A healthy sex life is a key element of many relationships. When one person starts experiencing a decreased libido or inability to function sexually, it can cause stress and anxiety for both partners. When both people in a relationship feel that their needs are being met, it can bring a peace of mind that helps contribute to one’s overall well-being.
Some male sexual problems may be due to deficient levels of prolactin, a hormone commonly known for stimulating milk production and breast growth in women, according to a recent study. The findings of the study surprised researchers because until now, scientists have believed that high levels of prolactin actually impair sexual functioning in males. Until recently, increasing prolactin levels has been a concern almost exclusively for women who are breastfeeding.
A Strange Connection
About 3,000 men ranging in age from 40 to 79 were included in the European study. During the study, researchers measured the subjects’ prolactin, testosterone, blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels, as well as their body mass indexes (a comparison of weight to height used to determine whether a person is at a healthy body weight). The subjects also responded to surveys to reveal information about their perceived sexual functioning, their habits relevant to alcohol and tobacco, and their overall health.
After analyzing all the collected data, the researchers determined that reduced levels of prolactin were often linked to poor sexual and psychological health. The men with below-average (but still normal) levels of prolactin reported decreasing sexual functioning and reduced orgasm enjoyment in comparison to men with above-average levels of prolactin, and they reported depression symptoms more commonly as well.
What’s more, the men with low prolactin levels typically reported lower levels of general health, less physical activity, higher blood sugar levels and wider waistlines.
As mentioned, prolactin is primarily thought of as a female hormone responsible for allowing new mothers to produce breast milk. Women who are pregnant or breast feeding have 10 to 20-times more prolactin than women who are not. Although non-pregnant women and men all produce at least some prolactin, scientists aren’t sure how the hormone functions in those who aren’t pregnant.
Previous studies have found that men with high prolactin levels are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction and reduced libido. In fact, men suffering from these symptoms are often tested to determine whether their prolactin levels are too high. However, the results of the new study conflict dramatically with the findings of these older studies, suggesting that higher prolactin levels may actually be beneficial to male sexual functioning.
The new study isn’t the first to suggest this notion, either. A pair of older studies on rats found that boosting prolactin levels with drugs also increased sexual functioning. Another study, this one involving brain image scans of men who viewed erotic pictures, indicated that men with higher prolactin levels had more brain activity in brain regions associated with sexual arousal.
At the same time, it’s important to note that this most recent study found a link of association, but not necessarily one of causation. In other words, higher levels of prolactin may not directly result in better sexual functioning. Moreover, the researchers can’t confirm why a link exists between prolactin levels and sexual health at all. One possibility is that low prolactin levels and poor sexual functioning are both due to poor overall health, and not that one is causing the other.
The Bottom Line
Low levels of prolactin, a hormone typically associated with pregnancy and lactation, may be linked to sexual problems in men, according to a recent study.
The full text of the study is available online in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.