Progesterone is a female sex hormone produced mainly in the ovaries following ovulation each month. It’s a crucial part of the menstrual cycle and maintenance of pregnancy.
Progesterone is responsible for:
promoting full development of the fetus through pregnancy
preventing secondary sexual development
increasing libido around ovulation
activating osteoblasts to increase new bone formation
protecting against endometrial, breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer
normalizing blood clotting
signs and symptoms of low progesterone
Low progesterone can cause a variety of symptoms, some obvious and some subtle. Many of the symptoms of low progesterone coincide with symptoms of other health issues, so be aware that just because you may have some of these, it doesn’t always mean your progesterone levels are low, but of course it’s worth looking into.
irregular cycles: this could mean that your cycles are longer or shorter than normal, come sporadically, or you don’t have a period at all.
short cycles: this is also usually known as Luteal Phase Defect; cycles are usually less than 25 days.
menstrual issues: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), Endometriosis, mid-cycle spotting, severe menstrual cramps and PMS symptoms like swollen breasts and water retention.
infertility: difficulty conceiving, recurrent early miscarriage(s), not ovulating.
loss of energy and sex drive: low libido, “foggy” brain, memory lapses, chronic fatigue.
emotional issues: depression, anxiety, mood swings, heart palpitations, and sleep disturbances.
skin issues: acne, facial hair, brittle nails, cracked and dry skin.
metabolism: weight gain, low thyroid, water retention, and obesity.
other medical issues: allergy symptoms, migraines, joint pains, hot flashes, night sweats, incontinence, and bone loss.
Check out this post where I talk about Estrogen Dominance and what that looks like!
what causes low progesterone?
Progesterone levels fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle – levels peak about seven days before your period, and can even vary in the course of a single day. But what actually causes low progesterone in a woman? It’s hard to nail down just one reason, so here are a couple:
Cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, is released whenever we’re feeling stressed. When this happens, it blocks your body’s progesterone receptors and inhibits the hormone’s activity.
Estrogen and progesterone work like a seesaw, so as one goes up the other goes down. We live in an estrogen-dominant world, and we’re bombarded by environmental estrogens, or xenoestrogens, every single day. They’re in our foods and in our environment. They trick the body into thinking that your estrogen levels are higher than what they really are, and progesterone levels suffer as a result.
low progesterone and fertility
Progesterone plays several important parts in your fertility and pregnancy: not only does it maintain the lining of the uterus, allowing a fertilized egg to attach and survive, it also helps your body change your cervical mucous to allow for fertilization and promotes the full development of the fetus throughout pregnancy.
Progesterone prevents your immune system from rejecting the embryo as a foreign object, allowing for the development of the fetus.
And ultimately, progesterone aids the body in metabolizing fat for energy for you and the baby.
natural remedies to help live a balanced life with low progesterone
There are many ways to naturally support progesterone production!
As with any major diet and lifestyle changes, it takes at least 6-12 months of consistent change, along with natural therapies to bring about real change in the body when living with low progesterone. So don’t give up when things get tough, I promise that these changes will be worth it in the long run!
diet and nutrition
The most important dietary change you can make to optimize progesterone levels is to keep your blood sugar nice and steady, which keeps your adrenal glands happy and hormone levels in check. This means including high quality protein and healthy fats and vegetables at every meal and snack. Stay away from refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods.
It’s also important to focus on eating foods containing magnesium, zinc, vitamins B6 and C, all believed to boost progesterone levels. These are some foods you can add to your diet to boost your body’s progesterone levels:
grass-fed red meat
Don’t be overwhelmed by supplement options that help increase progesterone production! I’ve rounded up my fav five to help you navigate the supplement world:
Magnesium: Not only does magnesium allow the body to absorb calcium, it also regulates the pituitary gland, which in turn regulates hormone levels. The pituitary gland regulates the production of FSH (follicular stimulating) and LH (luteinizing) that in turn regulate the production of estrogen and progesterone. When it is lacking, your body will produce less of necessary hormones that keep your reproductive system in good shape. Boosting your magnesium can help to heal PMS, PCOS, adrenal fatigue, menopausal symptoms, and all other hormone-cycle related health problems. And the great news is that once your magnesium levels are balanced, the positive changes happen fast.
Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 helps to regulate your hormones. One research study has shown that taking Vitamin B6 at doses of 200-800 mg/day can reduce blood estrogen levels, increase progesterone levels and result in improvements in PMS symptoms. Research has also shown that women with high levels of Vitamin B6 have lowered their chances of miscarriage by 50% and improved their fertility by 120%.
Maca: Maca works by controlling estrogen and progesterone in the body. Estrogen or progesterone levels that are high or low at the wrong time can keep a woman from becoming pregnant or keep her from carrying a pregnancy to term. Excess estrogen levels also cause progesterone levels to decline, known as estrogen dominance. Taking maca may help to balance the estrogen to progesterone ratio which is essential to getting pregnant successfully and carrying a healthy, full term pregnancy.
Check out this blog post to find out why maca is GREAT for fertility.DIM-Evail: DIM (diindolylmethane), is a compound that helps to support healthy estrogen metabolism. DIM balances the hormones by breaking down estrogen and removing it from the body. As we already know, too much estrogen leads to lowered progesterone production. By cleansing the body of excess estrogens, DIM can help your body balance its progesterone levels.
Vitex: Vitex is one of the most powerful herbs for women’s fertility and menstrual health. There are numerous studies and testimonials of Vitex and its effects on the body. One of the reasons Vitex is so effective and popular is because of its ability to balance hormones while not containing hormones itself. Vitex supports hormonal balance in the body by having an effect on the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis (hormonal feedback loop), correcting the problem at the source. Typical dose is 1000 mg per day.
Lifestyle changes are some of the most effective ways to help naturally boost progesterone levels. The following lifestyle suggestions compliment your dietary and nutrition changes. I suggest implementing as many of the following as possible.
clean up your environment
The easiest, and potentially the most important change to make, is to limit your exposure to xenoestrogens. What exactly are xenoestrogens? They are substances not naturally found in nature that have hormonal effects on the body. They have an estrogenic effect on both the male and female bodies. Because estrogen and progesterone work like a seesaw, as one goes up the other goes down, so increased estrogen exposure causes progesterone deficiency. These toxic substances are easily absorbed through the skin and build up in the body over time.
So what do xenohormones look like in our daily lives? Here’s what you need to avoid:
non-organic meat from conventionally raised livestock
body care products containing chemicals like parabens and sulfates
non-organic fruits and vegetables (sprayed with pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides)
Excess estrogen is stored in adipose tissue—body fat. Being overweight or obese contributes to hormonal imbalance because fat cells are known to change the hormone produced by the ovaries called androstenedione into estrogen. Estrogen is then stored in these fat cells and slowly released into the body. The more body fat, the more potential for excess circulating estrogen, and the less progesterone that your body produces.
Keeping in mind that too much exercise can also lead to low progesterone—excessive activity can actually have a negative impact on your hormone levels, progesterone in particular. I encourage you to sweat every day, but limit your amount of high intensity training and overexercising. Whether it be yoga, hiking, cycling, or working up a sweat in a HIIT class, find whatever activity you enjoy and make a habit out of it!
One common symptom of low progesterone is irregular menstrual cycles. Lunaception can help to regulate your cycles, and bring some hormonal balance back to your body. This practice focuses on sleeping in complete darkness except for 3 nights out of your cycle/month. This is what our bodies are traditionally used to when we would only be exposed to light at nighttime during the 3 nights around the full moon.
Darkness is closely tied to optimal hormone production, and when we sleep in a room with light pollution from street lamps, nightlight, and alarm clocks, it can disrupt the natural production of hormones while we sleep.
To practice lunaception, you need to sleep in complete* darkness from the beginning of your cycle until day 13. Starting on day 13, and then on days 14 and 15, use a dim night-light to sleep, or even better google the moon cycles and base your “nightlight” nights on the day before, the day of, and the day after the full moon. The rest of the time you sleep in total darkness. After a month or two, you should find that you ovulate at the full moon and experience menstruation at the new moon.
* To ensure complete darkness, I recommend blacking out your room entirely – that means no LED lights from alarm clocks, fire alarms, TV’s, etc! You can get blackout curtains or, even just a sleeping mask to keep all light out.
Bioidentical progesterone is very useful to balance excess estrogen. Natural progesterone can also be used by the body as a precursor or starting material to make other hormones such as adrenal hormones. It can even convert it into estrogen or testosterone if your body needs it.
Natural progesterone is used for a variety of reasons including:
relief from PMS symptoms, such as painful cramps, and menopause symptoms
a normalized menstrual cycle, including relieving menstrual-related allergies
relief from breast pain and tenderness
prevention of miscarriage
There is also research and medical theory indicating the appropriate balance of progesterone:
reduces the risk of breast cancer
protects the uterus from estrogen-induced endometrial hyperplasia (an overgrowth or thickening of the uterus lining)
reduces the risk of osteoporosis
helps to manage affective disorders such as depression
Progesterone, which plays a crucial role in brain function, is often called the “feel good hormone” because of its mood-enhancing and antidepressant effects.
Natural progesterone oil is applied to the vaginal tissue. It’s important to be supervised and to have progesterone levels monitored because too much progesterone can cause side effects as mood changes, depression, water retention, weight gain, and absent or abnormal menstrual bleeding.
To read more about dosing and how bioidentical progesterone works, see Increasing Progesterone with Bioidentical Progesterone.
High stress levels can lead to lower progesterone production. Cortisol—your body’s “stress hormone”—is a hormone involved in the stress response, but is also needed to make other hormones (such as progesterone). Prolonged stress can lead to elevations in cortisol, which may decrease the available progesterone and result in a hormonal imbalance.
The present world is filled with stress, that’s non-negotiable. But how you respond and react to stress is entirely in your control. Practice managing your daily stressors with ease. My favorite tools for this are: restorative yoga, long slow walks in nature, biofeedback, a hot bath, a massage, or whatever else brings your unique soul pleasure! This may be one of the most important things you can do to naturally increase your progesterone levels!
in a nutshell
Progesterone is a crucial part of the menstrual cycle and maintenance of pregnancy.
Progesterone plays several important parts in your fertility and pregnancy: not only does it maintain the lining of the uterus, allowing a fertilized egg to attach and survive, it also helps your body change your cervical mucous to allow for fertilization.
You CAN naturally increase low progesterone levels through diet and lifestyle changes!
Spread some balanced living with a hormone imbalance: low progesterone edition lovin’! Sharing is caring, and I bet you have some friends who would love to read this too :).
Looking to have a more in-depth conversation about how to live harmoniously with low progesterone? Schedule a one on one consultation with me!
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