Progesterone is an important steroid hormone that helps in regulating your monthly cycle and preparing your body for pregnancy.
Synthetic hormones that have a similar action to progesterone are called progestin. They can be prescribed to regulate an irregular period and treat unusual stopping of the period. A condition known as amenorrhea.
It is produced in the ovaries and also serves other functions.
For instance, progesterone helps maintain pregnancy. Additionally, it plays a role in maintaining sexual desire.
WHAT DOES PROGESTERONE DO TO A WOMAN’S BODY?
Progesterone causes the inner lining of your uterine wall (the endometrium) to secrete specialized hormones during the second half of the menstrual cycle.
Progesterone is secreted from the corpus luteum. This is a follicle that remains in the ovaries when an egg is released during ovulation.
This helps the uterus prepare to receive an implanted fertilized egg. The corpus luteum continues producing progesterone until the embryo is 10 weeks old.
When implantation doesn’t happen, progesterone and estrogen levels drop causing the endometrium to shed and menstruation happens.
Ten weeks after the pregnancy happens, progesterone is produced in the placenta and the levels remain high during the pregnancy.
High progesterone levels help suppress ovulation during pregnancy.
Progesterone also helps encourage the growth of mammary glands in the breasts.
Scientists believe that progesterone is responsible for symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome such as breast tenderness, bloating and mood swings.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF LOW PROGESTERONE?
As we have mentioned before, progesterone plays a significant role in regulating your menstrual cycle and maintaining pregnancy.
When progesterone is low, it can lead to serious health problems.
One of the ways to tell you have low progesterone is irregular periods.
Premenstrual spotting may also appear.
Other symptoms include mood changes, irregular sleep, anxiety and depression.
Progesterone also affects fluid levels in your body. It can lead to weight gain due to fluid retention.
Having low progesterone levels leads to estrogen dominance. This causes the uterus to over-line itself. A thicker endometrium leads to heavy periods.
Low progesterone is caused by:
- A lack of ovulation. This is known as an anovulatory cycle. No egg is released from the ovary. This can be caused by birth control and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
- Problems with your thyroid can lead to low progesterone. Hypothyroidism, which is whereby the thyroid is underactive, leads to your endocrine system failing to produce enough hormones.
- Increased cortisol levels can lead to the body redirecting resources to produce enough progesterone. Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone. When levels are too high, it can lead to low progesterone. Chronic stress can lead to low production of progesterone.
- Increased production of a hormone called prolactin leads to low progesterone. Prolactin negatively affects sex hormones. It causes lower production of progesterone and disrupts the menstrual cycle.
- A deficiency of cholesterol leads to low progesterone. This is because you need cholesterol to produce progesterone.
WHEN DO YOU NEED TO TAKE PROGESTERONE?
You can take progesterone for the following reasons:
1. REGULATING PERIODS
Progesterone causes changes in the uterus. When you take progestin for the prescribed time then the levels drop, the lining in the uterus starts to come off.
This triggers menstrual bleeding.
It is recommended to wait to see if a period is triggered. Progesterone can delay your period.
If you are sexually active, you will need to take a pregnancy test.
If pregnancy hasn’t happened, your period should start 2-3 days after you stop taking progesterone.
When you don’t get any bleeding, it may be a sign that your body isn’t producing enough estrogen. You should consult your doctor if a period doesn’t occur when expected.
2. INCREASE THE CHANCE OF PREGNANCY
When you want to get pregnant but aren’t producing enough progesterone, you can be prescribed progesterone.
This helps with maintaining the pregnancy.
3. HORMONE THERAPY FOR MENOPAUSE
If you’re peri-menopausal with irregular or absent periods, low-dose progestin helps alleviate symptoms and helps maintain regular menstrual cycles.
Menopausal hormone therapy uses estrogen alone or an estrogen-progestin combo. This helps treat menopausal symptoms.
Estrogen-only treatment is recommended for people who have had hysterectomies.
If you still have a uterus, you get an estrogen and progestin treatment. Progestin helps offset the effects of estrogen on the endometrium. Estrogen stimulates the endometrium which increases the risk of endometrial cancer.
Others are designed with progestin added during part of a monthly cycle and then stopped. This is known as cyclic therapy.
The prescription often requires you to take the medicine from day 16-25. Within 1-3 days of finishing the ten-day course, your menstrual cycle starts.
WHAT ARE THE SIDE EFFECTS OF PROGESTERONE?
You may experience side effects from progesterone treatments.
Serious effects include blood clots, changes in cycle flow and depression.
More common but less serious side effects are:
- Breakthrough bleeding
- Dry mouth
Some studies have shown that higher levels of progesterone can lead to lower sex drive.
If your reactions to progesterone are too severe, you can try the following natural remedies:
- Reducing stress can help reduce cortisol levels. As mentioned earlier, higher cortisol levels can lead to lower levels of progesterone. Practising journaling, mindfulness or meditation can help reduce stress.
- Anecdotal evidence shows that supplements such as chasteberry and evening primrose oil can lead to raised progesterone levels.
- Getting enough sleep can regulate hormonal levels. Prioritizing sleep and good sleep hygiene can help ensure you get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep.
- Being overweight can lead to higher levels of estrogen which causes a progesterone imbalance. Maintaining a healthy weight can help maintain balanced hormone levels.
When you trigger your period after taking progesterone, it is possible to bleed too much. If you experience a racing heart, dizziness or appear pale, ensure that you see a doctor immediately.
Vaginal bleeding can also be a sign of miscarriage or different forms of uterine pathology.
If you are trying to get pregnant, don’t start taking progesterone without consulting a doctor.
Progesterone can be taken by the mouth, applied to the skin, given as an injection and applied directly to the vagina.
Avoid taking progesterone if you have arterial disease, breast cancer, depression, liver disease or undiagnosed vaginal bleeding.