If you had asked me a year ago to name as many hormones as possible, I may have been able to remember both testosterone and estrogen. Little did I know that my basic knowledge of the endocrine system was not only inadequate, but completely useless. When it comes to sweet, sweet baby-making, it turns out the female body needs a whole slew of hormones in the correct ratios, at the correct times, in the correct places, or else everything seems to fall apart biologically.
Now, there are four main hormones that all have to work in harmony to even give a woman the opportunity to get pregnant; estrogen, progesterone, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormones (LH). Did I know this a year ago? Absolutely not. Am I an expert now? Absolutely not. But, thanks to a wife that is a relentless researcher, asking lots of questions, and the power of Google, I can at least now say with confidence that I know what we’re dealing with, and in how many ways the human body can screw with a couple’s sanity. Want to see how they all work together over the course of a month? Of course you do.
Now here are some blatantly stolen definitions, because it’s better for you to get the correct descriptions than try and have a man who recently couldn’t name all of the female reproductive parts explain them.
GnRH, Gonadotropinreleasing hormone. GnRH induces release of FSH and LH from the pituitary gland.FSH, follicle stimulating hormone, is produced in the pituitary gland and stimulates the growth of the follicles which mature the eggs. In the male, it stimulates the sperm production.LH, luteinizing hormone, is produced in the pituitary gland and induces ovulation. In the male, LH activates the production of the male sex hormone, testosterone, which needs to be present in the body in order to produce sperm cells.Prolactin is produced in the pituitary gland and interacts with both the breasts and the ovaries. It induces growth of the breast gland during pregnancy and stimulates the milk production after child birth. A prolactin level that is too high may inhibit ovulation.Oestradiol is produced in the ovaries. During a menstrual cycle, oestradiol generates growth of the endometrium. A high level of oestradiol in the middle of the cycle induces an increase of LH which induces ovulation.Progesterone. During menstruation, progesterone and oestradiol make the endometrium ready to receive the fertilized egg. During a pregnancy, progesterone supports the endometium so it is not rejected.Androgens are produced in the ovaries and they stimulate growth of hair and the libido. An overproduction of androgens inhibits the ovulation.
HCG, human chorionic gonadotropin, is produced in the placenta and prevents the ovaries from stimulating to further the production of progesterone. It is a hormone which is measured to confirm a pregnancy. It can be measured with a urine or blood sample.
In essence, progesterone gets the uterus ready for everything that’s about to happen. That means thickening the lining. It also signals to the body that the cycle is ending and to start a woman’s period. Estrogen, LH and FSH all work together to tell the ovaries to get the eggs ready and start ovulation. One thing I did know back in high school health, if the egg isn’t fertilized, that’s when the body hits the restart button.
One other thing we’ve learned (OK, my wife knew most of this already) is that not only do all of these hormones have to be present, but also show up at the right time, in the right ratios. Now, I will tell you that not all of these hormones are my friends right now. I’m sure if there was a physical representation of some of these hormones my wife could punch, she would as well.
The good news is that all of these hormones can be artificially manipulated. Doctors can test levels throughout the cycle and once they know that a hormone is showing up late, or in the slightly wrong amount, they have medications that are widely available and not horribly expensive to correct the issue. When I get to it I’ll break down some of the medications we’ve learned about, what they do, and the love/hate relationship I have with them. Until then, bask in the newfound knowledge you have about the female reproductive system, hormones and how they impact fertility!