FSH, what it does, and why people need it
FSH is a hormone that’s made in the pituitary gland, a small gland that’s located directly underneath the brain. The hormone is essential for sexual development and function in both men and women. In women, FSH controls the menstrual cycle and encourages egg growth in the ovaries. While FSH levels fluctuate throughout a woman’s cycle, the highest levels occur just before ovulation. In men, FSH controls sperm production. Although a woman’s FSH levels fluctuate, a man’s levels do not. FSH is also present in children, but the levels do not begin to rise until puberty. Rising FSH levels through puberty signal the beginning of estrogen production in girls and testosterone production in boys.
LH in men and women
LH is a critical hormone for both men and women. In both sexes, LH encourages the production of the most well-known sex steroids, estrogen, and testosterone. While levels can fluctuate for women throughout the menstrual cycle, a spike in LH is usually followed by ovulation. But LH is also essential for healthy residual cells in the ovaries that are responsible for secreting progesterone and estradiol, two critical hormones for sustaining a pregnancy. In men, LH levels are relatively stable but are essential for stimulating sperm production and accentuating male characteristics such as a deeper voice or facial hair growth.
FSH, LH, and issues with imbalances
In both men and women, an imbalance with the FSH or LH hormones can ultimately impact fertility. While an imbalance can be detected at any time, irregularities are often discovered when a couple is trying to conceive and not having success. In children, the most common sign of an FSH or LH imbalance is a delay in entering puberty. But for adults trying to conceive, a fertility specialist may require an FSH or LH test in both parties. In men, an imbalance in LH or FSH may indicate low testosterone levels or a low sperm count. In women, an LH or FSH imbalance can cause irregular periods, impact the egg supply, and contribute to conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCS).
Putting it together
While people often think of fertility as a single issue, the process is composed of a complex series of individual events and contributing hormones that must be in harmony with each other for a seamless conception, implantation, and eventual pregnancy to occur. For couples struggling to conceive, talking with a fertility specialist, and potentially taking an FSH or LH level test can pinpoint what issues, if any, need to be addressed. Working together with an expert, couples can create a plan that addresses underlying health issues while also improving the chances of conception.