Progesterone is a major buzzword in the natural fertility world. Having low progesterone is a major hurdle when trying to conceive. This fertility hormone affects reproductive health in a number of ways.
This article shares what you can do if you have concerns about your progesterone levels.
Progesterone In Action
Hormones work in the body in many complicated ways, and progesterone is no exception.
Progesterone is produced in large part by the ovaries, and in lesser amounts by the adrenal glands, peripheral nerves, and even the brain. In the brain, progesterone has a calming effect, which in part accounts for symptoms like fatigue after ovulation or during pregnancy when progesterone levels rise. During pregnancy, the placenta also produces progesterone.
Here are ways progesterone affects fertility:
1. Supports a regular menstrual cycle: Along with LH (luteinizing hormone), FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and estrogen, progesterone plays a key part in the hormonal feedback loop that stimulates menstruation. During the luteal phase of the cycle, it’s secreted by the corpus luteum to prepare the body for potential conception. Without adequate progesterone, women can experience heavy periods, mid-cycle spotting, or cycle irregularity. Often, symptoms like these are the first outward signs progesterone is low. A short luteal phase (10 days or less) is another common sign.
2. Encourages ovulation: Having too little progesterone can mean you’re not ovulating regularly. Insufficient progesterone production is a sign that the ovaries are not working well. While other factors are at play, hormone imbalance plays a significant role in anovulation.
3. Prepares the uterus for conception: Progesterone helps thicken the uterine lining after ovulation to support a fertilized egg, allowing it to implant and survive. Too little progesterone levels are a known risk factor for early miscarriage or inability to conceive at all. Today, doctors and natural health practitioners commonly recommend progesterone therapy (natural or synthetic) for women with concern about progesterone levels and/or a history of miscarriage that are trying to conceive.
4. Supports the embryo in all stages of development: During pregnancy, progesterone helps to keep the uterine muscles relaxed and has a balancing effect on the immune system. Researchers believe progesterone actually helps the body to be more tolerant of foreign DNA. This helps prevent immune system rejection of the fetus, a cause of some miscarriages. For these reasons, women want to consider progesterone therapy during pregnancy and work with their doctors or midwives to determine the best dose for their needs. For women pursuing IVF, progesterone is administered to ensure levels are adequate for pregnancy.
5. Decreased progesterone levels can indicate menopause or perimenopause: As ovulation ceases or becomes irregular during the menopausal transition, progesterone levels naturally drop. While this is a normal change, for some women it may come sooner than expected or they may still hope to conceive naturally or through IVF. The best ways to know for sure where you stand is to track your ovulation through Fertility Charting or have ovulation medically monitored. If your cycle is absent, work with your Ob/Gyn to determine the cause. While some women may still conceive during the perimenopausal years, it is less common, and medical interventions may be needed.
Beyond fertility, there are many other ways progesterone works in your body. Progesterone
- is involved in new bone formation
- encourages a healthy body weight by burning fat for energy
- offers a natural protective effect against endometrial, breast, ovarian and prostate cancer
What about this hormones and men?
While progesterone is most associated with female health, men need progesterone, too. For men, progesterone acts to counter-balance estrogen, which promotes normal testosterone production. Testosterone is critical for male sexuality, sperm production, bone density, and the distribution of body fat (a reason why men with “low T” tend to gain weight around the middle).
Who Needs Progesterone Therapy?
Not all women need supplemental progesterone. In fact, many women have adequate progesterone levels for fertility and a healthy pregnancy. For them, using a progesterone cream or Rx is unnecessary. However, women with confirmed low progesterone levels will want to consider progesterone therapy, especially if they are trying to conceive. If you need progesterone support, natural progesterone cream along with an herb like Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus) would be worth learning more about.
If you’re unsure what your levels are, ask your doctor about testing. Progesterone levels are highest after ovulation. Testing 6-10 days after ovulation (day 21 of the cycle for some women) will let you know where you stand. Further, be sure to test your progesterone to estrogen ratio (Pg/E2) to see if you have estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance can lead to the same problems and may affect fertility chances.
Wherever you are on your journey, do your own research and work with your doctor to find out more. Being educated on your hormone status is a great way to become empowered and take back control over your natural fertility.
- Hormones 101. (2019). Retrieved from: https://womeninbalance.org/about-hormone-imbalance/hormones-101/
- Nall, R. (2016, Sept.). 15 Reasons Low Progesterone is Bad for Mom and Baby. Retrieved from: https://www.babygaga.com/15-reasons-low-progesterone-is-bad-for-mom-and-baby/
- Welsh, S. (2017, Sept.). Progesterone’s Impact on Fertility & Pregnancy. Retrieved from: https://mybinto.com/progesterone-fertility-pregnancy/
- The Truth about PCOS and Anovulation…How You Can End It. (2019). Retrieved from: https://www.pcos.com/blog/25211/the-truth-about-pcos-and-anovulation-how-you-can-end-it/
- Men Need Progesterone, Too. (2019). Retrieved from: www.phlabs.com/men-need-progesterone-too