for conception and pregnancy."
Second, many women dealing with infertility have an elevated thyroid stimulating hormone, or TSH. Thyroid Stimulating Hormone is produced in the anterior pituitary gland in the brain and targets the thyroid gland. TSH is elevated in women with an underactive thyroid gland, called hypothyroidism. TSH is related to prolactin production, and an elevated TSH will stimulate the pituitary gland to produce excess prolactin. A serum TSH blood test can easily diagnose an elevated TSH and doctors can easily treat the condition with oral thyroid hormone medication, which can allow conception and pregnancy.
"Hypoactive thyroid disease should be suspected in women with a prior history of thyroid problems, unexplained tiredness, unexplained weight gain, or a family history of thyroid disease," said Dr. Thompson. "Woman trying to conceive with risk factors for hypothyroidism should have a serum prolactin blood test and a serum TSH blood test done together."
A final easily treated fertility issue is corpus luteal deficiency, also known as a corpus luteal phase defect. Progesterone, the predominant hormone of pregnancy, is produced in the corpus luteum of the ovary after ovulation and targets the endometrial lining of the uterus. After ovulation, the corpus luteum of the ovary produces progesterone for 14 days, building up enough of the hormone to support an implanted embryo. In women with corpus luteal deficiency, or a corpus luteal phase defect, the corpus luteum only produces progesterone for 9 to 12 days, not long enough to support the implanted embryo, resulting in a terminated early pregnancy.
Dr. Thompson states that a woman can be suspicious of a corpus luteal deficiency if she has an early menstrual period 9 to 12 days after ovulation, as documented by a home ovulation detection test, for several months in a row. "Her gynecologist can also easily diagnose a corpus luteal deficiency with a progesterone serum blood test and an endometrial biopsy 9 to 12 days after ovulation," said Dr. Thompson.
Treatment with progesterone injections, or daily progesterone intravaginal suppositories, each month during the 14 days after ovulation can effectively treat corpus luteal deficiency. Corpus luteal deficiency can also be associated with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
Women struggling to conceive should speak to their healthcare providers about exploring these silent causes of infertility. Additionally, a woman with fertility issues can try ToConceive, a new product that promotes natural conception lubrication in the woman and leads to increased chance of natural conception.