Prolactin. This hormone does what it sounds like it should do: allow pregnant and breastfeeding women the chance to lactate. However, prolactin does much more than promote lactation and has purposes in both men and women. Problems can occur when it is too low or too high, so knowing your prolactin levels can give you a snapshot of your overall health.
What is prolactin?
There are a couple of names this peptide hormone produced by the pituitary glance can go by. You may have heard of luteotropic hormone (luteotropin), PRL, or LTH. Those are all basically code names for this undercover hormone.
Though the primary role is to aid pregnant women in producing milk, prolactin is available in both male and female biological systems. In science, prolactin is a multipurpose hormone that has one of the widest ranges of physiological actions compared to any other molecule in the body.
Other purposes for prolactin in the body:
- Immune system stimulation
- Regulation of immune responses in physiological and pathological states
- Involved in immune regulation of ovarian steroids
- Influences reproductive behavior
- Contributes fetal development
- Is responsible for fluid, chloride, calcium, and sodium transport through intestinal epithelial membranes; also aids the kidneys in water, sodium, and potassium retention
So it is quite obvious both men and women want adequate levels of prolactin.
Prolactin is naturally at its highest during sleep. High levels are not something you want, because it can cause the onset of a number of issues, ranging from infertility, low estrogen levels, and amenorrhea. Another issue that occurs with high levels of prolactin are tumors in either the pituitary gland or microadenoma.
Other issues that may be linked to elevated prolactin levels include:
- Cancer cell growth in the breast and prostate
- Migraine pain
- Excessive weight gain
- Excess prolactin contributes to the development of autoimmune diseases
This can be treated a number of ways, including using natural fertility supplements like the herb vitex, stabilizing the metabolism, eating plenty of iodine, and eating a diet rich in phytonutrients. You also want to get plenty of sleep, manage stress, and stay away from an excess of stimulants, like caffeine.
Though low levels are better than being flooded with this hormone, you generally want to avoid having it become nearly nonexistent. If your levels are too low, women may experience ovarian dysfunction. Men will also have hindered sexual desire and performance, erectile dysfunction, low sperm count, and hypoandrogenism.
Do you need your levels checked?
If you and your partner are having a hard time conceiving, you should consider having your prolactin levels checked. Also, if you have stopped having regular periods or are experiencing abnormal nipple discharge, your prolactin levels could be unbalanced.
The blood test is simple and is usually done within 3 hours after you wake up, since prolactin is at its highest in the morning. If the test comes back that your hormone levels are abnormal, you will have to figure out what is the root cause. Hopefully, once the elevated levels are stabilized, conceiving will become much easier.
All in all, prolactin is mainly used in the human body for lactation. However, while its levels increase in women during pregnancy and afterwards, excessively high or low levels can be dangerous.
When you may be having trouble conceiving or are experiencing symptoms that do not point to any other issue, you may have imbalanced prolactin levels. Getting your levels checked may make a world of difference in your life.