When it comes to hormones, women are most often in the spotlight. From reproductive hormones like testosterone (yes, women also have testosterone, albeit usually in smaller doses) and estrogen to stress hormones like cortisol, the impact of hormones on women’s health is discussed far and wide.
The effects of hormones on men are talked about less often but are equally as important. Too much or not enough of any given hormone can wreak havoc on a man’s reproductive system and overall health, even after the often tumultuous stage of puberty. Read on to learn about how men are affected by different hormones, and the role each plays in the male body.
A Low Down on Male Hormones
There are several parts of the body that control the creation, stimulation, and release of hormones — the hypothalamus and pituitary glands act as the control center, while the pancreas, testes, adrenal glands, and thyroid all play an active role, too.
Male hormones affect everything from fertility and sex drive to emotional regulation and muscle mass (or lack thereof), just like female hormones do. However, while women have a month-long hormonal cycle (averaging at about 28-days but sometimes lasting as long as 35 days), males go through a hormonal cycle every 24 hours. This causes more rapid changes in the hormonal landscape of his body and an imbalance could lead to obesity, excess stress, exhaustion, irritability, and a lowered libido, to name just a few.
In order to stay healthy and well-regulated, he’ll need to be vigilant about keeping them balanced. The first step in this is understanding the most prominent male hormones and how they work in the body.
The Male Reproductive Hormones and What They Do
Though hormones can be classified into general categories like “sex hormones” or “energy hormones,” they all play a role in the overall harmony of the male endocrine system. So, if you’re primary concern is fertility, it’s important to understand which hormones are involved and the role they play in reproduction.
When you think of male hormones, testosterone is likely the first to come to mind. This is because it affects nearly every process in a man’s body. Its main function, though, is controlling sexual and reproductive health. A steady supply of testosterone is released by the Leydig cells in the testicles and stimulates sperm production.
Too little testosterone could lead to a condition called hypogonadism, which can be treated with hormone replacement therapy. Too much testosterone can convert to the female hormone estrogen, which can lead to mood swings, shrunken testicles, and breast enlargement.
Luteinizing Hormone (LH)
Above, we talked about testosterone being produced from Leydig cells in the testes. Luteinizing Hormone is a gonadotropic hormone that is released from the pituitary gland and stimulates testosterone production in the testicles, allowing it to perform its necessary functions. Too much or too little Luteinizing Hormone can cause infertility, so it’s important to have a balance. If you’re unsure, ask your doctor about getting a blood test to measure your LH levels.
Follicle-Stimulating Hormone (FSH)
FSH or follicle-stimulating hormone is another gonadotropic hormone. Its primary role is to interact with the Sertoli cells (part of a seminiferous tubule in the testes) to stimulate sperm production. Testosterone and inhibin, a hormone whose job is to regulate the secretion of FSH, regulate the production of FSH and are crucial in controlling the hormonal cycle involved in making sperm.
Too much FSH is a sign of testicular failure and can indicate that your testosterone levels are low. This prevents the healthy production and maturation of sperm and is a sign of infertility. Likewise, having low levels of the follicle-stimulating hormone can cause limited sperm production and make fathering a child more difficult. There are tests available to detect FSH deficiencies that your doctor may recommend if they suspect a problem.
How Hormonal Disruptors Impact Male Fertility
If you’re trying to conceive, you may be wondering how your hormones might be affected by your lifestyle and the chemicals or pollutants you’re exposed to. Hormonal disruptors are things that can be absorbed into the body and disrupt your endocrine system, affecting everything from your metabolism to your fertility. While it may not be possible to entirely avoid all hormonal disruptors, knowing where they are found can help you decrease your exposure.
Some of the most common hormonal disruptors that affect fertility include:
- Bisphenol A (BPA) is found in plastic water bottles and food containers, tin cans, receipts.
- Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT) is an insecticide found in meat, fish, and dairy products.
- Dioxins are one of the most prevalent chemicals known to disrupt male reproductive health. It is found in everything from bleached coffee filters, animal protein, household cleaners, personal care products (specifically those containing triclosan, disposable napkins, and paper towels.
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) is a chemical found in contaminated meat, dairy products, and fish (especially Catfish, buffalo fish, and carp).
- Phthalates are a group of chemicals that can cause testosterone production to become inhibited, as well as the function of Leydig cells, which plays a role in the creation of sperm and the quality of the sperm. It’s commonly found in non-organic food, personal care products like lotion, cologne, and shaving cream, paint, and household cleaners.
- Phytoestrogens are a type of estrogen known to reduce sperm count and are found in soybeans, flax seeds, sesame seeds, oats, pesticides, industrial chemicals.
- Atrazine is an herbicide found in corn, sugarcane, pineapples, and sorghum.
- Mercury is found in seafood, specifically mackerel, swordfish, and shark.
- Bisphenol S (BPS) is a replacement for BPA that is just as hazardous and is found in plastic water bottles and food containers.
The male hormonal system is complex and nuanced, just as the female system is. To keep your hormones in check, it’s important to know which hormones do what, the potential problems you may face when they are imbalanced, and which disruptors can affect them. The more you know, the easier it will be to stay in control of your reproductive health.