How the Brain Dictates Your Monthly Reproductive Health
Welcome to Week 7 How Einstein Would Get Pregnant blog series, we will cover what happens “under the hood” of our brain and fertility. Each and every month our brain enters into a tango dance with our ovaries and uterus for ovulation and then subsequently implantation. It’s empowering to understand the ins and outs of how this happens, not to mention that it is very interesting!
Consider this: your reproductive cycle is one elegant system of communication loops. Like the intricate steps in the tango, every single event leads to another event, which leads to another event. The first event each month for our reproductive cycle actually happens in the brain. And it is hormones that are passed between the hypothalamus and the pituitary.
A word about these small yet very powerful glands in the middle of our brains. First, the hypothalamus. Think of the hypothalamus as the peace-maker, or the referee. The hypothalamus regulates homeostasis in our body – from sensing body temperature, hunger and thirst, to stress and reproduction. It takes information from all parts of our bodies, and then sends data to help provide balance. In more technical terms it links the nervous system with the endocrine system. Whether it is telling us to eat, increasing our body temperature, or activating our flight-or-fight response – it helps to provide the activity required by our bodies to stay healthy, out of harms way, and to get our bodies ready for reproduction. The name of the game for the hypothalamus is balance.
Also, isn’t it interesting to note that this gland – the size of an almond and located in the middle of the brain, behind our nose – is not only responsible for our reproductive health BUT also regulates stress? What do you think takes precedence in the brain – responding to danger or ovulation to procreate? What if the stress is always there – or chronic? But I’ll leave that for another post.
Part and parcel with the hypothalamus is the pituitary, which falls right below the hypothalamus. Even though it is called the “master endocrine gland” in the body, the pituitary is the worker bee and is directly controlled by the hypothalamus (the other endocrine glands are the thyroid and the adrenal glands). The pituitary gland secretes hormones regulating homeostasis, including hormones that stimulate other endocrine glands. The hypothalamus instructs the pituitary through the release of Gonadotropin Release Hormone (GnRH) to release hormones to the ovaries. The hormones that the pituitary gland secrets to the ovaries includes Lutenizing Hormone (‘LH”) and Follicular Stimulating Hormone (“FSH”).
This is where we get to talk about the feedback loop system. It’s best to explain this in terms of what happens before and through ovulation, and then what happens post ovulation.
Leading Up To Ovulation
GnRH is sent from the hypothalamus to the pituitiary “releasing” (the “R” in GnRH stands for releasing hormone) more specific fertility hormones to the ovaries. The ovaries bind with these hormones, which are instructing the ovaries to stimulate one or more follicles to grow for that month’s cycle. In response to this activity, the ovaries release estrogen which binds with the pituitary to tell it to increase the FSH and LH in a feedback loop. This builds until the LH surge, and one of the ovaries releases a fully formed egg into the fallopian tube.
Independent on whether or not the egg becomes fertilized, the follicle that released the egg (at this point called the corpus luteum) begins to emit progesterone, which tells the uterus to build nutrients and blood to accept the fertilized egg. The egg actually stays in the fallopian tube for a few days and then floats around in the uterus for a while until it finally either implants in the walls of the uterus in pregnancy. If no pregnancy, the uterus sheds the lining during menstruation.
During the second part of the second after ovulation, estrogen decreases while progesterone increases. Because estrogen decreased, LH and FSH also fall until the cycle starts again with the hypothalamus sending GnRH to the pituitary.
Here is a quick slide-show showing the reproductive system in action:
Good to Know!
In alignment with one of our central tenets – that knowledge is power – I hope that this post gives a better understanding of your reproductive health. And when we use our mind-body communication power, we can be more specific with our visualizations – more granular – with these thoughts and intentions.