Understanding Your Hormones: Progesterone

Understanding Your Hormones: Progesterone

As you step into the menopause transition, you're faced with changes and experiences that are uniquely yours. The starting point to navigating this journey is understanding your hormones, specifically progesterone, among others like estrogen and testosterone, which play critical roles in the female reproductive system and our overall well-being.

Surprisingly, despite its importance, many women are unaware of progesterone's role and how it affects our hormonal health, leading to unnecessary confusion and stress during the menopause transition. 

What is progesterone?

Progesterone, derived from the Latin word "pro-gesture,"  which means "to carry forth,"  is primarily produced in the ovaries after ovulation. It is an important part of regulating the menstrual cycle and thickening the lining of the uterus for implantation. 

Sometimes known as the "pregnancy hormone,"  it’s an essential component of the female reproductive system that helps the body get ready for pregnancy and supports the growth of the foetus in the early stages, along with:

  1. Menstrual Cycle Regulation: Progesterone plays a role in menstrual cycle regulation
  2. Supporting Pregnancy: Progesterone creates an environment that supports the growth and development of the embryo and fetus while ensuring that you do not ovulate while pregnant.
  3. Preventing Uterine Contractions: Progesterone helps preserve the uterine environment and induce relaxation in pregnancy by preventing the uterine muscles from contracting.
  4. Support Lactation: During pregnancy, progesterone helps the breasts' alveoli—the glands that produce milk—develop and prepare for lactation.
  5. Mood Changes: Variations in progesterone levels during the menstrual cycle may cause mood swings.
  6. Supporting Bone Health: Progesterone and estrogen work together to preserve bone strength and density.

What role does progesterone play in perimenopause?

Progesterone levels decline during perimenopause, the transitional period preceding menopause, and it’s the interplay between estrogen fluctuations that gives rise to many of the most common symptoms experienced during this stage:  

  1. Menstrual Irregularities: Thanks to lower levels of progesterone, and time, women's ovarian function weakens as menopause approaches, resulting in irregular menstrual cycles. You might go through longer or shorter cycles, bleed more or less, or miss periods altogether.
  2. Symptoms of Perimenopause: Hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, anxiety, brain fog, low libido, and weight gain are all typically associated with perimenopause, and they can be made worse by fluctuating progesterone during this stage. 
  3. Bone Health: Progesterone and estrogen preserve bone strength and density. However, declining levels during perimenopause can impact bone health by potentially increasing the risk of osteoporosis and bone density loss
  4. Uterine Health: The key hormone in controlling the development and shedding of the uterine lining during menstruation, declining progesterone levels during perimenopause can affect the uterine lining, sometimes causing excessive or irregular bleeding.

What role does progesterone play in post-menopause?

After menopause, when ovarian activity ceases and sex hormone levels decline, progesterone is still produced in small amounts by other tissues like the adrenal glands and fat cells. Although these hormones continue to have some effects on the body, their levels are significantly lower compared to premenopausal levels.

Even in postmenopause, progesterone, along with estrogen, continues to play a role in supporting bone, breast, and cardiovascular health, albeit less efficiently due to the overall decline in hormone levels.


What happens if my progesterone levels are too low?

In perimenopause, progesterone levels typically decline, while estrogen levels can fluctuate. Without adequate progesterone to balance estrogen, estrogen dominance can occur, where estrogen levels are relatively high compared to progesterone.

Signs of low progesterone include the following symptoms:

    What happens if I have too much progesterone?

    If there is an imbalance with too much progesterone relative to estrogen, it typically means that estrogen levels have dropped relative to progesterone. 

    Signs of high progesterone include the following symptoms:


    How can I help my progesterone levels?

    While no single treatment can directly increase natural progesterone levels, there are natural approaches that may indirectly support progesterone production or balance hormones in the body. 

    1. Diet: A diet rich in vitamins B6, C, and zinc, including cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cabbage, and kale, along with nuts, spinach, pumpkin, and whole grains, may help stimulate the body’s progesterone production.
    2. Reducing Stress: High stress levels can lead to the conversion of progesterone into cortisol, the stress hormone. Try to incorporate self-care strategies like yoga and deep breathing to help support your well-being during this time.
    3. Quality Sleep: Progesterone can influence sleep quality, so prioritise good sleep hygiene. This may include reading before bed, limiting screen time, maintaining a cool sleeping environment, and resting during the day.
    4. Maintaining a Healthy Weight: Eating well, exercising, and making positive lifestyle choices can all positively impact weight management, which in turn supports optimal progesterone production.

    Can herbal supplements help balance hormones?

    For centuries, herbs have been studied for their potential to influence hormone levels in the body by interacting with the endocrine system to help regulate balance.

    Adaptogens in particular have been well-researched for their ability to help regulate hormone levels, particularly estrogen, progesterone, and cortisol, often referred to as the "stress hormone," leaving us feeling more emotionally blanaced.

    1. Black Cohosh- Often used to manage menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, black cohosh is believed to interact with estrogen receptors.
    2. Ashwagandha - An adaptogenic herb known to help reduce stress and support hormone balance, particularly in managing cortisol levels.
    3. Licorice Root - As a source of phytoestrogens, this herbal remedy mimics the action of estrogen in the body, exerting a mild hormonal effect in its own right, reducing the effect of the body's hormonal swings.


    If you have any concerns or are experiencing symptoms that are affecting your quality of life, speak to your doctor or menopause specialist to explore treatments available to help you regain balance and feel yourself again.



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    This article has been reviewed by our expert advisory team.

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