If you’re currently trying to get pregnant, you already know that there are many intricacies that play a major role in your ability to conceive. Hormones might seem like an obvious member of that list, but I think it’s worth taking the time to learn more about the hormones that impact fertility, especially those that might be the culprit if you are having trouble getting pregnant. Below, I’ll walk you through the details of some of the main hormones linked to fertility. So keep reading to learn more and stay as informed as possible about your reproductive health.
Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
Follicle-stimulating hormone, or FSH, is a major factor in a woman’s menstrual cycle and egg production. This hormone is released by the pituitary gland to initiate follicular growth and regulate the function of the ovaries. “Normal” FSH levels depend on your age – levels rise as a woman gets older. In terms of fertility, the lower the FSH level the better, because lower levels are associated with better ovarian function, while higher levels indicate a diminishing ovarian reserve. On a month-by-month basis, secretion of FSH is at its peak during the first half of the menstrual cycle, which stimulates follicular growth in the ovary. Measuring FSH levels is one of the most common ways to test a woman’s ovarian function, as a high FSH level can happen at a younger age for a variety of reasons and be a contributor to infertility and failed IVF treatments.
Luteinizing Hormone (LH)
Luteinizing hormone, like FSH, is a gonadotrophic hormone produced by the pituitary gland. It stimulates the ovaries to produce oestradiol, a steroid hormone that matures and maintains the female reproductive system. Post-fertilization, this hormone prompts the body to produce progesterone to sustain the prospective pregnancy. Neither high nor low levels of LH are ideal – high levels are often linked to polycystic ovarian syndrome, while low levels can limit the ovulation process. LH levels rise around 36 hours before ovulation, which is considered to be a woman’s “fertile window.”
Estrogen might seem like an easy one: it’s one of the two main sex hormones a woman has and is responsible for puberty, the menstrual cycle, and overall reproductive function. Estrogen is mainly produced in the ovaries and helps to stimulate the growth of an egg follicle, and also has a major role in the development and functioning of the vagina, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix, and mammary glands. Estrogen is very crucial once a woman becomes pregnant, as it helps with bone formation and cholesterol levels. Low levels of estrogen can prevent ovulation, as well as, causing the lining of the uterus to be too thin for fertilized eggs to implant. Estrogen levels that are too high have been associated with PCOS and endometriosis, leading to fertility troubles.
Along with estrogen, progesterone is one of the main sex hormones for women. When it is released each month, it stimulates the uterine lining to prepare for pregnancy. Sufficient amounts of this hormone are necessary for conception and a healthy, full-term pregnancy. Symptoms of low progesterone can include weight gain, changes in your LH level, irregular periods, and a reduced sex drive. A progesterone test is used to measure a woman’s progesterone levels and determine if supplements would be beneficial, as low levels of this hormone can prevent an egg from implanting in the uterus or even lead to miscarriage.
If you think you might have low levels of any of the hormones above, I encourage you to speak with your doctor about getting tested. They can help you take the right steps to improve your reproductive health, which can make the difference between infertility and getting pregnant. If you have any questions about the hormones that are linked to fertility and the jobs that they do, please reach out and contact me! As a reproductive endocrinologist, my goal will always be to keep women informed and conscious about their health and provide education in any way that I can. So let’s talk!