The Power of Progesterone!
When thinking about hormones and especially women’s hormones, we automatically think of estrogen. But do you know that progesterone is EQUALLY as important and is responsible for so many important functions of the female body?
So what is progesterone?
Progesterone is a hormone produced by the corpus luteum, within the ovaries. The corpus luteum is a temporary endocrine gland that the female body produces each month, after ovulation.
Progesterone is also produced by the fully developed placenta during pregnancy.
What does progesterone do?
Progesterone’s most important job is to maintain pregnancy. It is very important that women who are trying to conceive ensure that they have adequate progesterone levels. In patients with a history of miscarriage(s), progesterone evaluation and supplementation may be recommended; especially during the first trimester.
Progesterone is responsible for keeping the uterine lining, called the endometrium, thick and healthy. If fertilization (egg meets sperm) does not occur, the corpus luteum breaks down into the corpus albicans and progesterone production ceases (see graphic below). This decrease in progesterone causes the shedding of the uterine lining; this is known as “menstruation.”
Progesterone is also responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle, easing the transition into menopause, improving fertility, promoting sleep and relaxation and most importantly, progesterone is essential to balance out estrogen levels in all women.
What are some signs of low progesterone?
- irregular menstrual cycles
- painful menstrual cycles
- heavy menstrual bleeding
- amenorrhea or absent menstrual cycles
- difficulty conceiving
- spotting between periods
- spotting during pregnancy
- frequent miscarriages
- low libido
- weight gain
- poor memory or concentration
- breast pain or tenderness
- mood swings
What are some reasons that your progesterone may be low?
- chronic stress
- excess androgens
- poor diet
- poor or inadequate sleep
- estrogen dominance
- hypothalamic dysfunction
- pituitary dysfunction
As a note, post-menopausal women, women who no longer ovulate, experience a natural decrease in progesterone. This decrease in progesterone often times results in hot flashes, hair loss, vaginal dryness, poor memory, urinary incontinence, uterine fibroids, depression and mood swings. To avoid these symptoms, it is very important to talk to your Naturopathic Doctor about ways to monitor and improve progesterone levels during peri-menopause, menopause and post-menopause.
How do I find out if my progesterone is low?
Our Naturopathic Doctors at Natural Choice Medical Clinic recommend completing a D.U.T.C.H. (dried urine test for comprehensive hormones) test for the most comprehensive and detailed report of hormone status. In some specific cases, your Naturopathic Doctor may recommend blood or salivary testing to assess progesterone levels.
In menstruating/ovulating women, it is recommended that progesterone testing be completed on day 21 of the menstrual cycle. This is the time during a woman’s cycle when progesterone should be at its highest. If your cycles are irregular or absent, speak with your Naturopathic Doctor about the best day for testing.
How can my Naturopathic Doctor help me to improve my progesterone levels?
Your Naturopathic Doctor will present many treatment options for improving progesterone levels.
Diet: increase fibre in the diet to aid in the flushing of excess estrogen, reduce caffeine and alcohol intake and adopt a more organic diet to reduce exposure to excess estrogen. Your Naturopathic Doctor will be able to suggest the best sources of fibre and estrogen detoxifying foods.
Reduce stress: the more cortisol that our bodies make, the less progesterone we are able to make. The same hormone precursor is used to make both cortisol and progesterone so it is important to make sure that stress does not steal all of your potential progesterone. Your Naturopathic Doctor may suggest breathing exercises, gentle exercises like yoga, proper sleep hygiene, acupuncture and/or meditation to help reduce stress levels.
Weight loss: excess adipose tissue (fat) stores a large amount of estrogen. To reduce estrogen dominance, thereby improving progesterone deficiency, it may be beneficial to adopt a weight loss plan. Your Naturopathic Doctor can help you determine proper caloric intake, the best exercises for you and can create a custom meal plan to aid in achieving your goal.
Herbs and supplements: herbal medicine and nutrient supplementation are gentle and yet very effective therapies when trying to improve progesterone levels. Your Naturopathic Doctor may suggest herbs and supplements such as Chasteberry, Maca, Wild Yam Root, GLA (gamma-Linolenic acid) and/or DIM (diindolylmethane).
Bio-identical progesterone: your Naturopathic Doctor may prescribe bio-identical progesterone cream or suppositories as a means of increasing your progesterone levels. Regular follow up visits and testing are required to ensure that the proper dose is being administered.
What is bio-identical progesterone? Who can prescribe it?
Bio-identical hormone therapy is considered to be the natural alternative to synthetic hormone therapy. Bio-identical progesterone is derived from plant sources and acts in the body just as the progesterone that our bodies naturally make. Therefore bio-identical progesterone is more bio-available to our bodies. This means fewer side effects and quicker improvements. Dr. Harmonie Eleveld and Dr. Kelsey Duncan are able to evaluate your progesterone levels and prescribe the appropriate bio-identical hormones needed. Each prescription is made specifically for the individual patient at a compounding pharmacy.
*graphic 1: Repropedia. http://www.repropedia.org/corpus-luteum. October 23, 2017
*graphic 2: Biology Stack Exchange. https://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/48007/why-do-fsh-and-lh-hormones-drop-in-diagram-when-maturing-follicle-and-does-size. October 23, 2017.