Among the many potential results of stress, as depicted in this filepic, is the lowering of libido and sperm count, and the suppression of ovulation.
We are constantly on the go in this modern world.
In terms of productivity, it’s a great thing to have mobile gadgets that enable us to work anywhere and anytime, but in the process, it’s too easy to forget about a more important aspect in life: our health, and how it affects our reproductive capabilities.
One major thing that affects our fertility health is hormonal balance, a critical factor in getting pregnant and carrying a healthy foetus to term.
If you’ve never had symptoms of hormonal imbalance, it doesn’t mean you aren’t experiencing it now, as the onset of hormonal imbalance happens gradually.
Stress, poor diet and constant exposure to manufactured chemical particles all play a role in throwing our organs out of whack, and these are long-term issues.
To improve, it is essential that you take the time to change your lifestyle and your mindset on health, as that is the only way to maintain a healthy hormone balance.
Types of hormones
Here’s a breakdown on the types of hormones you should know about:
• Steroid hormones
The body produces natural hormones known as steroid hormones.
There are five categories of such hormones: androgen, oestrogen, progestin, mineralocorticoids and glucocorticoids.
Androgen and oestrogen play a role in sexual development and function; progestin moderates your menstrual cycle and pregnancy; mineralocorticoids regulates the kidney in expelling salt and water; and glucocorticoids influence carbohydrate, protein and lipid metabolism, as well as the capacity to cope with stress.
• Bioidentical hormones
Bioidentical hormones are copies of steroid hormones.
They are derived from plants, minerals or animal sources, and are considered natural because of this.
These are commonly used for hormone replacement therapy (HRT), birth control and artificial reproductive technology (ART).
Hormones like oestrone, oestradiol, DHEA and progesterone are currently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
However, bioidentical hormones are not approved in some countries.
• Synthetic hormones
These are synthetic hormones produced in a lab and are patented medications.
They have a similar effect to our own endogenous hormones.
They are also used for HRT and ART.
Birth control is the most common use of synthetic hormones.
The causes of imbalance
Daily stress increases the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, which inhibits the body’s main sex hormone, gonadotropin-releasing hormone.
Subsequently, this suppresses ovulation, sexual activity and sperm count.
Chronic stress may lower libido, cause adrenal fatigue, thyroid problems and decrease fertility health.
• Poor nutrition
If you are not taking proper care of your diet and ensuring that you are getting the right amounts of vitamin, mineral and fluid levels, your body cannot function properly.
In addition, if you are eating foods that are unhealthy, full of preservatives, dyes and other human-made processed chemicals, you may be causing damage to your endocrine glands, which are closely connected to hormonal balance.
You also need clean filtered drinking water to sustain fluid levels and flush toxins out of your body.
Xenohormones are human-made chemicals that have the ability to interfere with the natural functions and development of our bodies.
They get absorbed into our bodies via ingestion, inhalation and direct skin contact.
All xenohormones are endocrine disruptors.
They interrupt the way natural hormones are produced, metabolised and eliminated, as they mimic our natural hormones and can block them from binding to receptor sites, and thus, weakening our systems.
Common sources of xenohormones include non-organic meats; birth control (pills, shots, rings and implants); solvents and adhesives like paint, nail polish and household cleaners; plastics; pesticides, herbicides and fungicides; emulsifiers in soap and cosmetics; and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) from industrial waste.
Adhesives like nail polish, as seen in this filepic, are one of the sources of xenohormones.
• Lifestyle choices
Smoking, drugs, regular overconsumption of alcohol, obesity and stress can be major causes of hormonal imbalance in the body, which leads to infertility issues.
Scientists are studying the connections between genetic predisposition and hormonal imbalance.
What they do know so far is that there are genetic links to obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disease and cardiovascular disease, which may cause hormonal imbalances.
• Body fat
Body fat cells produce and store oestrogen.
Women who do not have adequate amounts of body fat may have menstrual cycle irregularities and fertility problems.
But those with high body fat, a body mass index (BMI) of 30 and greater, may have elevated levels of oestrogen and that also contributes to infertility.
This is known as oestrogen dominance.
For men, obesity lowers testosterone levels, affecting the function of the testes.
The sperm of obese men are often abnormal, increasing the risk for miscarriage and chromosomal defects in a developing embryo.
Obese men also often have sexual dysfunction.
Although rare, a tumour on one of the endocrine glands can impair the proper release of hormones.
Pituitary tumours are the most common type of tumour that cause hormonal imbalance, even if they are benign.
In short, the endocrine system and the hormones they produce and secrete play a significant role not only in the health of our entire body, but in our ability to achieve and sustain pregnancy.
If our hormones are out of sync, then our reproductive system will not be able to function properly.
In my next column, I will discuss the types of hormones in our body that are important for fertility health, and how to detect symptoms of imbalance.
And remember, always consult a professional if you have any medical concerns.
Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist. For further information, visit www.primanora.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.