Next up in this series on hormones, we have progesterone, which is another one of our main sex hormones.
Unlike estrogen which comes in three different forms, progesterone comes in one form and is most important in the second half of the female cycle.
Progesterone is produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands, and is synthesized from cholesterol (see why we need healthy fats!) through another hormone called pregnenolone, or our “mother hormone.” We need enough progesterone to balance estrogen so that, as we discussed last week, we don’t develop any type of estrogen dominance. Progesterone also plays a key role in getting pregnant and maintaining a healthy pregnancy. Plus, it’s also a natural anti-depressant, muscle relaxant, burns fat for energy, stimulates new bone growth, and helps calm and focus brain function.
With regards to the female cycle, progesterone is low in the first half of the cycle and then slowly increases as we enter the luteal phase (second half) of the cycle. It rises in response to the luteinizing hormone surge and drop in estrogen that occurs with and after ovulation. Then, it looks like a nice bell curve over the next 12ish days, peaking around day 23. This bell curve matches the health of the corpus luteum, which is what forms during ovulation in preparation for pregnancy with the dominant follicle/egg that is selected in the first half of the cycle. The corpus luteum is what, if fertilized, keeps the fetus (baby) alive and nourished until the placenta takes over at 10 weeks gestation. We see the drop in progesterone start when the corpus luteum dies/degenerates (because it’s not fertilized) and it continues to drop until the end of the cycle.
Because most women struggle with hormone imbalances related to progesterone, we tend to see a lot of these symptoms pop up:
Symptoms of High Progesterone:
Stubborn candida (fungal overgrowth in the gut)
Exacerbated estrogen deficiency symptoms
Bloating and constipation
Progesterone deficiency symptoms
Symptoms of Low Progesterone:
PMS, heavy bleeding, clotting, cramping
Weight gain, acne, headaches/migranes
Anxiety, nervousness, depression
Inability to concentrate
As I discussed last week, the biggest impacts on our hormonal health include
Lack of sleep
Nutrient poor diet
Poor gut health
Eating disorders, past and current
I also wanted to add hydration, adequate dietary fats, mineral balance, blood sugar management, and optimal adrenal function to that list this week as well.
When it comes to naturally supporting your body’s hormone production, we need to start by addressing the diet first, looking at eating a PFC balanced diet that keeps nutrient intake high, blood sugar stable, and inflammation low.
Second, we need to address stress because stress impacts our adrenals which are on the same pathway as the ovaries as well. We call this the HP axis (hypothalamus pituitary). Figuring out what your biggest stressors are, working to eliminating or reduce them, and working on your response to stress are extremely important.
Next, checking your gut health is critical. If our gut is imbalanced, it’s likely the rest of our body will be as well. I’ve written a ton of the subject of gut health, so it should come as no surprise that we need to ensure we have a balance of good/bad gut bacteria, avoid antibiotics whenever possible, and work to address any pathogens that might be causing harm.
Last but not least, we need to determine what type of hormone dysfunction is occurring in the body. For cycling females, we canNOT rely on a standard, one sample blood test for hormones. Our hormones change every day, so we need a test that changes with them and tests them accurately (which blood doesn’t really do). I prefer saliva testing for hormones. For cycling females, a cycling female panel that covers the entire month is optimal. Yes, it takes longer to do, but it gives you the complete, full picture! For post-menopausal women, a single sample saliva test is fine. We can do all the supporting we can from the basic levels, but getting into the actual specifics of supplements for supporting hormone imbalances means we need to know exactly which hormones are low and which are high. If you ever need or want one of these tests ordered, please let me know! I completed one in April, and it was super informative (and told me something completely different than what I thought I had going on!).
Just as a reminder, Dr. Jolene Brighten’s new book Beyond the Pill is a great resource for all this information and more!
Next week, we’ll finish up with our discussion on testosterone!