I wrote a post recently that explained how birth control works. One thing I learned was that the high levels of estrogen in many birth control pills stimulate an excess release of prolactin from your pituitary gland.
Since I took the pill for a decade this made me pause. Is there a connection between prolactin levels and endometriosis? I found an affirmative answer to this question.
Studies show that high levels of prolactin, or Hyperprolactinemia, may be associated with endometriosis and its progression. And high prolactin levels can cause infertility.
What is Prolactin?
Prolactin is a hormone released by your pituitary gland. It stimulates breast development and milk production especially during pregnancy and after delivery.
Prolactin’s biological actions are not limited solely to reproduction. It has been shown to control a variety of behaviors and even play a role in homeostasis. Its functions include regulation of your moods.
Apart from your pituitary gland, other sites of prolactin production in your body include your uterus, immune cells, brain, breasts, skin and body fat.
Prolactin & Ovulation
Elevated levels of prolactin can stop ovulation. Prolactin prevents the release of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) from your hypothalamus in your brain.
This blocks the signal to your pituitary gland to produce FSH and LH. Without these hormones, follicles do not mature or release. Without LH, the egg does not mature and ovulation does not occur. Your ovaries become relatively dormant.
Elevated prolactin also suppresses follicular maturation and makes for an inadequate corpus luteum, resulting in a luteal phase defect.
These have all been found to exist in infertile women with endometriosis of varying degrees. I certainly have struggled with a shorter luteal phase.
Other symptoms of elevated prolactin include:
- Irregular or no menstrual periods
- Breast milk production that is not related to childbirth
- Decreased sex drive
- Weight gain (It is not clear if it is a result of its stimulation of the metabolic formation of body fat or due to its disruption of your central nervous system)
- Insulin resistance
What Increases Prolactin?
Certain type of diseases or medical conditions can elevate prolactin levels. Treating them should bring prolactin levels down. Some conditions include:
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Chest trauma or irritation of your chest wall (from surgical scars, shingles, or from even using an overly tight bra)
- Cirrhosis (Liver Disease)
- Kidney disease
- Prolactinomas (Pituitary tumors) – this is often responsible for very high prolactin levels
Prolactin can be released in response to stress or stimuli, although its true role in response to stress is not known.
High serum prolactin and cortisol are seen with endometriosis and stress. The presence of these hormones in higher levels could be related to infertility.
Birth Control Pills
High levels of estrogen in many birth control pills stimulate your pituitary gland to produce higher levels of prolactin.
Pregnant women naturally have high levels of prolactin, which helps make breast milk. During pregnancy, prolactin levels increase by 10 to 20 times.
How to Test Prolactin Levels
Prolactin can be tested via a simple blood test. In order to get accurate results, prolactin should be drawn first thing in the morning.
Prolactin should also be drawn early in your menstrual cycle before ovulation. This is because prolactin levels are naturally higher after ovulation.
- Nonpregnant females: 2 to 29 ng/mL.
- Pregnant women: 10 to 209 ng/mL.
- Males: 2 to 18 ng/mL.
Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Some labs use different measurements or test different samples. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.
How to Decrease Prolactin?
Dopamine, a hormone produced in your brain, is said to inhibit prolactin secretion.
Some ways that you can naturally increase dopamine:
- Avoid sugar. Sugar alters your brain chemistry by disrupting dopamine levels.
- Healing sleep plays a role in your brain’s time to recuperate and recharge its store of neurotransmitters, including domaine.
- Regular physical activity increases blood circulation to influence the presence of many different hormones within your brain, affecting dopamine levels.
- Meditation has been shown to increase dopamine levels in your brain.
- Massage therapy decreases cortisol and increases dopamine. Another reason to book one today!
- Time in the sun. You can increase dopamine levels by spending 30 – 60 minutes in the sun.
- Omega-3’s can help increase dopamine levels.
- Magnesium: Abnormally low levels of magnesium may contribute to low dopamine. This is one to supplement.
2.) Vitamin B6
Vitamin B6 is a vital nutrient involved in metabolism of amino acids and in synthesis of neurotransmitters such as dopamine.
3.) S-Adenosyl methionine (SAM-e)
Various studies show that SAM-e is a safe prolactin inhibitor. It raises dopamine levels and lowers prolactin and as a result brings mood boosting, anti-depressant effects.
SAM-e also helps detoxification in your liver, so it also helps regulate estrogen levels. A bonus for those of us with endometriosis.
4.) Vitamin E
Vitamin E can help prevent prolactin level from rising.
When using Vitamin E as a prolactin inhibitor, It is recommended to take 300 to 400 IU per day of natural vitamin E or 300mg to 400mg as the case may be.
5.) Healthy, Balanced Diet
Eating a diet in whole and unprocessed foods should help reduce high prolactin levels.
Focus on increasing plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables and if you can tolerate: grains, beans, seeds and nuts.
Proteins are very rich in amino acids, which are required for the production of dopamine in your brain. If your body can tolerate it, include foods such as fish, eggs, beans, legumes, chicken, turkey and red meat to supply your body with adequate amino acids. Try and buy your animal products clean without antibiotics or hormones. Look for grass-fed and/or pasture raised.
Ripe bananas are a major source of tyrosine (an amino acid neuron that helps regulate and stimulate dopamine production). The more ripe the banana, the more tyrosine content increases.
Apples also trigger production of dopamine. Other fruits include watermelon, strawberries, blueberries and prunes.
On the Positive Side?
I found this connection with prolactin, endometriosis and infertility to be interesting. I’m not sure how I’m only seeing this now. I am curious to test to see if prolactin is an issue with me.
After learning that prolactin is also released during stress, I see clearly how this could be an issue with a stressful condition like endometriosis that very much impacts your nervous system.
Have you tested your prolactin levels? Were they elevated? Have you tried to lower them? What’s worked for you?
I’d love to hear your experience in the comments below.