What are hormones?
Hormones are often referred to as chemical messengers. They are released by endocrine glands directly in the bloodstream to carry messages throughout the body to specific organs and tissues, telling them to carry on with their functions.
Hormones are like messengers in your body that give orders to your cells to carry out specific actions. They help your body parts function in a coordinated way. Hormones control your body activities such as growth, development, energy production, sexual function and reproduction.
Hormones may be grouped according to the functions they control. These functions include the way the body uses food, growth, sex and reproduction. They can perform various actions on many different targets. The complex interaction between the glands, hormones and other target organs is referred to as the endocrine system.
What does hormones do?
- make people grow or stop growing
- speed up or slow down the metabolism
- increase or slow down appetite
- make people feel happy or sad
- start puberty
- start menopause
- regulate sexual response
- increase or reduce fertility
Hormonal Imbalance and Infertility
If you have an imbalance in your hormone level, you may well have an irregular, short or long menstrual cycle or even an absent menses. This may also make it difficult to predict when you’re ovulating especially when trying to conceive.
Let’s look at some hormones which may be crucial to fertility
Oestradiol is a powerful reproductive hormone that has a wide range of actions in both men and women.
Oestradiol is a steroid hormone made from cholesterol and is the strongest of the three naturally produced oestrogens. It is the main oestrogen found in women and has many functions; one of its major functions is to maintain the female reproductive system.
Estrogen is the hormone responsible for the healthy development of your female sexual characteristics such as your breasts, vagina, your menstrual cycle, body shape, and hair growth. It also regulates the release of the female eggs and works with progesterone to stop the ovulation cycle during when you become pregnant.
Oestradiol levels vary throughout the monthly menstrual cycle; it is highest at ovulation and lowest at menstruation.
Men also produce oestradiol which is made in the same pathway as testosterone. Oestradiol levels in men are much lower than in women.
High levels of oestradiol in women can cause loss of libido and depression. Some more severe effects can include uterine and breast cancer, weight gain and infertility.
High levels of oestradiol in men can cause sexual dysfunction, loss of muscle tone, increased body fat and development of female characteristics, such as breast tissue.
Low levels of oestradiol can cause depression, fatigue, mood swings, interrupted or absent menstrual cycle and infertility in women. In menopausal women oestradiol production falls naturally and causes many of its symptoms such as night sweats, hot flushes, vaginal dryness and mood swings, while in the long-term she is more likely to develop osteoporosis.
Progesterone is a hormone released by the corpus luteum in the ovary. It plays important roles in the menstrual cycle and in maintaining the early stages of pregnancy.
During the menstrual cycle, when an egg is released from the ovary at ovulation, the remnants of the ovarian follicle that enclosed the developing egg form a structure called the corpus luteum. This releases progesterone and, to a lesser extent, oestradiol. The progesterone prepares the body for pregnancy in the event that the released egg is fertilised. If the egg is not fertilised, the corpus luteum breaks down, causing progesterone production to fall and a new menstrual cycle begins.
If the egg is fertilised, progesterone stimulates the growth of blood vessels that supply the lining of the womb (endometrium) and stimulates glands in the endometrium to secrete nutrients that nourish the early embryo. Progesterone then prepares the tissue lining of the uterus to allow the fertilised egg to implant and helps to maintain the endometrium throughout pregnancy.
During pregnancy, progesterone plays an important role in the development of the foetus. It stimulates the growth of maternal breast tissue, prevents lactation, and strengthens the pelvic wall muscles in preparation for labour. The level of progesterone in the body steadily rises throughout pregnancy until labour occurs and the baby is born.
If your progesterone level is elevated within a certain range during the luteal phase, it means you are ovulating. Levels of progesterone do increase naturally in pregnancy beyond just the luteal phase of your cycle.
Higher levels of progesterone than normal can be caused by adrenal cancer, ovarian cancer or a condition known as congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
Low levels of progesterone can cause irregular and heavy menstrual bleeding,, no period, not ovulating, endometriosis, PCOS, PMS, menstrual cramps, blood clotting, swollen breasts, fibrocystic breasts, loss of libido, obesity, depression, water retention, hot flashes and vaginal dryness. If you are already pregnant, low levels of progesterone are associated with recurrent early miscarriage, fetal death and toxemia of pregnancy.
Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
Follicle stimulating hormone is produced by the pituitary gland. It regulates the functions of both the ovaries and testes, stimulating the growth of the ovarian follicles in women and semen production in men.
High levels of follicle stimulating hormone in women are a sign of malfunction in the ovary. This condition is called hypergonadotrophic-hypogonadism, and is associated with primary ovarian failure.
High levels of follicle stimulating hormone in men are a sign of malfunction in the testis, which is associated with testicular failure.
In menopausal women, follicle stimulating hormone levels also start to rise naturally, which explains a reduction in function of the ovaries and decline of oestrogen and progesterone production.
Low levels of follicle stimulating hormone leads to poor ovarian function, which indicates that ovarian follicles do not grow properly and do not release an egg, thus leading to infertility in women. Adequate follicle stimulating hormone action is required for proper production of sperm; low levels can result to limited sperm production (oligozoospermia) and infertility.
Luteinizing Hormone (LH)
Luteinizing hormone is produced and released by cells in the anterior pituitary gland. In men luteinizing hormone regulates the function of the testes, while in women it regulates the function of the ovaries.
In men luteinizing hormone regulates the function of the testes by stimulating Leydig cells in the testes to produce testosterone, which in turn support sperm production.
In women luteinizing hormone regulates the function of the ovaries by stimulating the ovarian follicles in the ovary to produce the female sex hormone, known as oestradiol, in weeks one to two of the cycle. A rise in luteinizing hormone levels causes the ovarian follicle to tear and release a mature egg from the ovary, around day 14, a process known as ovulation. The remnants of the ovarian follicle form a corpus luteum which is then stimulated by luteinizing hormone to produce progesterone which is required to support the early stages of pregnancy, if fertilization occurs.
High levels of luteinizing hormone in the bloodstream can indicate decreased sex steroid production from the testes or ovaries such as premature ovarian failure.
A common condition in women associated with high levels of luteinizing hormone is polycystic ovarian syndrome and reduced fertility.
Low levels of luteinizing hormone cause infertility in both men and women. A lack of luteinizing hormone in women means that ovulation does not occur. An example of a condition in men where low levels of luteinizing hormone are found is Kallmann’s syndrome, while an example of a condition in women which can be caused by too little luteinizing hormone is amenorrhea (absent menses).
Prolactin is the hormone that stimulates milk production and is a major contributor in sexual satisfaction. Prolactin interacts with the breasts and ovaries causing the growth of the mammary glands during pregnancy and the stimulation of milk production after child birth.
Prolactin is a hormone produced in the pituitary gland, and has been shown to have more than 300 functions in the body. These functions include reproductive, metabolic, regulation of fluids, regulation of the immune system and behavioral functions.
High levels of prolactin cause hyperprolactinaemia which may inhibit ovulation.
Low levels of prolactin cause hypoprolactinaemia which can lead to insufficient milk production after child birth.
Human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG)
Human chorionic gonadotrophin is a reproductive hormone that is essential for establishing and maintaining early pregnancy.
Human chorionic gonadotrophin is a hormone produced by the cells that surround the growing human embryo; these cells will eventually go on to form the placenta. This is the hormone measured when confirming pregnancy by means of a urine sample or blood test. Human chorionic gonadotrophin can be detected in the urine from 7-9 days if fertilization occurs.
High levels of Human chorionic gonadotrophin do not cause any direct negative consequences as there is no strong evidence but very high levels of human chorionic gonadotrophin can indicate hyper-proliferation of the placenta (also referred to as hydatidiform moles or molar pregnancies) which can lead to cancer (choriocarcinomas) in some cases.
Low levels of Human chorionic gonadotrophin cause miscarriages or ectopic pregnancies where the embryo implants outside of the uterus.
Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH)
Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone controls the production of luteinising hormone and follicle stimulating hormone from the pituitary gland.
Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone is released into tiny blood vessels that carry it from the brain into the pituitary gland where it stimulates the production of follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone.
Extremely high levels of Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone can cause pituitary adenomas (tumours), this can be rare but when this happens, it increase production of gonadotrophins leading to overproduction of testosterone or estrogen.
Low levels of Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone in childhood leads to loss of development of the testes or ovaries and infertility. Also any trauma or damage to the hypothalamus can cause a loss of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone secretion which will stop the normal production of follicle stimulating hormone and luteinising hormone causing loss of menstrual cycles (amenorrhoea) in women, loss of sperm production in men and loss of production of hormones from the testes and ovaries.
How to Balance Hormones and Get Pregnant Naturally
Vitex (Chaste Tree Berry)
Chaste Tree also know as Vitex has long been used for balancing hormones and supporting fertility. Chaste tree works by regulating and giving support to the pituitary gland, a power house for hormone production.
Previous studies have shown that chaste tree supports the body’s natural progesterone and luteinizing hormone production. Chaste tree is used for female reproductive system in cases of pre-menstrual symptoms, menstrual issues and infertility.
Chaste tree has been effectively used by herbal specialists to prevent miscarriage when planning for pregnancy. It has also been used in cases of low progesterone, it has been shown to increase progesterone levels by an average of 56%.
Dong Quia enhances female fertility, and is seen as a powerful “gynecological regulator.” It has the ability to reduce your estrogen levels if they are too high and can increase them if they are too low.
It has been used for so many decades to treat female reproductive problems including infertility, frequent miscarriage, ovarian function disorders, uterine cramping, fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, PMT, painful periods, heavy periods and a lack of periods.
Dong Quia has also been shown to boost male fertility. Ferulic acid, an antioxidant found in dong quai, has been shown to improve sperm quality.
Black Cohosh is used for toning and regular functioning of the uterine lining. It helps to balance estrogen levels and relieve menstrual pains. Black Cohosh has long been used to help bring on menstrual period in cases of ammenorhea, helps to treat issues of miscarriages, and effectively relax the uterus.
Black Cohosh is effectively used when preparing your body to conceive. Taking black cohosh from menstruation to ovulation may increase the release of hormones to assist with ovulation. Black Cohosh also has anti inflammatory and antioxidant benefits and protects against aging and DNA damage. This is particularly helpful for women who are over 35 or who have been exposed to toxicity.
Siberian Ginseng, also known as Eleuthero, is considered as a normalizer, stress reducer and energizer. Ginseng is an adaptogenic herb, it helps the body adapt to stress by encouraging normal functioning of the adrenal glands, allowing them to function properly when you are faced with stressful situations. It is reported to have benefits in uterine health and function.
Siberian Ginseng stimulates the flow of blood to the reproductive organs and has been used as a general fertility tonic for both men and women.
Maca is a powerful fertility food for both men and women. The native Peruvians have used maca root as food and medicine to promote fertility, endurance, energy, vitality, and sexual function, especially in men.
Maca is helpful in balancing hormones and reversing hypothyroidism. It helps to treat hormone related issues by activating and nourishing the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, the glands that regulate the other glands in the body. The optimal functioning of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands brings balance to the adrenal, pancreas, thyroid, ovarian and testicular glands.
It contains the nutrients necessary to support normal hormone production such as calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, sterols, essential fatty acids, lipids, fiber, carbohydrates, protein, and amino acids.
Horny Goat Weed
One of the principal active ingredients in Horny Goat Weed is “icariin”. The icariin which works by relaxing smooth muscle tissue, helping to bring the central nervous system to a state of rest.
Horny Goat Weed produces an anti-aging effect and can improve the immune system as well as the endocrine system. It is beneficial for both men and women infertility issues and has been used to treat cases of irregular menstrual cycles, impotence, low sperm count and spermatorrhea, a condition of excessive, involuntary ejaculation.
As an aphrodisiac, horny goat weed has been used all over the world to assist in relieving sexual dysfunction in both men and women, it works by stimulating the production of androgen hormones, the hormones responsible for sexual functions.
Saw Palmetto is effectively used to treat infertility in men and in women. The herb is a small palm tree which is native to the Southeastern United States rich in fatty acids and phytosterols, both of which are beneficial to the body.
It benefits all glandular tissue by building up tissues and supporting the health of the glands.
Saw Palmetto has been used by men to support the overall reproductive health and to help with a variety of prostate disorders (such as benign prostate hyperplasia) and by women as a uterine and vaginal tonic.
Sarsaparilla is native to Central America and has been used as reproductive organs and glands tonic remedies. Sarsaparilla benefits men and women by regulating hormonal production and insulin levels in the blood stream thereby increasing fertility.
It helps to increase the transportation of nutrients to the body cells. It purifies the blood and increases blood flow to the reproductive organs, thus reducing the risk of blood stagnation in the reproductive organs.
Sarsaparilla supports the immune system and helps to regulate the DNA duplication in normal cell growth.