How to Naturally Support Progesterone Levels
Are you one of the millions of women suffering symptoms of low progesterone?
Read on to learn about this important female hormone, why it’s often in short supply and how to take action to support your progesterone levels.
Meet Your Progesterone
First, let’s introduce progesterone. In your menstruating years, it’s the dominant hormone in the second half of your monthly cycle, and produced mainly in your ovaries.
Progesterone helps prepare your body for pregnancy by thickening the lining of your uterus and it maintains pregnancy if an egg is fertilised. If no fertilised egg makes it into your uterus, progesterone levels drop and menstruation begins. It’s worth bearing in mind that unless you ovulate, your ovaries won’t make progesterone.
If your progesterone levels are low you may suffer from headaches, migraines, low mood, PMS, breast tenderness and menstrual issues especially heavy periods, irregular or absent periods, and you’ll find it difficult to maintain a pregnancy.
Post-menopause, your body doesn’t produce as much progesterone, but it’s still incredibly important. This is because progesterone isn’t only involved with fertility. It’s vital for brain and nervous system health, strong bones, breast health, cardiovascular health and thyroid function – the symptoms of low progesterone and hypothyroid are similar. It can help increase levels of your calming brain chemical GABA, so if you’re low in progesterone, you may feel anxious. If this wasn’t enough, it’s anti-inflammatory and supports healthy immune function.
Once past the menopause progesterone is mainly made in your adrenal glands, the same glands producing your stress hormones.
Oestrogen and Progesterone: A Special Relationship
If progesterone drops, there’s nothing to stop oestrogen climbing too high, because the two hormones have a very intimate relationship.
Overly high oestrogen combined with low progesterone is called oestrogen dominance, and it’s incredibly common, especially in the perimenopause, the years leading up to the menopause, when periods often go haywire. This is because you probably aren’t ovulating every month at this stage in your life, and no ovulation means no progesterone. Symptoms of oestrogen dominance can be similar to those of low progesterone, but also include weight gain, low libido, fibroids and sleeplessness.
- The Prime Suspect: Stress
Chronic stress very effectively depletes progesterone levels. It’s commonly believed this is because increased requirements for the stress hormone cortisol mean progesterone production is reduced because both are made from the same starting molecule.
Although this may not be the full story, it makes sense because in times of heightened stress your body will be in survival mode rather than thinking about reproduction.
- Cholesterol Shortage
Yes, you read that correctly. Rather than being a fatty, artery-clogging villain to be avoided at all costs, cholesterol has many important functions within your body, including creating progesterone. Luckily, your liver produces cholesterol for you and it’s present in certain foods.
- Environmental Oestrogens: Tipping The Seesaw
A huge amount of oestrogen-like substances circulate in the environment: xenoestrogens. Found all over the place, including in plastics, cleaners and skincare products, they’re far stronger than your body’s oestrogen and they’ll tip the scales in oestrogen’s favour.
- Poor Gut Health
Your gut can influence progesterone levels in several ways. Certain bacteria living in your gut help regulate oestrogen levels. They do this by releasing a substance converting used oestrogens, destined to be excreted, back into their active form where they’re released into the bloodstream, making oestrogen dominant again. In fact, it’s believed gut bacteria act a little like air traffic controllers for your hormones. If your gut bacteria are out of balance, your hormones will be too.
Certain plant foods like seeds and lentils contain natural but weak oestrogens. They can be useful in reducing oestrogen dominance because they compete against stronger oestrogens, working to reduce overall oestrogen levels and promoting healthy progesterone levels.
Plant fibre, as well as being crucial food for your gut bacteria, helps your intestinal contents move along at a healthy rate, reducing the likelihood of unwanted oestrogen being absorbed back into your bloodstream again.
Natural Ways to Support Your Progesterone Levels
Functional medicine is always looking for the causes behind your symptoms. Functional testing can reveal whether your hormones are out of kilter, but I’ll go one step further and ask what’s causing your hormones to be unbalanced.
Depending on your personal situation, your body can be encouraged to balance your hormones by stress reduction techniques alongside lifestyle modifications to prevent an overload of environmental oestrogens. Dietary recommendations will aim to restore nutrients important for progesterone production such as zinc, magnesium and B vitamins. Feeding your gut bacteria and ensuring your microbiome is healthy will encourage healthy hormone metabolism. We also work in collaboration with a hormone doctor if it’s felt natural hormone supplementation would benefit you.
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