Saturday, June 14, 2008

Keeping your brains right where they belong

A few years ago I was working with a client with polycystic ovary syndrome. In the course of giving her medical history, she'd also disclosed that she had hyperprolactinemia, a condition in which milk production and let down occurs, even in men, and even in women who are not nursing, if their blood levels of prolactin are too high. She told me that she continued to produce and release milk for four years after delivering her last child, and not a single physician she'd asked about it here in Arizona or over in California seemed to think it was a situation worthy of medical intervention. So she lived with it, until it eventually went away.

As we progressed through our consultation, I explained to her why omega-3 fatty acids are so important--as they are an integral part of the brain's structure and functioning. I then explained to her that breast milk is high in omega-3 fatty acids, and that babies who are nursed are more likely to get these crucial fatty acids than babies on formula.

I looked up from my notepad to see my client red-faced. If steam could have come out of her ears, it would have.

Thinking I'd said something hurtful or offensive, I asked her if something was wrong.

She looked at me and asked, "So you mean to tell me...for four whole brains were leaking out of my boobs and no one seemed to think that was a problem?"

I was the professional in that situation and so it fell on me to keep a completely straight face and answer a serious "yes, yes that's true."

Hyperprolactinemia really is a condition that needs to be taken seriously. As my client correctly deduced, it can drain the body of some of its most essential compounds, which can promote inflammation and potentially disrupt healthy brain function. Some psychiatric medications can increase the risk of hyperprolactinemia. One that has this reputation is risperidone (Risperdal).

A group of Chinese researchers recently tested an herbal remedy for hyperprolactinemia, peony-glycyrrhiza decoction, against a more traditional treatment, a medication called bromocryptine. Their subjects were women whose hyperprolactinemia was a direct result of risperidone use. For the purposes of this study, the women were also experiencing irregular periods (oligomenorrhea) or absence of periods (amenorrhea). Each group was exposed to both the herbal and the pharmaceutical treatment, with one group starting on herbs and switching to medication. The second group received the treatments in the reverse order. Psychotic symptoms, negative side effects, and levels of the hormones prolactin, estradiol, testosterone, and progesterone were all measured at the beginning and end of the study.

Not only did the herbal preparation produce a decrease in prolactin similar to the medication, other hormones were not affected, and psychosis was not worsened. And, more often in the herbal than the pharmaceutical remedy, there were improvements in negative side effects of hyperprolactinemia.

Whether or not you are on a medication, if you're producing breast milk and you are not nursing a baby, it is a medical problem and it does need to be addressed.

And now that you've read this post, you won't need to wait four years until a nutritionist mentions in passing that you should insist that your problem be taken seriously.

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Gianna said...

I had high prolactin for 12 years while on Risperdal...I've tapered off it almost completely now and my periods have resumed.

I had amenorrhea for about 10 years.

I'm menstruating again. Is there anything I should be concerned about having had such high prolactin for so many years?

hormonewoman said...


The one thing I can think of would be, if you lactated (produced milk) during the time you were hyperprolactinemic, you might be low in omega-3 fatty acids. That can be helped with omega-3 supplements as well as reducing intake of "s" and "c" oils--safflower, sunflower, soybean, corn, cottonseed, they tend to be pro-inflammatory and make it harder for omega-3's in your system to do their job. The one exception to this rule is canola oil, it has a nice omega 6 to omega 3 ratio that makes it a good cooking oil if you don't want an olive oil flavor...such as in baking. Hope that helps!


Gianna said...

I've been taking high doses of Omega 3's for years. I was just wondering if their might be damage I wasn't aware of specifically caused by the high prolactin.

While I did not lactate, my levels were checked and it was very high. I had an MRI to check for the pituatary tumor but in the end it was determined it was the Risperdal...

In any case, I take impeccably good care of myself now both through diet and nutritional supplementation and I will be completely off Risperdal in a matter of weeks so I will simply hope for complete healing as I continue to care for myself naturally.

thanks for your response.

And thanks about the oils...I do stay away from all of those and I LOVE olive oil! Canola is indeed what I use as an alternative.

hormonewoman said...

Hi Gianna,

Sounds like you're doing all the right things.

This area of knowledge is increasing rapidly, so it is entirely possible that later on we'll learn that there's more you can do. That's what this blog is about, to try to keep you all up to date.

Something else I recommend to everyone, male or female, is a prenatal vitamin. It just packs more punch and I operate on the assumption that a brain that's been out of balance needs extra vitamins and minerals to heal.

Have a great week!