In terms of femininity, oestrogen runs the show as the main female hormone. However, in regards to women’s health, the balance between oestrogen and progesterone is the key. Oestrogen is important, but the biggest problem that many women face these days is oestrogen dominance. Excess oestrogen in relation to progesterone can cause lots of symptoms. From less harmful like PMS, weight gain, bloating to more serious like cancer. On the other hand, progesterone doesn’t get that much attention as it has been mainly associated with pregnancy but there is so much more to that! The effects of low progesterone levels extend well beyond your menstrual cycle and can affect the quality of your life. Progesterone is known as calming, mood, sleep, libido and bone-enhancing hormone and has so many protective properties.
Progesterone decreases with age, stress, and excess physical activity
As we age our body produces less and less progesterone. Progesterone levels drops dramatically after age 30 and hit rock bottom in menopause. The thing is that progesterone drops faster than oestrogen, that’s why even with low oestrogen in menopausal age you can still struggle with oestrogen dominance symptoms.
There are few contributing factors to low progesterone, some of them we have no control over like age but the good thing is that most of them we can manage and bring back our hormones to desired levels.
What depletes/lower progesterone levels:
- Stress – number one enemy is stress. Pregnenolone is precursor of both progesterone and cortisol (stress hormone). If we are chronically stressed or can’t cope with stress well, your body will use the raw material (pregnenolone) to produce cortisol, not leaving much to produce progesterone
- Low thyroid function- Thyroid affects every cell in our body. Thyroid hormones are necessary not only to keep your metabolism and energy on point but also to make pregnenolone from cholesterol and as just mentioned pregnenolone is precursor of your progesterone. Moreover, thyroid stimulates progesterone release.
- Excess oestrogen and/or testosterone – both are antagonist. Too much of either of them will lower your progesterone.
- Excess sports and exercises – Over exercising can increase stress hormone. Since cortisol and progesterone share the same pathway, cortisol production will be prioritised in a ‘flight or fight’ mode as our body can’t differentiate whether you are working out or running away from the tiger.
- High prolactin – High prolactin can prevent from ovulation, thus progesterone increase in the second half of the cycle does not occur. Elevated prolactin can be caused by high levels of emotional/physical stress or poor blood glucose control.
- Nutrient deficiencies: magnesium, zinc, B6, vitamin C and vitamin E. All are needed for optimal progesterone production.
Symptoms of low progesterone
As you can see there are many potential factors that can mess with your progesterone levels. Nevertheless, if I had to point out two major ones, I would say stress and excess oestrogen. Stress depletes progesterone and excess oestrogen further disrupts oestrogen – progesterone ratio, at the same time increasing risk of various symptoms.
- Irregular periods, lack of ovulation, infertility
- Sleep problems
- Hot flashes
- Weight gain
- Sugar cravings
- Acne, dry and dull skin
- Depression, anxiety and mood swings
- Headaches and brain fog
- Joint pain
We should never look at hormones in isolation. When we talk about low progesterone, it’s always in reference to other hormones like oestrogen or testosterone. Apart from stress, excess oestrogen is the second most common cause of imbalance. We are surrounded by environmental xenoestrogens. Additionally inappropriate diet and birth control pills can make it even worse.
Why you need progesterone?
Progesterone is known as a hormone required to maintain pregnancy. But there are so many other functions that are often overlooked:
- Bone health- it promotes bone building cells, protecting against osteop and promotes new muscle growth. Low levels of progesterone are associated with compromised bone health and lead to brittle bones.
- Sleep – it enhances GABA – calming neurotransmitter which helps to reduce stress and induce sleep.
- Skin – it helps to maintain nice and glow skin.
- Energy and thyroid – Progesterone helps thyroid hormones to enter the cell, speed up your metabolism and boost energy.
- Mood – progesterone is natural anti-depressant. It can reduce anxiety, irritability and mood swings.
- Prevents oestrogen driven conditions – as a oestrogen antagonist, it can decrease risk and severity of PCOS, fibroids, endometriosis and breast and ovarian cancers.
- Protects your heart – progesterone causes vasodilation and can reduce blood pressure decreasing risk of blood vessel damage and development of cardiovascular diseases.
- Protects your brain – there is more research needed, but there are some indication that maintaining optimal progesterone levels can prevent Alzheimer and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Oestrogen drives our femininity; testosterone boosts sexual drive and progesterone is the ‘feel good’ hormone that its power is often underestimated and a bit neglected.
How can you boost your progesterone naturally?
There is no particular food rich in progesterone but there are certain nutrients and lifestyle changes that you can adapt to increase your progesterone levels
- Vitamin C (yellow peppers, kiwi, kale, oranges, broccoli)
- Zinc (seafood, beef, pumpkin seeds, nuts)
- Magnesium (Spinach, fish, dark chocolate, whole grains, nuts and seeds)
- Vitamin E (almonds, sunflower seeds)
- Vitamin B6 (Sunflower seeds, eggs, fish, turkey, dried fruits)
- Cruciferous vegetables (improve liver detox and excess hormone clearance).
- Fibre rich foods (soluble fibre preferable for better oestrogen excretion)
- Reduce stress (avoid triggers, try relaxation techniques, gentle exercise, walking in nature, cold showers)
- Reduce exposure to xenoestrogens (plastics, pesticides, tap water, chemicals found in cosmetics: lotions, shampoos and other body care products)
- Get enough sleep (at least 8 hours, best to go to bed before 11pm
- Manage your blood sugar (optimise it through diet)
- Reduce processed foods, sugars and refined carbs
- Try seed cycling
- Castor oil packs