I’ve personally battled low progesterone and felt its effects.
Hormones are like the orchestra conductors in our body that tell everything else how they should function. If one of the performers isn’t playing the way it should, the whole performance sounds wrong.
And one of the common hormone imbalances women experience is low progesterone.
What does progesterone do? Why should you care if you have low progesterone? And what can you do to increase your progesterone naturally?
What is progesterone and what does it do?
Once a month, if you’re ovulating regularly, your body releases an egg. Before ovulation, your body produces little to no progesterone.
After you ovulate, however, the follicle that released the egg becomes a small “body” known as the corpus luteum (Latin for “yellow body”) that produces progesterone.
Progesterone’s primary task is to prepare your body for pregnancy. But if you’re not trying to get pregnant, stick with me! Its symptoms can still affect you.
In a normal, non-pregnant cycle, this small gland inside the ovary produces progesterone for roughly 14 days. This phase of your cycle is known as the “luteal phase.”
If you’re trying to get pregnant, you may also know it as the “2-week wait.”
At the end of the corpus luteum’s short lifespan, it stops producing progesterone, and your period begins.
If you are pregnant, however, it will continue to produce progesterone until the end of the first trimester. At this point the placenta takes over progesterone production.
Progesterone prepares the body for pregnancy by
- preventing the ovaries from releasing any other eggs during that cycle
- slightly elevating your body temperature (this slight rise is one of the major factors that makes natural family planning possible)
- thickening and maintaining the endometrium. The endometrium is the lining of the uterus that feeds and nourishes the growing baby during a pregnancy.
If your body doesn’t produce enough progesterone, the lining will not thicken or stay thick enough. A fertilized egg will be unable to implant. Or, if it implants, you may experience an early miscarriage.
Can you get pregnant with low progesterone?
If the question is, “Can I get a positive pregnancy test?” then the answer is, “Yes.” It’s happened to me many times.
If, however, the question is, “Can I carry a pregnancy to term?” then the answer is, “It’s unlikely.”
Progesterone is absolutely essential to a healthy pregnancy. So if you find yourself in a situation where yours is too low, you will probably need to supplement or otherwise balance your hormones.
I’ve done both. Although I’ve made a lot of progress balancing my hormones naturally, I also take progesterone during my pregnancies as an extra precaution.
Depending on the severity of your imbalance, you may want a prescription for bioidentical progesterone. Or you may want to use a natural, over-the-counter progesterone supplement.
What causes low progesterone levels?
Short answer: It’s complicated. Hormonal balance is delicate!
A variety of factors could contribute to low progesterone.
1. Excess estrogen
If estrogen levels are too high, your body may not be able to produce enough progesterone to compensate.
A lot of factors could make your estrogen too high–your body stores excess estrogen in body fat, so being overweight can contribute. So can endocrine disruptors in your personal-care products.
2. Insufficient estrogen
If, on the other hand, your estrogen levels are too low, your ovulation may not be strong enough to trigger good progesterone production. Or you may not ovulate at all.
Breastfeeding hormones also inhibit progesterone production, so if you’ve just had a baby or have just weaned, you can expect your body to take some time to find equilibrium again.
4. Diet imbalance
If your diet is high in sugar or grains, you could be throwing off your hormonal balance. You’ll see an effect on your insulin levels (which can affect your body’s other hormones).
And you’ll also be depleting your body of the vitamins it needs to produce progesterone. Vitamins D and B are especially important for progesterone production.
Related: Template for a Healthy Diet
This is a big one. The sex hormones and stress hormones share a common precursor hormone called pregnenolone.
When you’re not stressed, your body uses pregnenolone to produce progesterone. When you’re stressed, your progesterone receptors get blocked.
The adrenals then use pregnenolone to make cortisol instead!
6. Physical factors
There are also physical factors that can affect progesterone production. For example, I have a slightly bicornuate uterus (meaning it dips like a heart where it should be rounded).
This particular defect makes it harder for my body to produce enough progesterone.
How do I know if I have low progesterone?
Some of the symptoms include
- Brown spotting between periods
- Long, heavy periods
- Cycles shorter than 28 days
- Less than 10 days between ovulation and the start of your next period
- Clots during your period
- Difficulty sleeping
- Sugar cravings
- Mood swings
- Headaches or migraines
- Early miscarriage
- Infertility (you may not even know you’re getting pregnant if you have early miscarriages)
One way to get better insight into your progesterone levels is by charting your cycles.
When you take your basal body temperatures daily and chart your cervical fluid, you’ll be able to tell when you ovulate and determine the length of your luteal phase.
How can I increase my progesterone levels naturally?
So what next? If you’ve determined you have low progesterone, what can you do about it?
Watch your diet
Make sure you’re getting enough healthy fats, leafy greens, and citrus. Cut back on sugar and grains. Check out WomanCode for more ideas.
Easier said than done, right? Try making a list of things that help you de-stress.
- Take a walk
- Take a bath
- Listen to calming music
- Diffuse essential oils
- Talk to a friend
- Breathe deeply
- Do some yoga
See this post for more on reducing stress naturally.
Take a good multivitamin and make sure you’re getting high enough levels of vitamin C, vitamin D3, the B vitamins, and magnesium. You can also try maca, red raspberry leaf, and vitex (chasteberry).
Low progesterone can have some pretty unpleasant effects, but there are things you can do to help your body regain its equilibrium.
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