Progesterone is a female sex hormone that’s essential for regulating menstruation and supporting pregnancy. When progesterone and estrogen are in balance, they work together to maintain the health of the female reproductive system, but sometimes progesterone levels can drop too low, signalling a hormone imbalance and leaving you with unpleasant symptoms. Low progesterone can result in fertility and menstrual problems, high anxiety and low mood, insomnia, fatigue and more. Take a look at what you can do if you suspect you have a hormone imbalance, plus when you should see a doctor for low progesterone.
What Is Progesterone and Why Is It Important?
Progesterone is a hormone released by the corpus luteum in the ovaries. It plays an essential role in the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and fertility. Progesterone levels change throughout your menstrual cycle and are closely associated with the ovulation process.
For most women, progesterone is naturally low during the follicular, or beginning phase of the menstrual cycle. Once ovulation occurs, then the luteal phase begins and progesterone levels peak to prepare the body for potential pregnancy.
Progesterone is sometimes called the “pregnancy hormone” because of the role it plays in getting pregnant and maintaining pregnancy. It gets the uterus ready to accept, implant and maintain a fertilized egg, and if you become pregnant, it helps create an environment that nurtures the developing baby.
10 Symptoms of Low Progesterone
1. Low libido
2. Hot flashes
3. Migraines or headaches
4. Anxiety, depression or mood changes
5. Irregular periods or absence of your period
6. Heavy bleeding or spotting between periods
7. Fatigue and foggy thinking
8. Sleep disturbances
9. Slow metabolism and weight gain around the stomach
10. Infertility and/or miscarriage
5 Causes of Low Progesterone
1. Anovulatory Cycle
An anovulatory cycle, or anovulation, is when ovulation doesn’t occur. Since no egg is released, there isn’t an empty follicle left behind to produce progesterone. Lack of ovulation can result for a number of reasons, including PCOS and certain types of birth control.
2. Chronic Stress
Chronically high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the body can lead to functional hypothalamic amenorrhea, which is a stress-induced lack of menstruation and ovulation. When the body produces high levels of cortisol, it essentially “steals” the resources required to make progesterone, so your progesterone levels drop.
3. Thyroid Issues
Issues with the thyroid, particularly hypothyroidism (when the thyroid is under active), can cause low progesterone. If you have hypothyroidism, the hormones that regulate your endocrine system aren’t produced in high enough amounts, making it difficult for your body to create enough progesterone.
Hyperprolactinemia is a condition caused by increased production of the hormone prolactin by the pituitary gland. Prolactin negatively affects the production of sex hormones, leading to a decrease in progesterone and disruption of the menstrual cycle.
5. Abnormal Body Weight
Progesterone levels can be affected by both a high and low body fat percentage. The body needs a certain amount of body fat to perform necessary functions, and to cycle naturally and ovulate. If you fail to ovulate, you won’t produce progesterone. On the flip side, abnormally high fat levels can cause an overproduction of estrogen, as fat cells produce estrogen. Estrogen and progesterone are supposed to be balanced, so excess estrogen can lead to low progesterone.
5 Natural Remedies for Low Progesterone
1. Reduce Stress
Chronic stress can elevate the levels of stress hormones, which can affect the ovaries and sex hormones. It’s important to find healthy ways to manage and minimize stress. What works can vary from person to person, but try things like meditation, yoga, breathing techniques and exercise to reduce stress as much as possible. Also, try to figure out your stress triggers and avoid them as much as you can.
2. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Getting poor quality sleep can elevate your stress hormones and cause other hormonal imbalances. Quality sleep is important for everyone, but is especially crucial if your hormones are imbalanced. Prioritize healthy sleep hygiene and aim for 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night. Sticking to a sleep schedule, creating a restful, stress-free sleep environment and getting physical activity during the day can all help you sleep better at night.
3. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight or underweight can lead to progesterone deficiency. People who have obesity may have hormone imbalances and insulin resistance, which can affect ovulation, fertility and the production of progesterone. Maintaining a moderate, healthy weight can help keep hormone levels balanced.
4. Regular Exercise
Regular physical activity can reduce levels of cortisol, the main stress hormone. Since high levels of cortisol can suppress progesterone and lead to hormonal imbalances, it’s important to try to reduce cortisol as much as possible. Try jogging, walking, biking, yoga, Pilates and resistance training. Note that strenuous and excessive exercise can actually increase cortisol levels, so focus on moderate-intensity activity like the exercises listed here.
5. Get Your Vitamins
No foods contain progesterone but certain nutrients can help foster the environment needed to support your body to boost progesterone levels. Vitamin C can help increase progesterone levels and correct luteal phase issues. Good sources include sweet potato, strawberries, broccoli, tomatoes and Brussels sprouts. Zinc helps encourage ovulation and can boost progesterone. Oysters, shrimps, red meat, pumpkin and cashews are great sources of zinc. Magnesium helps keep you calm and can also reduce estrogen dominance, and can be found in leafy greens, black beans, lentils and whole grain brown rice.
When to See a Doctor
You should see a doctor if you notice symptoms of low progesterone, especially symptoms related to your menstrual cycle, such as irregular periods or spotting between periods. If you’re concerned and trying to conceive, speak to your doctor, who may direct you to a gynaecologist or an endocrinologist.
If you’re having signs of low progesterone, consult your doctor and try these natural remedies to balance your hormones.
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