A hormone you may never have thought to check in on - Prolactin
Prolactin is usually associated with breastfeeding - since it stimulates breastmilk production. But it should have your attention, even if you aren’t breastfeeding.
Wow, what a response I had to my instagram stories on prolactin levels. I thought I would break it down into more detail as there was so many questions.
Prolactin is a hormone made by our pituitary gland.
Prolactin's main role is to promote lactation.
Following childbirth, prolactin helps initiate and maintain the breast milk supply. If a woman does not breastfeed, her prolactin soon drops back to low pre-pregnancy levels. If she does breastfeed, suckling by baby plays an important role in the production of prolactin. When the baby feeds, this has an effect on the amount of prolactin secreted by the pituitary, and this is turn controls the amount of milk produced. Prolactin response to breast feeding decreases over time, when after months of feeding, prolactin elevation is minimally increased above pre-pregnancy levels.
But for a non-pregnant woman - if prolactin is very high, it squashes oestrogen.Like with a hammer. Well, actually can suppress it. And having low oestrogen means a whole host of hormonal issues – think menopause-like symptoms of hot flushes, dry vagina, low sex drive, weight gain. Irregular cycles, maybe absent periods, breast milk leakage (with no baby!) And the big symptom – infertility. So I’m always so shocked when it isn’t checked on blood tests for someone experiencing infertility! It should be one of the first tests run.
Of course, having oestrogen suppressed by high prolactin would mean fertility troubles. Because oestrogen does SO MUCH for fertility – like egg development, egg release, endometrial lining thickening, cervical mucous production. And if it’s not in the right amounts, these key events don’t occur properly. So if you have any hormonal or fertility concerns, get it checked.
Onto the causes.
More commonly: high stress, hypothalamic amenorrhoea (the over-exercising, under-eating hormonal condition), high TSH levels (or underactive thyroids), PCOS.
More rarely: prolactinoma – a tumour on the pituitary gland. Almost ALWAYS benign. But of course it’s a scary thought, so doctors will order an MRI to check. Drugs: Oestrogen, tricyclic antidepressants, and drugs that block the effect of dopamine
It’s not enough to know your prolactin is high. It’s necessary to find out what is DRIVING it. For example,
- hypothalamic amenorrhoea. Treatment: rectifying the calorie balance and reducing exercise.
- under-active thyroids: speeding up that thyroid!
And there are some brilliant herbs that can nudge it along too; chaste tree and rhodiola.
If it is severe enough, an endocrinologist can prescribe medication to help.
Normal: anything below 600 mIU/L
Anything above 600mIU/L is high (naturopathically speaking)
And above 1000mIU/L usually requires an MRI.
When to get checked:
Anytime in your cycle. Don’t exercise prior to getting the blood test taken.