We are kicking off 2019 with some focused articles on hormones, because so many people feel like their hormones aren’t in harmony. You might be one of them.
To start with, let’s talk about the power of progesterone.
To understand progesterone, look at its name: Pro = for, Gestation = pregnancy. Progesterone supports and maintains conception and pregnancy. Progesterone is getting your body ready for a pregnancy and helping to maintain it. It also does all sorts of other fabulous things when you’re not pregnant, and is essential for women’s health and wellbeing,
How do we make progesterone?
Progesterone is secreted by the corpus luteum, which is what becomes of your egg once you’ve ovulated. After ovulation, progesterone production will increase your body temperature, change cervical mucus, and prepare the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) for the implantation of an embryo. I think of progesterone as ‘making the bed’- creating a warm, juicy, wet nourishing nest for a baby to grow in. If there is no fertilisation, progesterone levels start to fall and then the ‘bed’ is shed as the next period.
If you do conceive, progesterone supports this, and the corpus luteum continues to be the main producer of progesterone until around the 3 month mark when the placenta takes over.
Progesterone is also produced in smaller amounts in the adrenal glands and the ovaries themselves.
The Goodness of Progesterone:
Pregnancy aside, here are some compelling reasons to want to have good levels of progesterone.
Good levels of progesterone will help you:
- Feel calm
- Sleep well
- Have a period that just arrives, without any major PMS fanfare!
- Have good hair growth
- Enjoy an easy menstrual period with light flow and comfort
- Reduce your risk of breast cancer
- Have better skin health, reduces acne
- Have better energy
- Support your thyroid function
- Have improved immune function
- Reduce your risk of autoimmune disease
- Build strong bones and muscle
- Reduce inflammation
- Improve your stress response
- Provide protection against heart disease
Some signs of low progesterone may be:
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Heavy menstrual bleeding
- Painful periods
- Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS): mood changes, fluid retention, breast tenderness, pimples, food cravings, etc
- Pre-menstrual spotting
- Recurrent miscarriage or fertility problems
- Hair Loss
- Premenstrual migraines
Why might we not have enough?
It is important to differentiate between having low progesterone, and having low relative progesterone. Either can produce symptoms. Low relative progesterone means that you may have a good level of progesterone but too much oestrogenic activity, so progesterone’s effects get ‘drowned out’. This is sometimes known as ‘oestrogen dominance’ and you can read more about that here.
Here are some of the reasons you may be having symptoms associated with low progesterone:
- You have too much oestrogen going on
- You’re not having a regular cycle with a healthy ovulation
- You are stressed: stress not only uses up the building blocks to make progesterone, but it also blocks progesterone receptors on your cells. This means you have too little progesterone and what you do have can’t do its work properly!
- You’re on ‘the pill’ (and so are not producing progesterone)
- You’re menopausal or perimenopausal
- You have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- Your thyroid needs extra support
“The Pill”: Why synthetic progestins are not the same as our natural progesterone.
Most oral contraceptive pills work by completely suppressing ovulation. If you don’t ovulate, you can’t get pregnant, so they are very effective. Some combination or combined oral contraceptive pills have both oestrogen and progestins, while the mini-pill contains just progestins. Progestins (such as levonorgestrel) used in oral contraceptives are not the same as your naturally occurring progesterone however. If you look at the long list of positive effects from progesterone, progestins give you none of these.
In contrast, progestins can:
- Cause blood clots (yep, the dangerous ones)
- Cause mood changes such as anxiety and depression
- Cause hair loss
- Increase the risk of breast cancer
This isn’t meant to scare you if you’re on an oral contraceptive pill, but just to help you be well-informed. Added to this, by suppressing your natural progesterone, progestins also mean you miss out on all the benefits of progesterone!
(By the way, in terms of hormonal medications, micronised or bioidentical progesterone is a whole different story, but isn’t used for contraception)
How to Pump Up Your Progesterone Naturally
- Promote a healthy ovulation and regular menstrual cycle
- Reduce stress in all its forms
- Support hormonal balance with Magnesium and B vitamins (especially B6) where needed. Also check iodine, zinc and selenium.
- Utilise herbal remedies such as Chaste Tree where appropriate (ask a medical herbalist)
- If you are on an oral contraceptive pill, look into alternative birth control methods
- Reduce inflammatory foods- this can be anything you yourself are sensitive to, but typically dairy, wheat, sugar and alcohol are great places to start. Lowering inflammation can help support ovulation and progesterone receptors.
- Seeing a naturopath or natural health practitioner can help you put all the puzzle pieces together.
For previous articles with a hormonal focus please read:
- PMS: Balancing Your Hormones
- Menopause and Peri-menopause: More Than Just Hot Flushing!
- Hormone Disruptors: Tipping a Delicate Balance
- Fertility Focus part 1: Natural Approaches to Making Healthy Babies
- Fertility Focus Part 2: Vitamins, Minerals and Nutrients for Optimal Fertility
- Adrenals – Stress, Salt, & Survival
- I’d like to celebrate here the work of both Lara Briden and Dr Libby Weaver, educating and empowering women to understand their hormonal health.