Hormones and Reproductive Health

Hormones and Reproductive Health

Written by Michelle Violi, Pharm.D. – Women’s International Pharmacy


Couple expecting babyWhat would we do without the human reproductive system? True, we might have fewer hormonal ups and downs, but it wouldn’t be long before humans would no longer populate the earth. Let’s take a closer look at how this very important system works in both women and men.

The Female Reproductive System

A woman’s reproductive system is delicate and complex. In order for conception to occur, it is important for a woman’s hormones to be balanced and her organs and tissues healthy. Hormones such as estrogen and progesterone play leading roles; however, there are many other hormones that are important players in the intricate process that is the female reproductive system.

Immediately following menstruation, estrogen levels begin to rise, causing the lining of the uterus to thicken. At ovulation an egg is expelled from the ovary into the fallopian tube where it travels to the uterus. After ovulation occurs, progesterone is produced from the corpus luteum, which forms in the ovary from which the egg was released.

Progesterone causes the uterine lining to become secretory and ready for the egg to implant should fertilization occur. If fertilization occurs, the fertilized egg implants in the uterine lining. The corpus luteum continues to produce progesterone until the placenta takes over its production in the second trimester of pregnancy. If fertilization does not occur, the corpus luteum breaks down, estrogen and progesterone levels fall, menstruation occurs, and the cycle begins anew.

The Male Reproductive System

A man’s reproductive system is no less complex. The primary hormones involved in the functioning of the male reproductive system are follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), and testosterone.

FSH and LH are produced by the pituitary gland located at the base of the brain. FSH is necessary for sperm production (spermatogenesis), and LH stimulates the production of testosterone, which is necessary to continue the process of spermatogenesis. Testosterone also is important in the development of male characteristics, including muscle mass and strength, fat distribution, bone mass, and sex drive.

Hormonal Effects on Fertility

Infertility issues are very complicated and have many possible causes, including hormone imbalances or deficiencies. The following are just a few ways hormones play a role in fertility.

Hypothyroidism, or low thyroid function, can affect fertility due to menstrual cycles without ovulation, insufficient progesterone levels following ovulation, increased prolactin levels, and sex hormone imbalances. In a study involving 394 infertile women, 23.9% had hypothyroidism. After treatment for hypothyroidism, 76.6% of infertile women conceived within 6 weeks to 1 year.

Luteal phase deficiency (LPD) is a condition of insufficient progesterone exposure to maintain a normal secretory endometrium and allow for normal embryo implantation and growth. Progesterone is used in patients who experience recurrent miscarriages due to LPD. In addition, studies have shown progesterone can reduce the rate of preterm birth in certain individuals.


The human reproductive system is delicate, complex, and affects the overall health of women and men. Hormones serve an important role in maintaining harmony and promoting fertility in this intricate system. Because of this, achieving hormonal balance is a crucial component to supporting reproductive and overall health.

  • Lessey BA, Young SL. Yen & Jaffe’s Reproductive Endocrinology. 7th ed. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Elsevier; 2014. https://www-clinicalkey-com.ezproxy.library.wisc.edu/#!/content/book/3-s2.0-B978145572758200010X?scrollTo=%23hl0000927 Accessed July 3, 2017
  • https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/the-male-reproductive-system Accessed July 3, 2017
  • Liedman R, Hansson SR, Howe D, et al. Reproductive hormones in plasma over the menstrual cycle in primary dysmenorrhea compared with healthy subjects. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2008;24:508-513. Accessed April 11, 2017.
  • Hassan SS, Romero R, Vidyadhari D, et al. Vaginal progesterone reduces the rate of preterm birth in women with a sonographic short cervix: a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2011;38:18-31.
  • Barda G, Ben-Haroush A, Barkat J, et al. Effect of vaginal progesterone, administered to prevent preterm birth, on impedance to blood flow in fetal and uterine circulation. Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2010;36:743-748.
  • Mesen TB, Young SL. Progesterone and the luteal phase. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 2015;42(1):135-151.
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Hormones and Reproductive Health 2017-12-05T12:33:07+00:00

The Hormones of Relationship

The Hormones of Relationship

Written by Carol Petersen, RPh, CNP – Women’s International Pharmacy


After reading his classic and still best-selling book Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus many years ago, I was looking forward to hearing Dr. John Gray speak at a recent meeting to add to my understanding of the many ways that men and women are different.

I had already learned about (and seen first-hand) how men need their “cave time” and women need men to listen and not try to fix everything. In his first book, Dr. Gray focused on the “what” of our differences; in his most recent book Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice he delves into “why” those differences occur.

As Dr. Gray so deftly and humorously explains, not only do we need a balance of hormones for managing PMS, post-partum depression, menopause, and andropause, but hormone balance also has a great deal to do with our relationships. Healthy, loving relationships require a healthy balance of hormones!

One of the primary ways that men and women behave differently is their coping mechanisms for dealing with stress. And, unfortunately, many men and women are constantly stressed from unrelenting demands of their life in the modern world. As a result, their production of cortisol, which is designed to reach peak levels when challenged with an emergency and then quickly drop down, stays at a high level. A chronic high level of cortisol tends to make them more emotionally unstable (among other things), which also affects their relationships.

Testosterone & Oxytocin

When trying to reduce or deal with stress, men release testosterone and women release oxytocin (a pituitary hormone). Ironically, high cortisol levels can interfere with the normal production of both testosterone and oxytocin, hampering both men and women from their attempts at stress reduction.

Women need to understand that men need that “cave time,” or downtime, when they come home and flop down on the couch in front of the TV or read the paper. That is how they replenish their testosterone, and disturbing them too soon will not allow them to recover. When a man’s testosterone level is adequate, it allows him to become “emergency man” in urgent situations where he needs to focus keenly, step up, and solve a problem. In fact, solving problems is so satisfying that it may cause some men’s testosterone levels to actually rise, while stress hormones like cortisol come down. On the other hand, oxytocin doesn’t help men deal with stress and can even bring their testosterone levels down. Oxytocin is the hormone that rises in men after sexual orgasm; it makes men sleepy.

For women, a release of oxytocin makes them feel safe and protected. They become more nurturing and cooperative. This nurturing, coupled with feeling like they are also being nurtured, then further raises oxytocin levels. Small amounts of testosterone will also help women feel good, in that they will feel sexy and capable. But too much testosterone will actually increase their stress levels. Higher testosterone levels in women might be useful for competing in the workplace, but that takes its toll. Dr. Gray relates studies showing that stress levels of cortisol while at work are twice as high for women as they are for men, and that difference typically becomes even greater when they get home.

When men get home and head to their “man cave” (or do whatever they prefer for relaxation), their stress levels drop. When women get home from work, their stress levels often rise even further as they face the pressures of all the things that need to be done at home (dinner, laundry, childcare, homework, etc.). They can’t understand how men can just sit on the couch or read the paper when there is so much to do.

Men don’t understand why women get so upset, and they don’t even typically notice the things that need to be done without being told. In fact, men will frequently procrastinate about doing things until they get a sense of danger or risk, which triggers their testosterone levels, giving them even greater stress relief.

Women tend to plan ahead, which stimulates oxytocin release, making them feel considerate and caring, which triggers even more oxytocin. With such polar primal hormonal responses and feelings, it is little wonder that men and women have trouble understanding each other!

Insulin & Serotonin

Other fundamental substances that play an important role in relationships include the hormones insulin and serotonin, and glucose (blood sugar). Every cell in the body needs a consistent supply of glucose to function, and insulin is the gatekeeper that controls how it is utilized. The brain is particularly sensitive to fluctuations in blood sugar, altering our moods, decision-making abilities, and other aspects of relationships.

When blood sugar drops, the production of serotonin (which has a calming effect) also drops. To make matters worse, the body then also responds by producing more cortisol, which feeds anxiety. This double-edged sword can be particularly hazardous for relationships, especially for women because they are more sensitive than men in their need for serotonin.

Creating & Maintaining Loving Relationships Requires Understanding Hormones, Too

Dr. Gray maintains that understanding these basic hormonal differences in each other is the key to maintaining loving relationships. It becomes even more critical as aging leads to lower levels of testosterone and oxytocin, as well as increased insulin resistance, creating even more difficulty in dealing with stress. Dr. Gray suggests that diet and lifestyle are important building blocks to producing and maintaining these hormones in proper balance.

A loving relationship can go a long way to help relieve stress. Women need to recognize that men need their down time to replenish before they are ready to jump in at home. Men are usually happy to help with the seemingly unending chores but they need to see them as projects, with a beginning and an end, and be able to do them on their own schedule. When a man realizes that this makes a woman happy, his testosterone levels improve because he will feel more confident and competent.

Women need a partner that will listen to them—really listen—without trying to fix things. This is their primary source of stress relief and oxytocin. However, it is unrealistic for women to think that their partner can be their sole source for boosting oxytocin, just as they are not the sole source for boosting a man’s testosterone. Dr. Gray suggests women would be better off by relying on their partners for just the last 10%. Yes, they need hugs and a bit of romance, but they should also talk with their female friends and maybe even schedule a regular massage or spa day to replenish.

For more information on relationship hormone connections, please refer to these books by Dr. Gray:

The Hormones of Relationship 2017-05-12T15:29:49+00:00