Prolactin and human weight disturbances: A puzzling and neglected association

Rev Endocr Metab Disord. 2019 Jun;20(2):197-206. doi: 10.1007/s11154-019-09503-1.


Weight gain at the outset of prolactinomas in many women is well documented. Yet, this symptom is absent from the clinical descriptions of the disease in textbooks and reviews. This omission is almost certainly due to the absence of a physiological explanation for the phenomenon, as prolactin is not a recognized fat promoting hormone. In this review we present the clinical evidence for a relationship between prolactin and fat accumulation and address some possible mechanisms involved. We put forward the hypothesis that prolactin is a component of a neuroendocrine program - maternal subroutine - aimed at optimizing the care of the young through the production of milk, promotion of maternal behavior and increase in the metabolic efficiency of the mother. These adaptations can enable her to face the extraordinary metabolic expenses of pregnancy and nursing, especially during times of suboptimal environmental conditions. We emphasize the uniqueness of prolactin in that it is a hormone that is tonically inhibited and which has its major effects on the regulation of an inter-individual (the mother - offspring dyad), rather than an intra-individual, system. This approach opens a window to consider the possibility of external events as regulators of this system. It also allows addressing a variety of hitherto unexplained findings reported in the literature. Examples include: association of prolactinomas with paternal deprivation and with stressful life events; pseudocyesis; acute life event-driven episodes of galactorrhea; episodes of rapid weight gain following a life event; prolactin surges (without associated cortisol surges) following some psychological stresses.

Keywords: Fat; Obesity; Prolactin; Prolactinoma; Pseudocyesis; Weight gain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Humans
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Prolactin / metabolism*
  • Prolactinoma / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism


  • Prolactin