This article is going to be dealing with a hormone by the name of prolactin, a subject most men do not spend a lot of time in quiet contemplation on. Prolactin is exactly the type of hormone it sounds like:
‘pro’ meaning before + lactation
Because of this, it makes sense that females would consider this hormone one of their own, akin to a sex hormone like estrogen.
Prolactin is unlike testosterone or estrogen, in which one sex has high of one and low of another, instead it is found in fairly equal amounts between the sexes (though men have a bit less then women). Of course there is the exception which is pregnancy. 
(This is because this hormone is important to the function of both men and women and while most research has painted prolactin as not healthy to have high levels of, new research is showing that this can’t always be assumed to be how it works in the body.)
What exactly is Prolactin?
Prolactin is produced by a group of cells called lactotrophs. These cells are found in the pituitary gland and will pump out this hormone as much as they can, never ceasing in this production unless made to by an inhibitory factor. The main one controlling the release into the system is that of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
One way to look at the effects of high levels is through the effects of Prolactinomas, basically, benign pituitary gland tumors that pump out ridiculous levels of the stuff into the blood.
What does a Prolactinoma do to a Person?
Well, for starters in men it causes Erectile Dysfunction (ED) and this is why prolactin levels might be checked for in cases of ED.
Another side effect is lactation from the nipple (in both men and women). For either, this must be unpleasant when it is not warranted. Lastly, infertility becomes a major issue with high prolactin levels.
What does Prolactin do?
As the name suggests, prolactin promotes lactation in mammals. This is not its only job though. It has about 300 different actions in the body that are known of so far.
A few of these are its effect on the immune system, reproductive, metabolic and behavior functions. We will delve deeper into the reproductive aspect for men regarding its balancing actions on testosterone in men and with the associated behaviors of fathers who naturally possess a higher level than their single brothers.
What Controls Release?
As stated earlier, dopamine is the dominant inhibitor of prolactin release. As dopamine flows from the hypothalamus where it is created into the anterior pituitary where the lactotrophs are found, it binds to D2 receptors on the surface of the cell.
This results, “in a reduction of PRL (prolactin) exocytosis and gene expression by a variety of intracellular signaling mechanisms.” This allows the lactotrophs to ramp up their own production.[3,4]
This brings to our attention an interesting side effect of anti-psychotic drugs. That of their proclivity to induce hyperprolactinaemia by binding to the D2 receptors imperfectly so that high-prolactin secretion is a result.
But interestingly enough, prolactin itself promotes dopamine. This ensures that prolactin release does not become a problem in of itself. A perfect example of the bodies proclivities for negative feed-back loops to control itself.
Another hormone that controls prolactin is estradiol. This type of estrogen promotes the release of prolactin and is very important during pregnancy and after labor.[4,5]
Connection to Lactation
Let’s continue by first getting this subject out of the way. This is the hormone that stimulates milk production in the breasts. Another hormone, oxytocin, is what actually gets the milk out of the glands and into the ducts where it can be sucked out of the nipple.
Prolactin requires the stimulation of the nipples from a suckling baby for the signal to reach the brain to produce more of it. This is done by mechanoreceptors that are connected by neural circuitry to cells in the pituitary. Oxytocin is released when the mother hears the cries of her child.  The posterior pituitary controls oxytocin release while the anterior pituitary controls prolactin release.
As we have seen already, release depends on dopamine, so the signal sent to the hypothalamus actually inhibits dopamine secretion. This allows prolactin production to continue unabated. And there you have it, breastfeeding in a nutshell, the hormonal way.
Why does Prolactin Matter to Men?
As far as scientific consensus is concerned, there seems to be no point in saying high prolactin levels are inherently bad or that low levels are good.
This is because of the many contradictory studies that have taken place recently showing that when high, it can be good or bad and the same for low levels. There must be many factors that we still don’t know about.
For those believing they may have issues with their levels, certain symptoms combined with testing can indicate which way someone should probably try to adjust their levels too.
Let’s take a look at the positives of higher levels.
Essential to Reproduction
Prolactin’s connection with child birth shows that it might have roles in reproduction we still are not aware of.
Animal studies, “…have established prolactin (PRL) as a progonadal hormone that promotes the function of the testis and reproductive accessory glands.” The study is quoted here would go on to find that PRL is essential for certain roles in the human males reproductive tract.[7-9]
However, the researches still concluded that prolactin should be determined off only in cases of low sexual desire, gynecomastia and/or testosterone less than 4 ng/ml.
Recently, “In the new study, researchers looked at nearly 3,000 European men ages 40 to 79, and measured their testosterone and prolactin levels, body mass indexes (BMIs), and blood cholesterol and sugar levels…Men with levels of prolactin that were lower than average, although still within the normal range, were more likely than men with higher levels to say their sexual function was getting worse, particularly their enjoyment of orgasm. They also had more symptoms of depression, the researchers said.”
That’s right! It is being shown to actually increase testosterone production in some studies and may influence sex hormones in ways that are still not understood. This goes against what the typical bodybuilder and a lot of other studies would tell you.
Three hormones walk into a bar…
Dopamine and testosterone are intimately linked hormones. When one is high, the other will be high. From everything we have learned so far, high dopamine also correlates to lower levels of prolactin.
This is a clear reason why so many bodybuilders consider it their divine duty to keep prolactin levels low, as this implies that dopamine levels will be high and hence testosterone levels as well.
Prolactin inhibits gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) secretion. This hormone directly stimulates the Leydig cells in the testes to produce testosterone. Higher levels then directly slow formation of new testosterone steroidal hormones.
Testosterone’s relationship with dopamine lies in its ability to stimulate certain areas of the brain that release dopamine. As dopamine directly controls the release of prolactin, we see that high prolactin is almost always connected with low testosterone and low dopamine and vice versa.
This is the bidirectional relationship of regulation that to a great degree, controls levels in men (and to a much lesser extent in women).
Prolactin and Sex
Prolactin also effects a man’s orgasms in a big way! A plethora of different hormones are released during a man’s orgasm; prolactin is one, and a very important one.
Levels of prolactin have been found to directly correlate to the satisfaction and refractory period (aka recuperating period) of a males sex drive immediately after orgasm. The lower levels you have, the lower the refractory period seems to be. Good news to most guys and gals.
Another important job prolactin may have is its connection to sleep. Levels raise during sleep. This is why after a male releases his seed, sleep often becomes an unstoppable force as most women are aware of.
Interestingly, a man that…”blows his load” with someone releases 4x more prolactin then through self-play alone.
Prolactin and Women
Prolactin is far from a man’s issue. Besides the couple times in a woman’s life where high levels are needed (that of late pregnancy to grow the breast and after childbirth to feed the child), high levels can be just as detrimental to women as men. In fact, similar side effects of high prolactin happen in both.
For women, these include swelling of the breasts, milk production and flow, stalling of the menstruation cycle and infertility.
Infertility should be an obvious case. High levels of prolactin due to nursing act as the contraceptive to inhibit a pregnancy that would divert precious resources from the infant. If a woman has certain months where they don’t get periods, called amenorrhea, this could be a primary reason for that.
That reason is the same as in men, prolactin inhibiting the secretion of GnRH. This affects women because FSH (Follicle-stimulating hormone) and LH (Luteinizing hormone) cannot be released and disruption of the menstrual cycle ensues. 6] Both of those hormones directly effect estrogen and progesterone levels, very important hormones to keep in proper balance for a woman.
Lowering Prolactin Naturally
Since, from what is currently known, lowering high prolactin levels seems to be what is desired by people (aka, men), I will talk about some things that can be done or consumed to help with this.
Eating a whole, healthy diet is the best way to keep prolactin levels in check. That and anything to do with keeping your sex hormones in healthy balance.
This means, through physical exertion like heavy lifting, giving yourself enough time to recuperate (aka more restful sleep!) and not eating foods that throw off your whole endocrine system such as sugar and other foods that you may be sensitive to.
Besides these things, there are a few small things you can do to have a more direct effect on those levels.
B6 has been found to directly influence PR levels. This is through its enzymic action on L-Dopa. For more information on L-Dopa go here.
During my research I ran across a mention that hyperprolactinema and low dopamine levels used to be treated with B6 supplementation but could not find a source on this. This actually makes a lot of sense because, “…according to Oregon State University’s Micronutrient Information Center, several studies point out a link between vitamin B6 deficiency and hyperprolactinemia.”
By raising dopamine, we lower prolactin. All foods contain some amount of B6 but the general population has been shown to possess low-level chronic B6 deficiency foods.
Foods that are high in B6 include:
- raw milk
- poultry, fish (especially salmon and herring)
- bell peppers
- turnip greens
- sunflower seeds
- wheat germ
- dried fruit (namely prunes)
B6 content is affected by light, heat and oxygen. Up to 70 percent of its content may be lost in the processing of food.
Zinc seems to be important for just about every process in the body, so it’s not a surprise to see it here.
Studies have shown that increasing zinc levels lowers prolactin levels. Researchers are still not certain how it works but it has been found that “…zinc acts in a dynamic manner to selectively influence pituitary prolactin secretion“.
One study directly measured this by tracking the lowering of plasma levels in different groups administered a zinc supplement. Within 2 hours of oral administration their prolactin levels fell significantly.
Herbs that are claimed to be high in zinc from Chinese Medicine include He Shou Wu and Black Ant. So far, after testing of top brands and our own, we have so far found this to not be true. Not to say that consuming those herbs for the other nutrient benefits is not good in and of themselves.
Foods that are high in zinc include meats, nuts and seeds (pumpkin are the highest), and shellfish (oysters anyone?).
This herb is well known for its effects on the sex hormones, long known in India as its most potent sex herb.
Studies have shown that it can adapt the body to stress and raise and lower certain levels of sex hormones. One hormone it lowers (because of its close connection to fertility) is that of prolactin. Multiple studies have shown this.
In one study, Prolactin levels were lowered in all the stressed groups that took Ashwagandha.
“Among normozoospermic group, normozoospermic cigarette smokers group and normozoospermic psychological stress group FSH was raised by 8, 10, 13% and PRL by 12, 17 and 20%, respectively. After treatment with W. somnifera, these levels were significantly reduced”.
Many studies on mucuna’s dopamine and testosterone raising abilities have been undertaken.
One study showed how testosterone, luteinizing hormone (LH) and dopamine all rose while PR fell improving infertile mens sperm. “Decreased sperm count and motility were seen in infertile subjects…Sperm count and motility were significantly recovered in infertile men after treatment.” 
Based on my very limited research, testing your prolactin levels is a must if you believe you want to do any modification of the hormones. If the tests prove high, then go about trying to lower it naturally. Otherwise, just focus on other sexual hormones.
We must always remember that picking one or a few hormones to alter will affect every hormone in the body in some way, and care should thus be taken.
Consulting with someone that has a deep understanding of the hormonal system and/or taking the challenge on yourself to dig deep into hormonal research (a sometimes daunting task) is highly advised before taking a strong course of action.
Experimentation is highly encouraged though, for how else will you truly learn yourself?
I hope you learned something from this article and wish you the best of luck in your ongoing health adventures!
- Understanding Prolactin Level Tests
- Hormones, A Very Short Introduction Martin Luck
- Prolactin’s Hormone Functions
- Prolactin & Dopamine
- Estrogen Induced Prolactin Release
- Prolactin Regulation
- Prolactin Receptor Expression
- Sex Problems due to Prolactin Levels
- Men with High Prolactin Levels
- Prolactin Secreting Tumors
- Dopamine & Testosterone
- Natural Ways to Lower Prolactin
- Foods High in B6
- Zinc & Pituitary Prolactin Secretion
- Zinc: An Inhibitor of Prolactin
- Zinc Rich Foods
- Ashwaghanda Improves Semen Quality
- How Mucuna Improves Male Fertility