What is progesterone?
Progesterone is a hormone. Its name comes from “pro”— meaning “to support”, and “gest” — meaning “gestation”.
It triggers pregnancy and keeps it going. Mom’s-to-be secrete increasingly high levels of progesterone (up to 400 mg/day) to help “hold” the pregnancy to full term. Even though progesterone is mostly thought of as a female pregnancy hormone, we all have it, and progesterone wears diverse “hats” to keep us well.
Birth control pills
The post-menopausal woman, however, will essentially have no progesterone due to ovarian failure. There is no progesterone if a cycling woman is on birth control pills because progestins in contraceptives suppress ovulation. (Progesterone is needed for ovulation). In effect, progestins “turn off” the progesterone “switch”, which halts ovulation.
Progesterone helps make other hormones
Progesterone is not only a hormone in and of itself, but can also be used as a building block by the adrenal glands to produce either estrogen or testosterone. While it’s not likely that you can meet your body’s estrogen needs from progesterone conversion alone, many women are able to produce enough testosterone when they have an adequate supply of progesterone. In addition to being used for the production of ovarian hormones, it can also be converted by the adrenals into cortisol, the stress hormone. Progesterone is quite the chameleon!
Progesterone and stress
If stress levels are chronically high, survival becomes a higher priority than reproduction. Meaning that our body is likely to use the supply of progesterone to create cortisol rather than using it to do progesterone work. There are additional obstacles to maintaining healthy levels of progesterone. Some common ones are inflammation, nutrient deficiency, undereating, thyroid disease and insulin resistance. A critical piece of information to keep in mind when working on hormone balance is that putting progesterone into the system effectively raises the amount of estrogen that is available to do estrogen-only tasks while at the same time some of those estrogen tasks may go unperformed or underperformed because of progesterone’s occupation of those receptors.
This concept may be tricky, but critical when working on hormonal balance. As you can see, balancing hormones in the perimenopausal and menopausal woman requires skill of a gymnast, so working with a hormone health coach and your doctor is important.
More benefits of Progesterone
Progesterone is a natural anti-inflammatory agent, a brain protector in both sexes of all ages. It is produced locally right inside the brain and throughout the mass of nerves inside the spinal cord to protect brain and nervous system tissues. In the brain, progesterone concentrations are up to 20 times higher than in the blood. It is also produced in the gut and throughout the spinal cord.
Progesterone protects brain volume. Aging makes the brain shrink in size, especially in the area where we keep memories and our sense of who we are (the hippocampus). Anything that protects brain volume promotes better thinking and loss of it. Progesterone acts like a brain filler in the way some use Botox to fill wrinkles or in the skin or create plump, full lips. It’s about volume, baby!
Progesterone also has a great working relationship with Vitamin D. (also a hormone) Together, they fight abnormal or prolonged inflammation, especially in the brain, but also in the gut lining. They also partner in the immune system. Vitamin D and progesterone help the immune system identify cancer cells in the uterus, breast, prostate, and then take action to fight them off.
Thyroid function is improved with progesterone.
It helps keep zinc and potassium in cells, which allows thyroid hormone to enter and be converted into the active form (T3) which gives us energy. Progesterone protects the bones. The Yin and Yang of how progesterone works with estrogen to prevent osteoporosis is fascinating. While estrogen prevents bone breakdown, progesterone actually promotes bone rebuilding by stimulating the osteoblasts (the cells that create the bone fabric itself). Progesterone protects the breasts and is now regarded as so breast protective that new science suggests some breast cancer survivors should be taking it! There’s a scientific call to add it to breast cancer medications like Tamoxifen.
The ying to the yang of estrogen
When progesterone is used along with estrogen, the effect estrogen has is stronger than when progesterone is studied on its own. It helps our bodies use fat for energy, thus opposing the tendency of estrogen to store fat. Progesterone has a diuretic effect, helping to get rid of the fluid bloating that estrogen can cause. Progesterone’s soothing effect is so significant that it is given to treat the (rare) seizures caused by the stimulatory effect of estrogen. It can have the same chemical effect as Valium or Xanax or some other anesthetic agents and decreases estrogen-driven migraines.
Sleep and more
It can promote a more restorative sleep by helping the brain to achieve the stages of sleep where healing and repair occur. It stabilizes mood, counteract edginess, anxiety and panic unlike synthetic progestins which have the opposite effect. It contributes to the lessening of the memory problems seen with low hormone levels. Progesterone in combination with estrogen seems, in some studies, to provide greater cardiovascular benefits than estrogen alone. Progesterone seems to reduce the severity of allergic reactions and allergies. It is notable that women who suddenly seem to develop allergies to just about everything after a hysterectomy may be demonstrating low levels of progesterone. There are other compounds that block the natural signaling of progesterone. NSAID’s (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents) like Motrin and toxic substances like insecticides disrupt the endocrine system and interfere with the benefits of progesterone on the body.
To maintain healthy levels of progesterone, there are several things that we can do:
- Nourish ourselves with adequate calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat, iodine, and zinc.
- Address and correct and underlying inflammatory issues including food sensitivities, leaky gut, insulin resistance or thyroid disease.
- A regular exercise routine boosts the protective functions of progesterone.
Do you need more progesterone?
If you are perimenopausal, sometimes called “second puberty” (the 2-to-10-year period before menstrual periods actually stops) or post-menopause, you may benefit from physiologic dosing of transdermal bioidentical progesterone. Even without a uterus, progesterone is beneficial for good moods, breast, brain, and bone protection.
Order your progesterone from here.
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