Progesterone is, of course, very important to our hormonal health and reproductive system. It is one of the hormones that plays a vital role in regulating many of the bodies functions – especially a woman’s cycle. It also plays a very large role in maintaining a pregnancy, so being progesterone deficient can have drastic effects.
During the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, progesterone is produced by the collapsed follicle until either the period begins (which then marks the start of a new cycle and lower progesterone levels) or until the placenta takes over for producing the progesterone during a pregnancy.
One of progesterone’s most important functions is to cause the endometrium to secrete special proteins during the second half of the menstrual cycle, preparing it to receive and nourish an implanted fertilized egg. If implantation does not occur, estrogen and progesterone levels drop, the endometrium breaks down and menstruation occurs.
If a pregnancy occurs, progesterone is produced in the placenta, and levels remain elevated throughout the pregnancy. The combination of high estrogen and progesterone levels suppress further ovulation during pregnancy. Progesterone also encourages the growth of milk-producing glands in the breast during pregnancy. (source)
Other Roles of Progesterone:
- helps normalize blood sugar levels
- boosts thyroid function
- helps us use fat for energy
- has beneficial anti-inflammatory effects
- reduces swelling and inflammation
(from What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Premenopause, available on Amazon*)
Symptoms of Low Progesterone
Many of the symptoms of low progesterone also coincide with symptoms of other health issues, so be aware that just because you may have some of these, it doesn’t mean you’re low on progesterone, but of course it’s definitely worth looking into.
- a luteal phase less than 12 days
- sugar cravings
- ovarian cysts
- low basal body temperatures
- irregular periods
- allergy symptoms
- spotting in the days before your period begins
- recurrent early miscarriage
- blood clots during menstruation
- cold hands and feet
- brittle nails
- cracked heels
- decreased sex drive
- menstrual cramps
- depression or anxiety
- fibrocystic breasts
- gallbladder issues
- Foggy thinking
- headaches and migraines
- vaginal dryness
- slow metabolism
- mood swings
- weight gain, especially around the middle
Over the summer I read What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Premenopause by Dr. John Lee and highly recommend it to anyone needing to know more about natural hormone balance. He discusses at length why we may be low in progesterone and how to use a natural progesterone cream to help rectify the issue. Below are just a few of my notes.
- xeno-estrogens/xeno-hormones make us estrogen dominant. They come from plastics, synthetic hormones, conventional meats and animal products, etc. This exposure can result in low progesterone. If our mothers were exposed to it, it can cause dysfunction in her daughters ovarian follicles.
- the embryonic stage of life is when ovarian tissues are most sensitive to the toxicity of xeno-hormones
- xeno-hormones are fat soluble (meaning the body absorbs and holds on to them) and non-biodegradable
- Stress increases levels of cortisol, which blocks progesterone from its receptors in the body. Too much stress and progesterone won’t get where it needs to go.
- Using huge amounts of supplements over the long-term may result in another imbalance in the body.
- Our bodies release mood and energy enhancing chemicals (like adrenaline) to fight allergic responses to food – we are hooked on what we’re allergic to!
- Exercising too hard lowers antioxidant levels in the body. Moderate exercise raises levels.
This book also went into the explanation of natural progesterone creams, which aren’t truly natural; a better name is bio-identical. You see, the progesterone in our bodies is produced nowhere else in nature. Dioscorea mexicana is a plant that is part of the yam family native to Mexico. It has a steroid called diosgenin that is taken from the plant and is converted into progesterone by changing the cellular structure.
Naturally Boosting Progesterone
1. Progesterone, like all other steroid hormones, is synthesized from pregnenolone, which in turn is derived from cholesterol (source) so making sure you have adequate consumption of dietary cholesterol is very important.
2. The herb vitex (available on Amazon*) is also helpful as it works to lower estrogen and raise progesterone simultaneously.
3. Turmeric, found in curry, is known to help increase the body’s progesterone levels. Other herbs such as thyme and oregano are thought to have the same properties. (source)
4. Increasing the intake of foods rich in vitamin B
5. A diet low in conventional meats and animal products, as many times the hormones given to them act as estrogens in the body. Choose organic and preferably grass-fed products.
6. Don’t use plastics, canned foods, or conventional cleaners and beauty products. Most of them contain estrogen like compounds that cause a body to be estrogen dominant.
7. Ensure enough magnesium intake. (I’ve been using a magnesium oil, which I buy on Amazon*)
8. Eat plenty of protein each day with each meal – hormones need protein for production.
9. Consume plenty of vegetables, fruits, and especially dark leafy greens. These micro-nutrients are important for progesterone production.
10. Use a bio-identical progesterone cream*. The one I have used is from Beeyoutiful*. While all natural progesterone within the cream is the same, the other ingredients in it make a big difference. Some creams and lotions actually contain xeno-estrogens – kind of contradicting what the cream is meant to do! Beeyoutiful’s cream contains just coconut oil, jojoba oil, avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil infused with organic wild yam root, organic comfrey root, and cayenne, 1000 mg USP progesterone, sweet orange essential oil, rosemary essential oil, candelilla wax, beeswax. From my limited experience with it, it goes on easily, absorbs quickly, and has no smell.
I don’t think progesterone cream is a fix-all, but may help in the short-term as you also figure out how to increase your body’s own progesterone production.
11. Practice Lunaception to raise progesterone. In Katie Singer’s book “Garden of Fertility” she mentions that progesterone can be strengthened by sleeping in total darkness all but 3 days out of the cycle.
12. Take care of your adrenal glands. When your adrenal glands are fatigued (due to frequent physical, emotional, or mental stress) the precursor to progesterone (DHEA) is used to make cortisol instead of progesterone. A 24-hour adrenal saliva test can show you what your cortisol levels are throughout the day and may be helpful is helping you heal the body.
If you’ve been found to have low progesterone, how did you go about fixing the problem?
More reading: Progesterone and the Luteal Phase