In both men and women, having a balanced level of hormones is essential to proper fertility. FSH, or follicle-stimulating hormone, is a naturally occurring hormone that is made by the pituitary gland in the body. In this article we’ll be discussing the fertility implication of FSH in both men and women, how to determine if your FSH levels are high or low, causes of FSH imbalance, and natural therapies to help support the body with FSH imbalance such as herbs maca and vitex, fertility cleansing, self fertility massage, and eating a natural fertility diet.
If the FSH levels are either low or high at the wrong time in your cycle, it is a clear indicator that something is out of balance within the reproductive system and may be causing issues with the couple being able to conceive. While FSH levels are used to determine if there is an imbalance, low or high FSH is not the direct cause of fertility issues, just a sign that there may be one.
FSH in Women
For women, follicle-stimulating hormones help to control and regulate the woman’s menstrual cycle and is also responsible for the production of the ova, or eggs, in the ovaries. It is normal for a woman’s FSH levels to vary throughout her monthly cycle, with there being a spike in the levels immediately before ovulation.
At about the age of 40, most women begin a new phase of life and hormone changes begin to take place in preparation for menopause. The ovaries begin to lose their ability to produce mature follicles, estrogen and progesterone. This may be signaled by higher levels of FSH.
According to Reproductive Endocrinologist Norbert Gleicher, MD, Medical Director and Chief Scientist for the Center for Human Reproduction (CHR), a leading New York City fertility center, measuring FSH (and AMH) based on age is more accurate than using the universal cut-off values for these hormones. The following values for FSH are based on age:
- <33 Years old – <7.0 mlU/mL
- 33-37 Years old – <7.9 mIU/mL
- 38-40 Years old – <8.4 mIU/mL
- 41 Years or older – <8.5 mIU/mL
Note: < means less than. Be sure to talk to your doctor about what your test result mean based on your health and fertility status. FSH levels may vary throughout the menstrual cycle, so it is important to know why FSH levels are tested at the time of your cycle that they were.
FSH in Men
It is also essential for men to have normal levels of the FSH hormone. An imbalance of this hormone in men can contribute to infertility, so if a couple is having trouble conceiving it may be wise to have the FSH levels of both partners tested. For men, FSH controls sperm production which is of course essential to fertility.
Unlike women, a man’s FSH levels remain relatively constant rather than fluctuating throughout the month. Typically, a man’s follicle-stimulating hormone levels should be between 5 and 15 IU/L. High levels of FSH in a male could indicate that the testicles are not functioning properly, or may have been damaged by some condition. They can also indicate the presence of Klinefelter syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes the presence of too many X chromosomes in the male. Low levels of FSH usually indicate that testosterone and sperm are under produced.
How Do You Know If Your FSH Levels Are High or Low?
FSH levels are determined by a blood test which is usually combined with other tests to diagnose hormonal levels and depending on the results may indicate reproductive problems such as low sperm count, lack of menses, or anovulation.
A low level of FSH may indicate an imbalance in the pituitary or hypothalamus (eggs are not being produced, stress levels are significant, or one is severely underweight).
A high FSH level may indicate an imbalance with the testes or ovaries ability to function properly (poor ovarian function, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or that one is starting or in menopause).
In women, the FSH test (it is a blood test) is taken on the 3rd day of the menstrual period. FSH test results will depend on age and stage of fertility, and can be affected by the phase of the menstrual cycle when testing is performed. Many labs report test results with a reference range as a guide. Be sure to talk to your doctor about what your test result mean based on your health and fertility status. Doctors believe levels higher than 10-15mIU/ml may indicate diminished fertility, poor egg health or low ovarian reserve.
When looking at an imbalance such as high FSH or low FSH holistically, remember that these hormones are secreted and regulated by the endocrine system (hypothalamus, pituitary, ovaries, testes). It is not that imbalanced FSH levels are the problem, it is the health and current state of the endocrine system that needs to be looked at.
Both FSH and LH secretion are affected by the hormonal balance of other hormones in the body and vice versa. High doses of estrogen or testosterone therapy/medications have been shown to suppress FSH and LH.
What Can Cause FSH Levels to Become Imbalanced?
The possible causes for low or high FSH are many, so it is hard to give a reason why FSH levels may be high or low. In the holistic world we do not look at the FSH levels as the “cause” of the fertility issues, but more as a result of an underlying imbalance. Imbalances such as these are a signal or sign that the body is out of balance.
When it comes to hormones, it is a delicate balancing act. The glandular system is one of the most important and complex systems in the body. It can be easy to get caught up in wanting to increase one hormone so your levels are back to normal. The problem that can occur with this approach is a hormone in another area, which is just as important as the first, may become out of balance as a result. This is why natural therapies can be so helpful. They are complementary, and help to support the body instead of forcing it into an action or adding one hormone.
Natural Therapies For Low FSH and High FSH
What we focus on is helping the body to function at its best. When working to support the hormonal glands it is important to help the body to rid itself of excess hormones and maintain healthy weight while also focusing on some key areas we find helpful… These therapies can be used by themselves or in conjunction with medical therapies. Talk to your doctor about natural therapies first if you are taking hormonal drugs.
Support the Pituitary and Hypothalamus Glands Through Nutrition
Good Nutrition Supports a Healthy Pituitary and Hypothalamus Gland- Nutrition for the Hypothalamus
Insulin resistance and blood sugar levels have a big impact on the endocrine system and hormone levels. This is one of the reasons maintaining a healthy weight is important for healthy hormonal function. Following the Natural Fertility Diet to make sure you are getting proper nutrients in your diet will help a lot. Here are some specific nutrients and foods you should incorporate into your diet:
The hypothalamus is fed by essential fatty acids (EFA’s) and other nutrients. The glandular system utilizes essential fatty acids to produce hormones. If you are deficient, the body doesn’t have the building blocks to make the proper hormones.
‘”Omega 3 fatty acids are the building blocks of hormones that govern much of the body’s physiology.,” according to one of the nation’s top nutrition experts Dr. David Katz, founding (1998) director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center. Problems seem to arise when more pro-inflammatory Omega 6s are consumed than anti-inflammatory Omega 3s. A sign that you may not have enough EFA’s in your system is if you have dry skin and hair, or a chronic inflammatory fertility health condition.
Sea Vegetables and dark greens
Sea vegetables such as kelp, nori, and wakame contain large amounts of minerals which are essential for endocrine health. You can eat these in a salad, with sushi, they even come in dried strips that you can eat right out of the package.
Bee pollen is one of the most nutrient dense foods you can eat. It contains proteins, minerals, vitamins, immune system compounds, and much more.
Herbs to Help Support and Nourish
Adaptogen herbs are some of the best therapies to support the endocrine system, the pituitary and hypothalamus specifically. They contain no hormones but have a nourishing and balancing effect on the pituitary and hypothalamus. This in turn helps to balance the delicate hormonal system which then causes FSH, LH, Progesterone, Testosterone, etc. to be secreted in proper amounts at the correct times. Think of adaptogens as food for the pituitary and hypothalamus. They can be taken for long periods of time and their effects can be life changing. Remember as with most herbs, they should be taken for at least 3 months before you see beneficial results, and may need to be continued long-term.
Maca is an adaptogen herb that has an effect on the endocrine system as well. In women, maca works by supporting healthy estrogen in the body. Estrogen levels that are high or low at the wrong time can keep a woman from becoming pregnant or keep her from carrying to term. Excess estrogen levels also cause progesterone levels to become too low. Taking maca may help to increase progesterone levels which are essential to carrying a healthy pregnancy.
Estrogen in men produces erectile dysfunction or lack of libido, low sperm count, and lowered production of seminal fluid. Men who use maca have been seen to have an increased libido and healthy sperm.
Vitex encourages luteinizing hormone production while mildly inhibiting the release of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). This indirectly boosts progesterone production and the chances of achieving and maintaining a successful pregnancy.
Vitex decreases high prolactin levels, which are associated with breast pain. Prolactin is a hormone that stimulates milk production and breast growth during pregnancy. High levels in the absence of pregnancy are often the result of a very common women’s endocrine disorder called hyperprolactinemia. High prolactin levels are also linked to fertility problems.
Vitex is an incredible hormone balancer, which adapts to women’s different needs.
Panax and American Ginseng
These herbs are adapotgenic and help to nourish and support the hypothalamus and pituitary gland (and all the glands in the endocrine system). Ginseng is generally used by men to help with low FSH levels, low testosterone, or other hormonal imbalances.
In 2017 researchers sought to learn the effects of Ginseng on estrogen and androgens receptors. Their findings were published in the Korean Journal of ginseng research (J Ginseng Res), and among the many benefits of Ginseng are that it acts as:
- a gentle estrogen agonist – when bound with estrogen receptor sites
- an anti-androgen; maintaining healthy levels of androgen receptors to ensure the proper functioning androgens
- a sexual arousal booster
- an antioxidative; particularly in the brain where ginsenosides protect brain cells from oxidative stress
- anti-inflammatory to smooth muscles cells
The American Journal of Chinese Medicine shares that in animal studies Ginseng active constituents called saponins can produce an “increase in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal sensitivity.”
Natural Body Therapies
Promote hormonal balance
Too much estrogen or testosterone can cause FSH levels to be low. Cleansing the liver is one of the best things you can do for your hormonal health. The liver is responsible for taking the excess hormones from the body which are then excreted through elimination. Liver supporting herbs help the liver to function optimally so excess hormones are not circulating in the blood. Fertility cleansing is one of the best ways to cleanse your liver.
Massage encourages healthy communication between the pituitary, hypothalamus, and ovaries. This is called the “feedback loop”. It controls the levels of hormones produced in the body. By massaging the ovaries and including the stress relieving benefits of massage, a healthier balance can be found in the body. In Self Fertility Massage™ the liver is also massaged, which is another important organ for hormonal balance.
Acupuncture normalizes the dysfunction of the Hypothalamus- Pituitary – Ovarian Axis. This improves ovarian function creating more follicles, and better egg production. It has also been suggested that the concentrations of central opioids may regulate the function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis via the central sympathetic system, and that a hyperactive sympathetic system in anovulatory patients could be normalized by ElectroAcupuncture (Chen and Yin, 1991). It has been assumed that various disorders in the autonomic nervous system, such as hormonal disturbances, may be normalized during auricular acupuncture (Gerhard and Postneck, 1992).
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being underweight and overweight can cause FSH levels to be off. Being 10% below the ideal body weight can cause FSH levels to be low and cause many other fertility issues. Being overweight can also effect FSH and hormonal levels. The Natural Fertility Diet is a healthy way to move towards a healthy weight.
The release of stress hormones have a big impact on hormonal balance and health. If you are constantly stressed out, stress hormones are released and general hormone production is reduced. Taking steps to reduce your stress through yoga, meditation, prayer, massage, or exercise can help to keep your hormonal system healthy.
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