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Men - What you need to know about your reproductive hormones for your fertility

7 Jun 2016 10:08 AM -


So fellas, more and more research is suggesting that male health plays an important part in healthy conception and pregnancy, as well as the health of the offspring.  No longer is preconception care, fertility and healthy pregnancies focussed solely on the women.  So do you know what hormones your body needs to function well for fertility? And how can you tell if your hormones aren’t doing what they are supposed to be doing?

Like females, your reproductive hormones are triggered by the hypothalamus in the brain which also receives signals from hormones that regulate other bodily systems.  Therefore, if the hypothalamus is receiving too much cortisol for example (your stress hormone), it may interfere with the release of vital sex hormones required for reproduction.

To avoid getting too caught up in the complex interrelationship of your hormones, I will focus on the main hormones required for sperm production, an essential component of reproduction!


What hormones drive sperm production?

Gonadatrophin releasing hormone (GnRH)

GnRH is secreted from the hypothalamus in the brain which then stimulates the pituitary gland (also located in the brain) to secrete the sex hormones, luteinising hormone and follicle stimulating hormones. 

Aren’t these female hormones you ask?  Yes, both luteinising hormone and follicle stimulating hormone are essential to the reproductive health and development of eggs during a female's menstrual cycle.  For men though, these two hormones are essential to the development of healthy sperm.

Luteinising hormone

Your testes are where sperm production happens, and within your testes are sertolli cells and leydig cells.  When luteinising hormone is secreted by the pituitary gland it signals to the leydig cells to produce testosterone.   Testosterone is then secreted to support various functions in your body, with one very important function being sperm production.

Testosterone

You have no doubt heard of testosterone - the man’s hormone, although it is worth noting that women have testosterone as well.  Testosterone is required for the production of sperm, as well as skeletal growth, sexual development during puberty and sex drive.   

As mentioned above, the leydig cells in your testes produce testosterone.  The secretion of testosterone also supports the development of the other important cells in your testes, the sertolli cells.  These sertolli cells require testosterone in order to mature and produce sperm.

Follicle Stimulating hormone

Similarly, to luteinising hormone, follicle stimulating hormone is released by the pituitary gland.  However, follicle stimulating hormone triggers the sertolli cells within the testes to produce sperm.   These cells can’t do it just with follicle stimulating hormone though, they need testosterone in order to develop and mature.  Therefore, without both these hormones, sperm production would not occur.


How to tell if your hormones need some attention?

Without completing a semen analysis to determine the health of your sperm (amount, shape and movement), or a hormone profile, there are some clues your body may give you which could indicate your hormones may need some attention. These can include:

  • Changes in your mood, particularly to a low mood

  • Loss of energy, stamina or motivation

  • A lowered sex drive (libido) or changes in your sexual performance

  • A loss of muscle tone and strength


How can you support your hormone function and healthy sperm?


Eat foods that are high in antioxidants

Sperm is particularly sensitive to oxidative stress and DNA damage, therefore eating foods high in vitamins and minerals can provide your sperm some protection, as well as support the optimum functioning of your hormones.

You can find lots of antioxidant vitamins and minerals in fruits, vegetables and good quality meat and fish.   For more information on what foods are great for the health of your sperm, take a look at our blog 5 nutrients you need to know for good preconception care”


Keep your stress levels in check

When you are stressed, your body releases the hormone cortisol (among other things).   It is good in small doses, however, prolonged stress can interrupt your reproductive hormones by inhibiting the release of GnRH which of course is needed to secrete your sex hormones, produce testosterone and support healthy sperm production.  Our blog “Is stress affecting your chances to have a baby? Part 2 - Male Fertility” provides some more detail on stress and fertility.

If meditation is not for you (and it’s not for everyone), find a technique which works well for you.  If you are not used to de-stressing, our blog 20 tips for unwinding after a busy day...” might inspire you.


Consider a liver detox to support healthy hormone levels

Poor diet and lifestyle choices place an additional load on your liver to remove toxins you are exposed to in your environment, as well as waste products from your body’s own metabolic processes.  Excess hormones need to be broken down by the liver so they can be excreted. So if your liver is not working as well as it could be, it may result in a build up of hormones, throwing your hormone pathways off balance.  Take a look at our blog "How to love your liver" for some tips to support your liver function. 

If you like the idea of a liver detox supported by your naturopath, our “Easy 21 day detox program to reboot your health” is a great way to get your hormones back in balance.


Do you need help with your reproductive hormones?

Sometimes, eating well and managing stress may not be enough to regain the optimal function of your hormones, particularly if you haven't always made the best diet and lifestyle choices.  A naturopath can help you improve your hormone function with the inclusion of specific nutritional supplements and herbal medicines.  Herbs for male reproductive health have been used traditionally to support sperm production, improve energy and stamina as well as boost your sex drive.  

So if you feel your hormones need a little help, please feel free to contact me to discuss your current concerns.  Or alternatively, if you are considering pregnancy, my ‘Preconception Care Program might be right for you.  I can be reached via our contact page or by calling 03 9620 9503.

Love yourself; love your health!

Lee Copeland
Naturopath
Melbourne CBD

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