Hormones & Fertility

Endocrine Disorders & Their Effect On Fertility

The last blog post discussed the effects of sex hormones  throughout different stages of life, including their impact on reproduction, fertility, mood, and overall health and well-being. This month; however, we’re going to look at a few specific endocrine conditions that affect one’s ability to conceive. Many endocrine disorders impact ovulation and reproduction, so endocrine issues could be the missing puzzle piece for some men and women experiencing infertility.

Let’s take a closer look at how certain endocrine disorders and hormonal conditions affect fertility, and how naturopathic functional medicine can help to increase your chances of getting pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy.

An Overview of the Endocrine System

Endocrine disorders – aka hormone disorders – are diseases or conditions affecting any of the major glands that make up our endocrine system: the thyroid, adrenal gland, pancreas, pituitary gland, hypothalamus, pineal gland, parathyroid glands, and thymus. The ovaries and testes also make up the endocrine system, as the ovaries release sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone and the testes release testosterone.

Located throughout the body, each of these endocrine organs releases hormones that affect everything from our mood and metabolism to our sexual function, reproductive system, and development. For instance, the thyroid gland releases the hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) and the pancreas releases insulin and glucagon. The pituitary gland produces the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), human growth hormone (GH), human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), luteinizing hormone (LH), and prolactin.

When our bodies produce higher or lower than normal levels of hormones (hormone excess or hormone deficiency) — or our bodies don’t respond to these hormones as they should — endocrine conditions and diseases affecting the endocrine system can occur. Some of the most common endocrine disorders include diabetes mellitus, thyroid disease, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS); all three of these conditions can also affect fertility.

Key Endocrine Conditions That Affect Ovulation & Fertility

While not every person with an endocrine condition will become infertile — just as how infertility won’t affect every individual with an endocrinological condition — endocrine disorders are very common among those experiencing infertility. This is because many endocrine disorders cause ovulatory dysfunction (remember, ovulation is a necessary part of conception!). In fact, about a quarter of women with infertility experience an absence or lack of ovulation, a type of ovulatory dysfunction. 

Examples of ovulatory dysfunction include:

  • Anovulation (absence or lack of ovulation).
  • Abnormal or irregular menstrual periods.
  • Amenorrhea (lack of menstrual periods).

Some common causes of ovulatory dysfunction include hormonal imbalances; chronic stress; and endocrine conditions like PCOS, hyperprolactinaemia, thyroid dysfunction, primary hypopituitarism, diminished ovarian reserve (DOR), endometriosis, and adenomyosis. Luteal phase dysfunction (LPD) also impairs ovulation and contributes to infertility, as LPD occurs when the ovaries fail to release enough progesterone — a hormone that’s necessary for pregnancy.

Exploring the Link Between Endocrine Disorders & Fertility

To explore the link between endocrine diseases and infertility, a study published in Reproductive Sciences followed 231 patients undergoing IVF fertility treatment. Researchers found that 69.7 percent of the patients were endocrine-positive, meaning they’d been diagnosed with and treated for at least one endocrine disorder.

Among these patients, thyroid disorders, DOR, insulin resistance, PCOS, hyperprolactinaemia, and obesity were the most common endocrine conditions found. A small percentage of the endocrine-positive IVF patients had hypogonadotropic hypogonadism or congenital adrenal hyperplasia.

The researchers also found that the endocrine-positive patients were more likely to be older (the average age was 34.7 years), have lower Anti-Müllerian Hormone (AMH) levels, have a higher body mass index (BMI), and higher follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels. Endocrine-positive patients also had higher levels of baseline insulin and glucose — and after 120-minute oral glucose tolerance testing — higher levels of glucose and insulin.

That being said, it’s important to keep in mind that not all infertility cases are due to female factors. In about 40 percent of cases, male factors contribute to infertility. Some risk factors include genetic diseases and endocrinopathies such as hormone imbalances, obesity, and diabetes mellitus.

Endocrine Disruption, Detoxification, & Methylation

Exposure to environmental toxins also contributes to infertility. Many of the toxins we’re exposed to daily through our air, food, water, and personal care products disrupt the endocrine system, damage fertility, and increase the risk of miscarriage and other pregnancy-related complications.

Furthermore, when we have genetic variants that impair detoxification and methylation — and we’re not supporting detoxification each day through diet, lifestyle, and supplementation — these toxins build up in our bodies, and we’re unable to eliminate them. Nutritional deficiencies and ongoing exposure to environmental toxins (environmental overload) are some other causes of impaired detoxification.

Naturopathic Functional Medicine Can Help!

Many of the patients I see are affected by conditions that impact their fertility — including PCOS, endometriosis, thyroid disorders, and others.

However, these conditions do not need to be the end of your fertility journey!

My patients are at the heart of each and every appointment, and I create individualized treatment plans that address your unique needs.

Book an appointment with me today and see for yourself how naturopathic functional medicine can help support fertility and restore your overall health.

Are you experiencing fertility problems, hormone imbalances, painful periods, digestive problems, or another concern that’s preventing you from feeling your best?

Contact me to learn how naturopathic functional medicine can help to restore balance within your body.

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