Progesterone—the women’s hormone you need to know about!

Estrogen, one of our other female hormones gets a lot of press. Cliché comments such as “there’s a lot of estrogen in this room” and hearing about “lack of estrogen” as we get into menopausal years. The one thing you need to know is that hormones, chemical messengers in our body, don’t function in a vacuum. They are interdependent on other hormones, enzymes, and a whole host of other factors within our bodies.  So, I’d like to introduce you to a very important hormone in your body---PROGESTERONE!

Progesterone is a balancing hormone, and by that I mean it is crucial to balancing out your more well-known hormone, estrogen.  While estrogen builds...progesterone maintains or makes sure this building is getting excessive. For example, during your menstrual cycle, estrogen stimulates the growth of your uterine lining within your womb.  Progesterone holds this lining in place, and prevents it from getting too thick. It is also the hormone responsible for keeping this lining held tight while we are pregnant. Estrogen is the hormone that causes our breasts to develop during puberty, and progesterone balances this potential for further growth each month by preventing fibrocystic breasts (painful lumps with in the breast which fluctuate with your periods).

Progesterone also serves to keep estrogen from being our dominant hormone—thereby preventing estrogen excess or otherwise called “estrogen dominance.”  I’ll present more about that in a future blog.

Why do I want you to know about this hormone, (other than I’m geeky when it comes to hormones and find them fascinating?)

1)      Progesterone starts declining at about age 35 in women.  Ah-Hah! That may be one reason you are noticing some “unbalanced things” happening in your moods, periods, and sleep!

2)      Stress causes hormones to be released that “steal” our progesterone---so the cycle begins of more stress---more of a hormone called Cortisol—which then robs us of more of our progesterone—making our moods, periods, and sleep get even more out of sync!

3)      Progesterone is one of the main hormones involved in keeping you feeling good and balanced.  It stimulates something called GABA receptors in the brain.  Believe me, we want to be tapping into these receptors ladies! Usually we don’t notice this until we are “unbalanced” and irritable, and many women only feel good in the first half of their menstrual cycles (Day 1 equals first day of good flowing bleeding continuing for about 2 weeks-depending on the length of your cycle).

4)      Progesterone imbalances can be part of the underlying root problems for some of the following women’s health concerns:

·         PMS

·         Anxiety, especially if aggravated in the 2 weeks before your period and during it

·         Insomnia, especially around periods

·         Some fertility challenges

·         Endometriosis

·         Heavy periods (usually because the estrogen balance is off due to low progesterone)

·         Irregular periods

·         Premenstrual abdominal bloating

How do I know if I have low progesterone?

If you are not having regular periods, it is likely your progesterone balance is off.  If you know you do not ovulate (for example, you track your periods via basal body temperature, cervical mucus charting, or ovulation predictor kits).  You’ve had a blood, urine or saliva test with a health care provider in the luteal phase (2nd half of your menstrual cycle) and it is low. 

What can I do to balance my progesterone?

·         One of the key factors is balancing your estrogen—look for information about estrogen in the next blog.

·         Avoiding non-organic meats and dairy whenever possible as these animals are given antibiotics and growth hormones that end up in their tissues and milk. 

·         Managing stress—this is a whole 15 page blog post in itself—but doing little things daily like taking the time to sit and read a favorite book—even if it’s for 5 minutes (I have 2 kids, work full-time—I know the reality factor here!), exercising, taking a bath (bath, what?? Remember those?).  Though we can’t avoid stress—we can change our mind about how we REACT to stress.  Meditation can be a huge help with learning breathing techniques and how to work with thoughts.

·         Herbs/Supplements/Foods that help your body naturally increase progesterone:

--Vitamin C—from foods or supplements—750 mg a day

--B Vitamins—a B-Complex is often a great choice

--Selenium---often in a multivitamin, but an easy source is through Brazil Nuts

--Chaste tree Berry (Vitex agnus-castus): My go-to herb form many women’s health issues. This herb can safely help with restoring progesterone balance.  Start with 500mg/day and move up to 1000mg/day if tolerated. Take throughout the month.


What if I need more help?

 Hormones are complicated—sometimes helping the body find balance again can be confusing, especially when it comes to hormones.  Work with an experienced health care provider—herbalists, naturopathic physicians and functional medicine providers (MDs, NP’s, CNM’s, PA’s etc.) can help you navigate these waters and guide you to finding optimal hormone balance.  And, sometimes after lifestyle and other hormone evaluations have been done, we can benefit from bio-identical hormones, especially in our peri-menopausal and menopausal years, or with fertility challenges.  Ask your provider if they work with these tools. And, don’t despair—there are natural solutions to most challenges we face with constantly changing hormones!