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Follicle Stimulating Hormone Function

Smita Pandit
Follicle stimulating hormone is a gonadotropic hormone that is produced by the pituitary gland. Find out more about follicle stimulating hormone function along with information on normal follicle stimulating hormone levels in men and women.
Hormones are chemical messengers that control diverse bodily processes that are essential for the development and growth of the human body. These are released directly into the bloodstream by the endocrine glands or are released through exocrine glands, which secrete the hormones externally through ducts.
Each of these hormones reach the target site, where it acts as a catalyst for certain reactions and produces a specific effect. Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) is one such hormone that is secreted by cells in the anterior pituitary gland. It is referred to as a glycoprotein gonadotropin, as it stimulates the sex glands (gonads) in both men and women.
Secretion of this hormone is extremely essential for reproductive processes to take place in a normal fashion. Here's some information on follicle stimulating hormone function that will help you understand how this hormone affects the reproductive processes in men and women.

The increase in FSH levels helps in promoting the growth of the ovarian follicle. Another gonadotropic hormone called luteinizing hormone helps in secretion of estrogen from the follicle and also causes the ovum to be released from the ovaries.
Once a mature egg is released from the ovary, and it gets fertilized with a sperm, hormones such as estrogen help in thickening the uterine lining so as to enable a woman to support a pregnancy. FSH is, therefore, a very important hormone when it comes to development of the ovarian follicle.
As far as men are concerned, main function of FSH is to stimulate the production of sperm. While FSH levels keep fluctuating during the menstrual cycle in women, the FSH levels in men are quite stable, unless the pituitary gland is not functioning well and is unable to secrete the hormone.

Impact of FSH Levels on Female Reproductive Health

Elevated or low levels of FSH can certainly have serious repercussions on one's reproductive health. FSH levels are usually tested for those who experience an early or delayed onset of puberty. FSH test is usually conducted for women suffering from menstrual irregularities.
An analysis of the levels of gonadotropins along with estrogen and progesterone can also provide insights regarding infertility or abnormal growth or functioning of the sex glands. During her reproductive years, a woman goes through cyclical changes that are brought about by the interplay of various hormones.
As mentioned earlier, FSH is secreted in the beginning of the menstrual cycle so as to stimulate the growth of the ovarian follicle, which is why the function of FSH can be tested by checking the FSH levels on the second or third day of the cycle. One is said to have a good ovarian reserve if the FSH levels don't go beyond 9 mIU/ml.
Though FSH levels may range from 4.7 - 21.5 mIU/ml in case of menstruating women, the higher the FSH levels, the lower would be a woman's chance of becoming pregnant. As women complete 40 years of age, and become perimenopausal or enter menopause, the FSH levels are usually higher than 50 mIU/ml.
In case of men, a low sperm count is usually attributed to decreased production of FSH. Normal FSH levels in men range from 1.5 - 12.4 mIU/ml, and if the FSH levels are higher than 15 mIU/ml, one needs to undergo further tests in order to determine the underlying cause of abnormal FSH levels. 
Abnormal FSH levels can hamper a woman's ability to become pregnant and affect the sperm count in men. A variety of reproductive health issues may stem from abnormal FSH levels. 
Since abnormal levels of this hormone could result from pituitary gland disorders, chromosomal disorders or autoimmune diseases, a thorough medical checkup must be performed in order to assess the underlying cause of low or elevated FSH levels. If any disease is adversely affecting follicle stimulating hormone function, it must be treated at the earliest.