It is well known that hormones affect a woman’s ability to get pregnant. As we age, the hormones produced by the ovaries decline, and our chances of getting pregnant decrease. This decrease in ovarian function starts in our 30s, and by the time we are in our 40s it has decreased over 50%.
The most common hormones monitored and used to treat infertility are estrogen and progesterone. But there is another important hormone that is produced by the ovaries and is getting some attention to help improve fertility: A growing number of fertility clinics across the country are using testosterone to boost the number of eggs produced in women undergoing IVF.
A study published in the Proceedings of National Science suggests that male hormones called androgens help develop follicles, the structures that contain and release an egg. The authors believe that their study may provide a new way to boost follicle development in women who have a low ovarian reserve or who have a poor response to IVF.
It appears that testosterone and other androgen (male) hormones promote follicle development in two ways. First, they prevent follicles from dying early. There is a process in our bodies—apoptosis—that causes cell death. However, there is also a molecule that stops this process, and it appears to be produced by androgens. If a woman does not have enough testosterone and other androgens, her follicles are at a higher risk of dying early.
Second, androgens make follicles more sensitive to Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), which promotes follicle growth. They do this by creating an increased number of FSH receptors. The receptors are like docking sites for the stimulating hormone, and by increasing the number of docks, you are essentially increasing the amount of follicle stimulation.
The end result is that you have increased follicle growth and decreased follicle death when using androgens in fertility treatments.
Testosterone has another side in fertility, however. Just as an orchestra must be balanced and tuned, so must your hormones. Too little or too much of one causes far-reaching problems down the road. Testosterone is a very good example, as a lack can cause fertility problems, but so can too much. A condition called Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition where a woman produces an excess of androgens, and this leads to infertility, irregular periods, increased facial and body hair, acne, and a disruption of insulin and glucose, to name a few.
PCOS is the number one cause of female infertility and affects 5-10% of women of child bearing years.
The good news is that there are many things you can do to boost and balance your hormones, including levels of testosterone and other androgens, naturally.
Slash your stress. The stress hormone cortisol creates an enormous imbalance in our hormones. Our adrenal glands produce cortisol, but they also produce estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. When your adrenals are busy dealing with your 24/7 life, they have little time, energy, or ingredients to produce the hormones that can increase your fertility. While most of us can’t fire our boss, get the toddlers to make their own dinner, or wave a magic wand to erase the other daily stressors that inevitably arise, we can do something each day to erase their effects. Think of stress the same way as food on your teeth. We have to eat, yet if you were to let the food stay, it would cause disease and decay. So what do you do? You brush and floss, thus removing the food particles each day. It is the same with stress. Much of our stress will be there no matter what, but we must do something to eliminate it so it doesn’t cause damage to our energy, health, skin, and waistline. Studies show that breathing exercises and meditation can thwart the inflammation caused by stress.
Here is my favorite breathing exercise:
Start by lying down or sitting comfortably. Loosen your clothing so you can breathe deeply through your belly like babies do. Inhale slowly for 4 counts through your nose. Hold your breath for 7 counts. Exhale slowly through your mouth for 8 counts. You should do 3 breaths like this before you get out of bed, before each meal, and before you go to sleep at night. You will be amazed by the changes a few small breaths can make when done throughout the day, every day.
Take a supplement for hormone health. To increase your testosterone, try 500 mg of Maca per day. To decrease your testosterone if you have PCOS, try over-the-counter progesterone.
Clean out your liver. Your liver activates, removes excess, and balances your hormones. Just as you need to take care of your car and replace the oil filter, your liver needs to be cleansed from all the pesticides on our food, chemicals in our hair products and makeup, and the toxins we breathe. I recommend my patients do a liver cleanse once per season if they can, but at least once per year.
Balanced hormones affect how you look, feel, and function—including your fertility. Remember you can reboot your hormones. More help from a physician might be necessary, but being the healthiest you can be will always lead to better fertility options.
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