Hormone imbalances can feel like a mystery in modern medicine. Finding answers to our hormone problems seems like mission impossible: “it’s just your age”, “this happens to every woman”, “try these antidepressants”.
But hormone imbalances are not in your head – they are in every cell in your body. If you suspect your hormones are out of balance, it’s time to solve the puzzle once and for all.
Today we’re focusing on a common hormone imbalance – progesterone deficiency. So whether you are just interested in learning more about hormones, or hoping to identify some of your own signs and symptoms in this article, read on and get ready to learn how to heal your progesterone deficiency.
What is Progesterone?
As women we have two main reproductive hormones – estrogen and progesterone. We’ve all heard about estrogen, but progesterone is more of a mystery.
Progesterone, our “pro-gestation hormone” – it is produced in the ovaries after ovulation to prepare the uterus for pregnancy. But it is used by the body for so much more than just pregnancy.
What Does Progesterone Do?
Progesterone prepares the body for pregnancy by stimulating the production of proteins that prepare the uterine lining for implantation. What happens if there’s no implantation? Progesterone levels drop off and a menstrual period will result. This means that progesterone also regulates our menstrual cycle.
Beyond pregnancy support, progesterone has many other functions. Progesterone receptors are found all over the body including the brain, breasts, blood vessels, and bones. Progesterone is also a great balancer for estrogen – it balances estrogen levels to prevent estrogen levels from exerting too many growth-stimulating effects on our tissues.
One of the biggest impacts that progesterone has is it’s anti-anxiety and anti-stress effects. As a direct precursor to the hormone cortisol, progesterone is one super-calming hormone. Every time your mind and body cope with stress, you have a therapeutic sleep, and are relaxed; you can thank progesterone for doing its job without us even knowing it.
Changes in Progesterone Hormone Balance
So it supports pregnancy, regulates our menstrual cycle, and helps our stress response. I know what you’re thinking – but Dr. Lisa what happens to progesterone during menopause? Production of progesterone peaks in our mid-reproductive years – around 25 years of age. After that age we see steady declines in progesterone production until perimenopause and menopause when production drops off almost entirely.
We can also suspect low levels of progesterone in women who do not experience regular periods or women who are not ovulating as we would expect them to.
Symptoms of Progesterone Deficiency
For many women, symptoms of anxiety, depression, insomnia, and PMS can be caused by an imbalance in progesterone levels. Oftentimes, these symptoms are not taken seriously by doctors. Can you identify with any of the following symptoms? If you do, it’s time to get to the root cause of your progesterone deficiency and solve these problems once and for all.
Symptoms of Progesterone Deficiency
- Premenstrual mood changes
- Painful or lumpy breasts
- Premenstrual headaches
- Recurrent miscarriage
- Unexplained weight gain
Hormone Healing for Progesterone Deficiency
We’ve talked about what progesterone does, how it influences other hormones, and what progesterone deficiency looks like. Now we’re at the part where I can answer your burning question –what can we do about progesterone deficiency? As with all hormone management, laboratory testing is necessary for all women seeking treatment. It is imperative to understand the balance in the different hormones before starting any type of hormone treatment.
Of course the foundation to improving progesterone levels is your lifestyle. Decreasing stress levels, encouraging a healthy diet that provides adequate protein and healthy fats, and engaging in regular exercise are all important to balancing progesterone levels.
Beyond lifestyle changes, there are a number of nutrients and plant-based botanicals that can influence the production of progesterone. If you’re working with a qualified Naturopathic Doctor, another option is to choose bio-identical progesterone cream to manage the imbalance. Let’s look at some of our options:
Magnesium is necessary for detoxification of hormones, especially estrogen. If you are deficient in magnesium you may have higher circulating levels of estrogen, resulting in a relative progesterone deficiency. Food sources of magnesium include pumpkin seeds, leafy greens, soy beans, sunflower seeds, and beans.
Ovulation, and subsequent progesterone production, requires appropriate Vitamin B6 levels. That’s why we want to ensure adequate intake levels through food sources such as tuna, salmon, turkey, chicken, sweet potato, sunflower seeds, and dark leafy greens. If you suspect progesterone deficiency, a Vitamin B6 deficiency may be one of the root causes of it.
Chaste berry (Vitex agnus-castus)
Chaste berry (or chaste tree) is a very well known botanical medicine for hormonal imbalances. Chaste berry has been found to increase progesterone levels during the second half of the menstrual cycle. This is important because the second half of the menstrual cycle is when progesterone is the dominant reproductive hormone. Beyond progesterone, chaste berry can also balance prolactin. Like with all botanical medicines, it is important to consult with your naturopath to decide if chaste berry is right for you.
Bioidentical progesterone cream
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT) uses hormones that are identical to those in your body to balance your hormones and relief symptoms of hormone imbalance. Bioidentical progesterone is made from wild yams or soybean and is typically applied in cream form during the second half of the menstrual cycle.
Transdermal progesterone results in effective absorption of progesterone and movement of progesterone to the target tissues – brain, uterus, breast and blood vessels – to decrease symptoms. It is typically used twice per day and dosages vary – your Naturopath will work with you and a compounding pharmacy to establish your proper balance of hormones.
Women’s health is both the focus of my naturopathic practice and a passion in my life. There is no topic I am more excited to talk about, read about and learn about. And within women’s health there is no more important topic than hormone balancing. It’s one thing to identify symptoms of a hormonal imbalance, such as progesterone deficiency. It’s another to properly address and treat the condition. If you think your hormones are out of balance, talk to an experienced and qualified Naturopathic Doctor to help you find your optimal balance.
Dr. Lisa Watson delivers health care that supports balanced and attainable health at all ages and stages of life. Of primary importance is health care that nurtures the body, mind, spirit, family and community. As a Naturopathic Doctor and mother, Lisa believes that health care and a healthy lifestyle are intrinsically linked and that each serves to support the other. Dr. Watson practices at the Integrative Health Institute in Downtown Toronto.
Check out Dr Watson’s blog: www.drlisawatson.com