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What Are the Effects of Prolactin in Males?

By C.B. Fox
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Prolactin is a hormone found in both males and females and is primarily responsible for the female's ability to produce milk. Though healthy males do not seem to make use of the hormone, the presence of low levels does not seem to have any adverse or undesirable effects on men. High levels of prolactin, however, interfere with the male's ability to produce testosterone, which can lead to a number of problems.

Both males and females normally have low levels of prolactin. In males, between 2 and 18 nanograms per milliliter is considered normal. At this concentration, the hormone does not interfere with the male sex hormones and causes no ill effects. It is believed that prolactin may be linked to immune function because certain immune cells have been shown to secrete small levels of it. It does not, however, appear that this hormone is necessary for proper immune response, so higher levels that are still within the normal range may not be indicative of greater immune health.

In mammals, prolactin is the primary hormone responsible for the production of milk and the enlargement of the mammary glands. Though only females nurse their young, males do have underdeveloped mammary glands. One of the effects of prolactin in males is that it can cause these glands to swell and, rarely, the presence of high levels of this hormone over a long period of time can cause males to produce small amounts of milk.

High levels of prolactin are also linked to low levels of testosterone. A deficiency of this male sex hormone can seriously interfere with a male's sex characteristics. The presence of too much prolactin in males can lead to the loss of sexual desire and a significantly lowered sperm count. Over time, too much can lead to temporary infertility and impotence. These symptoms go away when a male's prolactin level is returned to normal.

In addition to affecting sex characteristics, high levels of prolactin in men can lead to other problems related to the lack of testosterone. Fatigue is a common effect of low testosterone, as is a loss of muscle mass and of strength. If left untreated, high levels of prolactin can lead to loss of bone density, which greatly increases the chance of breaking or fracturing a bone, and can lead to loss of height as well.

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Discussion Comments

By anon956919 — On Jun 17, 2014

I have recently found out to have low testosterone and very high prolactin (41.7). I found a lump in my right chest, and I had a mammogram and sonogram done. Both came back negative. I am 40 years old and basically have no sex drive at all. I don't even think about it. I have never been that way. I could never get enough of it.

I am seeing my primary physician on Friday to get an explanation of my lab work. I keep stressing that it's going to be bad news.

By tlcJPC — On Oct 28, 2011

Increased prolactin in males can actually cause them quite a bit of distress if it isn’t diagnosed and appropriately treated quickly. I guess you could say that if testosterone is what makes a man feel manly, the increase of prolactin could literally strip him of his manliness.

It may not be something that can immediately be seen, but I’m sure it is obvious to the man that something is seriously wonky. I know that as a woman, when my hormones fluctuate I know it; so does everyone else in a twenty mile radius!

By nanny3 — On Oct 28, 2011

@Robbie21 – I have actually read about the same exact thing through a few different documentaries. (Yes, I have read documentaries own breastfeeding males. Yes, I know that’s weird.)

Actually, there was one particular case that was quite interesting. A young man whose wife was pregnant wanted to see if it were possible for him to lactate as well. He apparently meditated every day, envisioning himself producing milk and feeding a baby.

It seems to have worked because he did indeed help to feed their child.

I personally don’t see that it is altogether odd –maybe quite a bit odd, but not altogether odd – that a man could do this. I have often heard of women lactating and being able to feed their adopted children, or the biological children of their same sex partners.

By ysmina — On Oct 27, 2011

@turkay1-- I'm a nurse and I see a lot of male patients who experience adverse physical effects due to hormone imbalances. As far as I know, enlargement of breasts due to obesity is completely separate from enlarged breasts caused by high levels of prolactin in males.

Most of our patients who experience this have high levels of prolactin as a side effect of medications they have been taking or because of a dysfunction of hormone releasing organs. Very rarely, it can be caused by a tumor as well.

Of course diet and fitness have a lot of impact on hormones. So it's possible that obesity could cause an imbalance in prolactin hormones. But we can't say that all obese men will experience this imbalance.

By candyquilt — On Oct 26, 2011

I sometimes see men who are obese and have enlarged breasts. Is there a connection between obesity and prolactin production?

Could it be possible that the obesity triggers more prolactin hormone to be produced in the body and that leads to enlargement of breasts?

By robbie21 — On Oct 26, 2011

There have actually been cases when males have been able to produce enough milk to fully or partially nourish a child! I'm not sure if takes unusually elevated prolactin levels--that is, I'm not sure if just any man could do it--but it has been observed both in humans and the wild.

It may seem "weird," but keep in mind that formula (or "artificial baby milk," as it's known in the industry) is about as unnatural as it gets.

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