A Michigan State University study (November 24, 2015) has found that too much of a hormone (FSH) commonly used during in vitro fertility, or IVF, treatments actually decreases a woman’s chances of having a baby. James Ireland, an MSU professor in reproductive physiology and one of the co-authors of the study, has concluded that as the total dose of the hormone known as follicle stimulating hormone, or FSH, went up, the live birth rate went down by as much as 15 to 20 percent. In addition, the research team found that this decline still occurred regardless of age, health, weight of the patient or length of treatment.
What is FSH?
FSH, or follicle-stimulating hormone, is a naturally occurring hormone that is made by the pituitary gland in the body. If the FSH levels or either low or high, it is a clear indicator that something is out of balance within the reproductive system and may be causing issues with the couple being able to conceive.
FSH is primarily responsible for stimulating growth of the ovarian follicle, which includes the developing egg, the cells surrounding the egg that produce the hormones needed to support a pregnancy, and the fluid around the egg. As the follicle grows, an increasing amount of the hormone estrogen is produced by the cells in the follicle and released into the bloodstream. Estrogen causes the endometrium (lining of the uterus) to thicken before ovulation occurs. The higher blood levels of estrogen will also tell the hypothalamus and pituitary gland to slow the production and release of FSH.
To undergo the FSH test (it is a blood test) blood sample is taken on the 3rd day of the menstrual period. Doctors believe level higher than 10-15IU/ml may indicate diminished fertility or diminished ovarian reserve. For menstruating women, the normal FSH levels during the follicular or luteal phase should range between 5 and 20 IU/L (international units per liter.) Right before ovulation during the mid-cycle peak, FSH levels should be between 30 and 50 IU/L. If a woman is post-menopausal, her FSH levels will be naturally higher, at 50 IU/L or more.
High levels of FSH in women can cause a loss of or poor ovarian function, polycystic ovary syndrome or can indicate that menopause has set in.
Low levels of the hormone can indicate that eggs are not being produced, that the pituitary gland is not functioning correctly, that there are significant levels of stress present or that the person is severely underweight which is causing problems to occur.
Tips to Maintain a Healthy FSH Level
- Healthy Body Weight: maintaining a healthy weight is important for healthy hormonal function. Being underweight and overweight can cause FSH levels to be off. Being 10% below the ideal body weight can cause FSH levels to be low and cause many other fertiltiy issues. Being overwieght can also effect FSH and hormonal levels. A BMI between the range of 19.9-24.8, indicate a healthy weight.
- Adequate intake of Essential Fatty Acids: The three best sources of essential fatty acids that will provide the different levels of unsaturated fats are borage oil, flax oil and fish oil. Sixty percent of your brain is fat. Fat and foods rich in fatty acids allow your nervous system to function well. For vegetarians, the primary sources of essential fatty acids are plants on land and in the sea. Linoleic acid is found primarily in seeds, nuts, grains and legumes. Alpha-linolenic acid is found in the green leaves of plants, including phytoplankton and algae, and in selected seeds, nuts and legumes (flax, canola, walnuts and soy). The World Health Organization recommends that polyunsaturated fats make up 3 -7% of the energy in the diet (1), without any specification as to the amount needed from each family of fats. However, experts advise that one should consume a minimum of 3% of energy from omega-6 fatty acids and 0.5% from omega-3 fatty acids. Intake of raw flaxseed should be restricted to 3-4 tablespoons a day.
- Exercise: In order to maintain a healthy hormonal level exercise is extremely essential. Improving your blood circulation allows more oxygen, nutrients and hormones to be transported to your ovaries. Your endocrine system will stop over-production of FSH. To boost blood circulation in your reproductive organs, try walking, yoga and low-impact aerobics. However, avoid overdoing it or it can backfire.
- Reduce Stress: If you are constantly stressed out, stress hormones are released and general hormone production is reduced. Taking steps to reduce your stress through yoga, meditation, prayer, massage, exercise can help to keep your hormonal system healthy. Cleansing the liver is one of the best things you can do for your hormonal health, for that yoga is again a good option.
- Cut back on consumption of fast food: Ensure the health of your kidneys by cutting back on your consumption of caffeine, chips and other salty foods. kidneys play an important role in hormonal balance- including FSH.
- Follow a Weekly Detox Plan: Raw food and fresh juices have remarkable cleansing and regenerating effect on the entire system, as they retain all their nutrients, which might get destroyed while processing and cooking. The detox diet helps to cleanse your system! The plan begins with a juice fast, which eliminates toxins at a very low level, and then continues with a highly nutritious food that promotes cellular renewal.
High FSH level is an indication of a poor ovarian reserve. FSH levels go up with age.
- World Health Organization Study Group on Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases. Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases. Geneva, Switzerland: Technical Report Series No. 797. World Health Organization, 1991.