Low progesterone: The dangers of this hormonal imbalance and how to correct it


Last Updated June 13th, 2021

What is Progesterone?

Progesterone (the abbreviation of pro-gestation hormone) is a sex hormone that is present in females. It is produced by the corpus luteum in the ovaries every month after ovulation and it is responsible for the regulation of the menstrual cycle. Progesterone also helps the body get ready for pregnancy in the event of the egg getting fertilized.

After ovulation, this hormone prompts the uterus to thicken and prepare for a fertilized egg. If a fertilized egg implants, this hormone is responsible for the maintenance of the uterine lining throughout pregnancy. However, if no egg is fertilized then the level of progesterone in the body drops and this results in women getting periods.

Progesterone is also responsible for the growth of breasts during pregnancy. It also prevents lactation until the baby is born. In men, a small amount of progesterone is produced to help in the development of sperm.

When was progesterone discovered?

Dutch physician and anatomist Regner de Graaf discovered the corpus luteum in 1672. It’s functions (as an organ that secrets hormones) was discovered by Louis-Auguste Prenant in 1898. Progesterone was first isolated in 1929 and its hormonal action was soon discovered. The purification of this hormone was done between 1930 and 1934. The name progesterone was selected in 1935.

What happens when the body has less progesterone?

The absence or low levels of progesterone in the body can lead to heavy bleeding during menstruation. As progesterone is an important hormone during pregnancy, women with low levels may have a difficult time getting pregnant. As explained earlier, progesterone is responsible for stimulating the thickening of the uterus in anticipation of a fertilized egg. If there are low levels of progesterone in the body, the uterus isn’t thick enough to support implantation. Meanwhile, low levels of this hormone during pregnancy can result in early labor or miscarriage.

Symptoms of low progesterone levels

These are some symptoms you may have if you have low levels of progesterone

Headaches

Sometimes headache or migraines are caused by hormone imbalance.

Mood swings

As women grow older, the production of progesterone lessens and this sometimes leads to mood swings. This is because progesterone plays a vital role in keeping our moods stable. So if you suddenly feel low out of the blue, it may be due to lowered progesterone levels.

Irregular periods

Low progesterone levels may lead to long menstrual or irregular cycles. You have also experience spotting during periods or excessive cramping.

Decreased sex drive

Progesterone also controls your libido, with women especially experiencing a boost in sex drive after ovulation. This is done by the body to increase your chances of pregnancy. If you have low progesterone levels, your libido is automatically decreased. This is the reason why women’s sex drive decreases after menopause.

Weight gain

Progesterone is also responsible for regulating metabolism. So if you have less progesterone in the body, your metabolism may slow down leading to weight gain.

 Infertility

Progesterone is the main hormone that helps you achieve and maintain a healthy pregnancy. If you have low levels of progesterone you may not get pregnant as the fertilized egg is unable to implant in the uterus due to it not being thick enough.

Fibroids

Fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that develop in the uterus. They are usually made up of smooth muscle cells and fibrous connective tissue. Although the exact cause of fibroids is not known, it is believed that high estrogen levels in the body may be responsible. When there is less progesterone in the body, estrogen levels rise and this may lead to fibroids.

Breast tenderness

Breast tenderness, also known as Mastalgia, comes with a lot of symptoms including pain, soreness, and heaviness in the breasts. The fluctuation of hormones sometimes leads to breast tenderness and it may be due to low levels of progesterone.

Gall bladder problems

The gallbladder contains progesterone receptors and low levels of this hormone may lead to problems such as gallbladder stones. If the woman is pregnant, then a low progesterone level in the body causes

  • Breast tenderness
  • Fatigue
  • Low blood sugar
  • Vaginal dryness

How is it diagnosed?

The levels of progesterone in the body can be found out by a simple test known as a progesterone test (PGSN). In this test, a blood sample is taken and examined to determine the amount of progesterone present.  The doctor may also ask you when you last period started or ended or if you are pregnant or not.

Causes

If you are diagnosed with low levels of progesterone, it may be due to

  • The ovaries not working properly: Progesterone is produced and secreted by the ovaries. So if the ovaries are not functioning properly, the progesterone levels are affected.
  • Menopause: Since progesterone is a hormone that helps the body prepare for pregnancy, it is not secreted after menopause.
  • Miscarriage: Miscarriage is the term given when the fetus dies (due to various reasons) before the 20th week of pregnancy. The progesterone levels are usually less after miscarriage
  • Toxemia: Also known as blood poisoning, Toxemia is the result of a local infection, usually bacterial, when harmful toxins are released in the blood. When this happens the progesterone levels in the body is reduced.

Treatment

You may not need treatment if you are not planning to have a baby. However, you can do the following things to naturally raise your progesterone levels:

Taking vitamins

Increasing the intake of vitamin B and C (which are responsible for the production of progesterone) may help.

  • Foods rich in vitamin B include whole grains (brown rice, barley, and millet), meat (red meat, poultry, and fish), eggs and dairy products (milk, cheese), legumes (beans, lentils) and dark, leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach).
  • Foods rich in vitamin C include blackcurrants, citrus fruits – oranges, limes and lemons, berries, kiwifruit, chili peppers, broccoli, sprouts.

Consuming zinc-rich food

You can also improve your progesterone levels by eating more zinc rich food such as meat, shellfish (they are low-calorie sources of zinc), legumes like chickpeas, lentils and beans, seeds, nuts, dairy products, eggs, and whole grains.

Managing stress

Too much stress leads to the release of cortisol (the stress hormone), which in turn diminishes the production of progesterone. You can manage stress by exercising, meditating, doing yoga, taking deep breaths and avoiding caffeine and nicotine.

Hormone Therapy

Hormone therapy (which involves the use of natural or synthetic hormones) can be used to treat certain symptoms like menstrual irregularities and abnormal bleeding. If you are experiencing severe symptoms, you may be given a combination of estrogen and progesterone. Hormone therapy is also advice for women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant.

Progesterone supplementation is done in the following ways

  • Orally: There are certain progesterone supplements that you can take orally. These are in the form of capsules that is usually taken once a day before bedtime. These capsules are taken on a rotating schedule. You usually take it for 10-12 days then stop and again after 16-18 days.
  • Suppositories: These are inserted into the rectum or the vagina. Progesterone suppositories are usually inserted into the vagina. They are taken 6-12 days at a time
  • Creams or gels: These are usually applied in the vagina for a period of 6 days. Progesterone cream is available in much strength, ranging from 25 milligrams per microliter (mg/mL) to 250 mg/mL.

Types of Progesterone supplements

There are two types of progesterone supplements available. These are

Natural progesterone products

Some gels and capsules are made up of natural progesterone. These are produced in the lab from a natural compound known as diosgenin, which is derived from soybeans or a wild inedible Mexican yam called Diascorea villosa.

The benefits of using natural progesterone products include

  • Decreased premenopausal symptoms
  • Reduced side effects
  • Protection against endometrial cancer

 Using natural progesterone also has risks. They increase the chances of you developing

 Synthetic progesterone products

Synthetic progesterone is known as Progestin and is available as tablets, gels, capsules, and suppositories. Since they are made synthetically, they have more side effects. These are:

Most Common

  • Changes in menstrual bleeding
  • Dry mouth
  • Frequent urination
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unusual thirst

Less common

  • Depression
  • Rashes

Rare

  • Backache
  • Headache
  • Numbness
  • Shortness of breath

Foods that boost progesterone levels

Although foods do not contain progesterone, there are certain foods that may boost their production. These are beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, nuts, pumpkin, spinach, and whole grains.

Some foods are known to lower the production of estrogen in the body and this may lead to an increase in the production of progesterone. These foods are bananas, cabbage, shellfish and walnuts

Other ways to boost progesterone levels

In addition to your diet, making certain lifestyle changes can also lead to an increase in the production of progesterone. You should try to

Maintain your weight

Being overweight or obese prompts the body to produce more estrogen. This causes an imbalance and leads to a decrease in the production of progesterone.

Reduce stress

Stress leads to the release of cortisol, which helps your body react to stress by increasing the blood pressure and heart rate. Cortisol also prompts the body to temporarily shut down certain processes in the body such as digestion and reproductive functions.  As a result, the production of progesterone is also halted. Sometimes stress can also make the kidney convert progesterone into cortisol. You relieve stress by taking long breaths, walking, listening to music and spending time with pets.

Avoid over exercising

Although exercise is considered to be very good for health, you should not over exercise. This is because over exercising leads to the body releasing stress hormones, which have an adverse effect on the production of progesterone.

Eat a healthy diet

Consuming a healthy diet with a balance of all the nutrients will help you improve your overall health. If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you should consult a dietician to ensure you are getting all the required nutrients.


TL;DR?

https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/progesterone

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/hormone-replacement-therapy-hrt-and-menopause

https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/tn9542

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4436586/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1868040/

https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/progesterone-test/

https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00001770

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6235727/

 

 

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