What is Progesterone?
We recently looked into the role of the female sex hormone estrogen and today we’ll explore the role of progesterone during menopause.
Progesterone is another female hormone from the progestogen group of steroid hormones.
Your reproductive system secretes progesterone during the second half of your menstrual cycle and the hormone functions principally to regulate the inner lining of your uterus. (1)
Progesterone also comes out to play in the first stages of pregnancy.
What, exactly, does progesterone do in your body then?
Why Your Body Needs It
Progesterone wears many hats.
As well as helping prepare your body for pregnancy and its role in the regulation of your menstrual cycle, the hormone also helps with sexual desire so it’s important that levels of progesterone remain at the right balance. We’ll look at what happens when you have unbalanced hormones in due course, whether that’s too much progesterone or a lack of it. (2)
Long before you’re worrying about babies or the menopause transition, progesterone helps with the development of your breasts.
When you reach your childbearing years, progesterone is produced alongside estrogen when an egg follicle develops. This bulks up the lining of your uterus. After ovulation, progesterone levels continue to rise. This is necessary to nourish fertilized eggs. (3)
So, aside from the way it influences sexual development and pregnancy, how about progesterone when you’re menopausal?
Progesterone During Menopause
When you’re postmenopausal you will have naturally lower levels of progesterone.
Normal levels, which can be measured with a blood test (some say not accurately) are anchored on age and gender. Other contributory factors relevant to a normal level of progesterone include whether or not you’re pregnant and where you’re at in your cycle.
Considering the main functions of progesterone relate to your menstrual cycle and pregnancy, it’s only natural that these levels dip during menopause as your ovaries start to shut down and you edge toward a new stage in your life.
So remember that it’s also perfectly OK to have lower levels of progesterone when you are menopausal, rather than earlier in your life when you were menstruating.
We’ll widen the net now to look at both sides of the coin in general, whether that’s having an excess of progesterone or levels that are worryingly low…
If you notice you’re suffering from irregular periods or a general whole-body fatigue, you might very well have flagging levels of progesterone.
If you’re concerned about unbalanced hormones, keep your eye out for any of the following symptoms: (4)
Common Symptoms of Too Little Progesterone
- Unexpected changes to your menstrual cycle
- Severe mood swings
- Lowered metabolism
- Weight gain
It always pays to voice any of your concerns with your healthcare provider. While it’s essential to remain vigilant for any symptoms and to do your own research, there’s no substitute for an appointment with your doctor to get to the root of the issue.
Treatment Options for Progesterone Deficiency
Even if you have low levels of progesterone, you might not experience any symptoms and treatment may very well be unnecessary. Again, it’s key to speak with your doctor and establish the best course of action, if any. (5)
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) might very well be recommended if you’re attempting to have a baby. This will enhance levels of progesterone so the hormone can thicken the lining of your uterus and improve your chances of carrying your baby to term. In most cases, you’ll take a combined therapy of both progesterone and estrogen. Just be aware of your health history and possible risks associated with HRT. (6)
If you’re menopausal, you won’t normally need to boost your progesterone levels since it’s predominantly estrogen that’s responsible for most symptoms during the change.
There are 3 simple natural ways you can fight back against progesterone deficiency:
- Consume more zinc-rich foods
- Take more vitamin B and C on board
- Manage stress levels
OK, now you’ve seen what to do about insufficient progesterone, how about if the pendulum swings too far the other way and levels are too high?
Too much Progesterone
If you experience any of the symptoms below, speak with your doctor and arrange for a test if necessary.
Common Symptoms of Too Much Progesterone
- Minor shifts in weight
- Slight tiredness
- Water retention
- Drop in libido
- Feeling sluggish in the morning
- Anxiety and tension
- Pain in the legs
Treatment Options for Excessive Progesterone
Since by far the most common cause of excessive progesterone is taking too much supplementation, treatment is normally as simple as cutting back on this.
Other simple steps you can take to lower progesterone include…
- Eliminate caffeine
- Cut back on exercise
- Effectively manage any stress
- Slash sugar and refined carbs from your diet