Prolactin- the missing piece of bloodwork for hormonal assessment
Prolactin is a hormone measured in blood that's commonly associated with a new mom's ability to breastfeed post childbirth, as well as being able to nurture, and sex drive. It's released by the anterior pituitary by a signal from our hypothalamus (both located in the brain) to target breast tissue for lactation, and serves to modulate our immune system, metabolism, reproductive systems, and overall health for both men and women. Prolactin increases with estrogen, blood sugar issues, under active thyroid hormone, stress, pregnancy, and medications (e.g. opiates, anti-hypertensives, psychotropics, H2 blockers), and decreases with dopamine.
Common symptoms of elevated prolactin include decreased libido, infertility in men and women, irregular menses, unwanted lactation, low testosterone in men, erectile dysfunction, estrogen deficiency in women- where take it a step further and those hormone imbalances can contribute to weight gain, mood swings, anxiety, depression, poor sleep, etc. And here's the kicker- this is only one piece of the puzzle! It can be a good test to rule out an organic cause, like a prolactinoma (not cancer, a benign lump that increases production of prolactin- usually in about 10%of people) where levels are very high, much more outside of the under 15 ng/mL for men, under 25 ng/mL for non pregnant women (optimally, best if around 15 or under), and 34-386 ng/mL for pregnant women. If levels are elevated beyond normal range, or you're still not feeling quite right, this can be another marker to add on to hormone testing to optimize.
And there's so much that contribute to it's optimization!
- Find ways to relieve stress - This is going to be major because helps ensure nutrients from our diet make sex hormones instead of solely going into cortisol if we're super stressed, and those nutrients will also improve thyroid function. Cortisol, our stress hormone, also inhibits thyroid function by converting inactive thyroid hormone into another form of inactive hormone, instead of its active version. Some ideas: deep breathing, yoga, meditation, laughing, deep conversation with friends/family, spending time with your pets, dancing, walking barefoot in nature.
- If it is elevated, consider these herbs - Vitex agnus castus supports progesterone production (as many people are estrogen dominant, which also turns off thyroid), and has been also been studied to reduce prolactin levels. This is a great herb to help get levels down, as we're supporting our stress response, and other reasons prolactin may be elevated.
- Love your liver - Foods like carrots, beets, celery, spinach, kale, collards, broccoli, brussels sprouts, avocado, are all amazing for our liver, our largest detoxification organ, including that of hormones. When the liver doesn't detox well, we get these 'franken-hormones' that further mess with our system because our body literally goes 'wtf are these??' and really has to use more vitamins, minerals, and energy to detox those suckers. In addition to being a major source of conversion of inactive to active thyroid hormone, detoxing from our environment, balancing blood sugar, filtering blood, etc. It does regenerate itself (the only internal organ to do so), so let's keep it functioning at it's optimal capacity!
We are now in the day and age of the empowered patient, so go ahead, ask! It's your health and your body, and it may be a good clue as to why you just don't feel as good as you know you can. It's so important to have open communication and discussion about trajectory of health, as it's what keeps us motivated to both heal and prevent future disease. If you'd like more ways to balance your hormones and keep your prolactin levels in their best range, check out some more strategies here!