The University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry announced on March 3 that a team from the school has published a groundbreaking study revealing the importance of male hormones in female fertility. The study is titled "Androgens regulate ovarian follicular development by increasing follicle stimulating hormone receptor and microRNA-125b expression" and was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study explored the role played by androgens in the development of healthy, mature eggs in female mice with potential applications in humans.
The press release from the university reports that some fertility clinics are exploring the use of the male hormone testosterone to increase the number of eggs produced in women undertaking in vitro fertilization (IVF). It also points to reports that women are buying DHEA, a hormone sold over the counter, in an effort to boost their chances of success with IVF. The study demonstrates that androgens such as testosterone have a key role in the development of egg-containing follicles as well as their numbers. The findings have serious implications for women with a low ovarian reserve and trouble becoming pregnant.
Harvard Medical School reports that it takes an average of six months for a man and a woman to conceive. After a year of trying, about 10 to 15 percent of couples will have difficulty conceiving. Fertility problems may occur in both men and women.
For about 20 percent of infertile couples, Harvard states, more than one issue is responsible for their failure to conceive. In women, infrequent ovulation is responsible for about 20 percent of fertility problems while over 50 percent are due to physical injuries or defects in the fallopian tubes or the uterus. The school also points to a woman's age as a factor in fertility:
Normal aging reduces a woman's ability to become pregnant. Ovulation, the process of forming and releasing an egg, becomes slower and less effective. Aging begins to reduce fertility as early as age 30, and pregnancy rates are very low after age 44, even when fertility medications are used.
Dr. Stephen Hammes, the study's lead author, is quoted in the University of Rochester press release on the importance of the findings:
There is a raging debate in the reproductive endocrinology field about what male hormones are doing in female fertility... Our study doesn’t solve the controversy, but, along with some earlier seminal studies from other groups, it does tell us that we can’t dismiss male hormones. They might actually be doing something useful... Androgens are increasing follicle growth and ensuring follicles don’t die – exactly what you want when providing fertility treatment...