Progesterone is a hormone that all men, women, and children are born with. We all require a certain level of progesterone to ensure good health. Women require and produce this hormone the most during their reproductive years. Low progesterone levels can reduce a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant and can cause many health issues.
What is progesterone deficiency?
A woman’s reproductive system contains two main hormones, which are progesterone and estrogen. Progesterone is produced in the ovaries following ovulation. This hormone prepares the uterus for pregnancy. The adrenal glands, which are located above each kidney, produce small amounts of progesterone. The placenta produces large amounts of progesterone during pregnancy.
Estrogen is also responsible for the physical changes that occur in young girls as they mature, such as breast development, underarm and pubic hair, and menstrual cycles. This hormone is also responsible for controlling cholesterol levels, bone health, and healthy brain function.
Women produce the largest amounts of progesterone in their mid-twenties. After reproductive age, many women begin to produce less progesterone, which can result in progesterone deficiency. Women going through perimenopause and menopause will stop progesterone production almost entirely. A simple saliva test can determine whether you have a progesterone deficiency.
Identifying signs of progesterone deficiency
A woman with low progesterone levels can experience a multitude of symptoms. The most common signs of a deficiency include
- Menstrual issues which include irregular cycles, spotting between periods, and periods that occur too frequently
- Being diagnosed with the Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Acne, dry skin, and brittle nails
- Depression, mood swings, and anxiety
- Low sex drive
- Slow metabolism with mid-section weight gain and sugar cravings
- Headaches, migraines, joint pain, and allergy symptoms
Understanding symptoms of progesterone deficiency
Symptoms of low levels of progesterone can be mild to extreme. You may notice the symptoms being worse some days than others. Mental health symptoms include anxiety, irritability, nervousness, mood swings, and depression. You may also experience physical symptoms such as headaches, low sex drive, hot flashes, weight gain, and breast tenderness and pain.
Progesterone deficiency can also cause menstrual issues. Pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) perimenopause and menopause issues, and postpartum depression are not uncommon with this deficiency. It can also cause endometriosis, a condition in which the lining of the uterus grows outside the organ. Progesterone deficiency may also be responsible for infertility and miscarriage.
Low progesterone may also trigger a rare condition called pyroluria. This genetic disorder causes the body to produce extra waste products when making hemoglobin. The body cannot clear the excess waste, so it builds up in the blood, causing nutrient deficiencies. It runs in families that have a history of alcoholism and has a major impact on mental health.
Low Progesterone and Pregnancy
Progesterone plays a critical role before and during your pregnancy. Several complications can arise if your progesterone levels drop during the pregnancy.
Low progesterone levels before pregnancy can make it difficult to conceive. The hormone helps prepare your uterus for pregnancy. Progesterone causes the lining of the uterus to thicken, providing an essential environment for the fertilized egg. Low levels of progesterone can cause an insufficient environment for the egg, which leads to an unsuccessful implantation.
Low progesterone levels during pregnancy can result in miscarriage if not detected in time. Progesterone plays an active role in the support of the fetus until the placenta can produce enough progesterone on its own to support a healthy pregnancy.
When testing for progesterone deficiency, a blood test is the most accurate form of testing. A saliva test can be done but may be less conclusive. You should ask a doctor which test will best for you. Other tests use a basal thermometer, which detects the rise and fall of progesterone levels. This test is directed at women with high progesterone levels.
A doctor generally orders hormone testing for a specific issue, such as infertility, or to detect a miscarriage. The test also helps doctors monitor pregnant women who are taking a progesterone supplement and women who experience unusual uterine bleeding.
Testing may involve a single test or a series, depending on the cause for testing. Women who have infertility issues may undergo several tests. Hormone testing also helps diagnose certain forms of cancer, adrenal gland abnormalities, and hormonal imbalances.
What you should do before testing
Your current doctor will probably ask you to stop taking medications containing progesterone or estrogen hormones, especially birth control, several days before the test. Talk to the doctor if you have recently had testing, treatments, or medical procedures involving radioactive materials.
Using progesterone cream
Progesterone cream is the most widely used treatment for low progesterone. Most patients regard it as the best form of delivery, including men. Some creams may contain carcinogens such as dioxane. Speak with a doctor or pharmacist about possible risk factors when using the creams. There are a variety of progesterone creams on the market. Your current doctor will determine which one is best suited to your needs.
The creams have different strength levels which range from 1.5-10 percent. When applied, they absorb quickly. The cream does not require an applicator and can be applied in just seconds. Progesterone creams can be applied anywhere on your body, including your scalp.
Identifying other types of progesterone therapy
There are several types of progesterone therapies. They include
- Synthetic progesterone (Provera) is used to force menstruation. Provera can be given by injection or by pill form. Provera has few side effects including dizziness and sleepiness. Pregnant women should not use this product.
- Oral progesterone (Prometrium) is used during the luteal phase for women who are trying to get pregnant naturally or through artificial insemination. This form of hormone support is said to be less effective than others but is praised for its convenience. This product tends to raise the progesterone in the blood at a greater rate than raising the progesterone levels. However, the liver metabolizes this oral supplement, which can cause side effects such as marked dizziness and drowsiness.
- Progesterone suppositories are made in compounding pharmacies. The patient inserts the suppository into the vagina. Some women are sensitive to the suppository and experience pain and vaginal discharge. Finding a compounding pharmacy can be challenging, and the quality is hard to determine in such dosages.
- Crinone is a product that provides suspended progesterone on a bio-adhesive gel inside an applicator, which is similar to a tampon. The Crinone is inserted into the vagina and is very effective in delivering progesterone. The gel in this product may begin to build up and should be removed every few days to avoid vaginal irritation
Healing hormones naturally
Before treating progesterone deficiency, you should be tested and diagnosed. Your doctor will evaluate the test results and proceed with the best treatment plan for you.
The best form of treatment starts at home with lifestyle changes. This included reducing your stress levels and a diet that offers protein and healthy fats. Exercise helps in balancing your progesterone levels as well. There are several plant-based medications that encourage progesterone production. This may be an option if you prefer a more natural approach to treatment.
Essential vitamins and minerals
Including Vitamin B6 into your daily routine can encourage progesterone production. You can add this necessary supplement through foods such as turkey, tuna, chicken, salmon, sunflower seeds, sweet potato, and dark leafy greens.
Magnesium helps remove toxins from hormones. Having a magnesium deficiency can cause increased levels of estrogen, which can cause a progesterone deficiency. You can increase your magnesium levels by incorporating the following foods into your diet.
- Dark leafy greens
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
Bioidentical progesterone cream is a natural approach to bioidentical progesterone therapy. Bioidentical progesterone cream is made using wild yams or soybeans. Female patients use it during the latter part of their menstrual cycle.
Dealing with progesterone deficiencies can be an uncomfortable experience. Understanding how to deal with the issue can be confusing. However, with new medical information and medications, resolving your low progesterone levels has become much easier.