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Hormones: Progesterone

Free Book Excerpt: Your Blood Never Lies by James LaValle
August 1, 2016 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

An excerpt from the book, “Your Blood Never Lies: How to Read a Blood Test for a Longer, Healthier Life” by James B. LaValle, RPh, CCN, ND. Read additional excerpts or buy the whole book.

Although progesterone is found in both males and females, it is primarily known for its role in conception, pregnancy, and the regulation of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Produced in the ovaries, adrenal glands, and the placenta of pregnant women, progesterone has several functions in addition to its role as a sex hormone. It supports bone density, protects against the proliferation of breast and uterine cells, and acts as a coating for the nerve fibers of the brain, reducing hyperexcitability. A female’s progesterone levels rise and fall according to the stages of her life. While men also synthesize a small amount of this hormone, it is much less important than testosterone when it comes to sexual maturity. Synthetic forms of progesterone (progestins) are widely used in birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy.

Natural progesterone levels are suppressed in women who take synthetic forms, so blood tests are inaccurate in these cases. Otherwise, a blood test is usually administered twenty-one days after the start of a woman’s period, if she is still menstruating. Because progesterone readings normally fluctuate in women, there are a number of normal adult ranges for this hormone, as shown in the table below.

REFERENCE RANGES FOR PROGESTERONE
Category Progesterone Normal Range (ng/mL)
Men 0.2 to 1.4
Women (pre-ovulation) Less than 1.0
Women (mid-menstrual cycle) 5 to 20
Women (pregnant, first trimester) 11.2 to 90
Women (pregnant, second trimester) 25.6 to 89.4
Women (pregnant, third trimester) 48.4 to 42.5
Women (postmenopausal) Less than 1.0

While variations in progesterone levels may be perfectly normal, sometimes a high reading is cause for further testing.

WHAT CAUSES HIGH PROGESTERONE?

As stated earlier, ovulation, pregnancy, and bioidentical hormone replacement therapy can raise progesterone levels in the blood. Adrenal hyperplasia (abnormal functioning of the adrenal glands) can also raise levels, as can the use of drugs like hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) and Clomid, which are most commonly used for ferility or stimulating testosterone synthesis in men. Oral contraceptives do not raise blood progesterone levels, as synthetic progestins have neither the same characteristics as natural progesterone nor the same risk profile.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF HIGH PROGESTERONE?

High progesterone levels can create symptoms such as breast tenderness, mood swings, irregular periods, incontinence, bloating, reduced sex drive, vaginal dryness, insulin resistance, weight gain, and depression.

HOW CAN HIGH PROGESTERONE BE TREATED?

Because estrogen and progesterone work to balance each other out, your doctor may recommend estrogen replacement therapy. Your first step, however, might be to try a variety of dietary and lifestyle changes to boost estrogen naturally. Because progesterone fluctuates, treating a high level of this hormone may not be necessary. Follow your doctor’s advice when it comes to analyzing this reading.

SUPPLEMENTS

If you are interested in supplements that might help balance your level, consider the following products.

SUPPLEMENTS FOR HIGH PROGESTERONE
Supplement Dosage Considerations
Black cohosh (standardized to 1 mg triterpenes) 20 mg twice a day. Do not use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Avoid use if you have a hormone-sensitive condition such as uterine fibroids or breast cancer. Do not use if you have liver disease, had a kidney transplant, or are suffering from protein-S deficiency.
Calcium glucarate 500 mg one to two times a day. Do not use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
DIM (diindolyl-methane) 75 to 150 mg twice a day. This supplement helps metabolize estrogen into a more beneficial form. Consult your health-care provider before using.
Maca 500 to 1,000 mg three times a day. Do not use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids DHA and EPA (fish oil) 1,000 mg twice a day. Fish oil acts as an antioxidant and decreases inflammation in the body, in addition to supporting heart and blood vessel health. Speak to your doctor before taking if you are on blood-thinning medication, as fish oil may increase the risk of bleeding. Be sure to use only high-quality oils that have been tested for contaminants.
Probiotics 5 to 15 billion CFUs one to three times a day. Probiotics help normalize beneficial flora in the gastrointestinal tract, and are reported to decrease triglyceride and cholesterol levels. They are also reported to improve BUN levels and quality of life in people with kidney disease. It’s best to use heatstable products that do not require refrigeration. If using an antibiotic, wait three hours before taking probiotics. If diarrhea occurs, decrease your dosage. If this side effect persists for longer than 48 hours, stop taking the supplement and contact your doctor. Live cultures should be guaranteed through the date of expiration on label. For optimal results, take probiotics with meals, as food improves the survivability of the cultures.

LIFESTYLE CHANGES

Adding phytoestrogen-containing foods like pomegranates and snap peas, eating more cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage, and increasing your fiber intake with flaxseeds, bran, and beans can help raise beneficial forms of estrogen in the body. Remove refined sugars and carbohydrates from your diet, decrease calories from fat, and increase lean protein consumption. Diets that are high in saturated fat and refined sugars but low in fiber have been reported to alter estrogen metabolism, in turn affecting progesterone levels. You should also avoid soft drinks, as the phosphorous and caffeine they contain foster bone loss, and opt for filtered water instead. Try not to drink from plastic containers, though, which may leach hormone-disrupting chemicals such as bisphenol A and phthalates. In addition, limit your use of personal care products that have these substances.

As stated earlier, stress can lead to hormonal imbalances. You may cut your stress levels by walking, meditating, doing yoga, gardening, or engaging in thirty minutes of moderate exercise five times a week. Finally, make sure to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

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WHAT CAUSES LOW PROGESTERONE?

Progesterone levels can decrease naturally or as the result of illness or lifestyle. The main factors behind low progesterone include:

  • Chronic stress
  • Environmental pollutants
  • High estrogen
  • Lack of exercise
  • Menopause
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Poor diet

If left untreated, this issue can lead to serious conditions such as infertility, miscarriage, heart disease, ovarian or uterine cysts, breast or ovarian cancer, and osteoporosis.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF LOW PROGESTERONE?

Low progesterone levels can cause symptoms that include anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, fatigue, memory loss, fibrocystic breasts, headaches, hot flashes, night sweats, breast tenderness, loss of libido, mood swings, irregular or heavy periods, lowered immunity, high blood pressure, and bone loss.

HOW CAN LOW PROGESTERONE BE TREATED?

Your doctor may suggest treatment with synthetic progesterone or naturally derived bioidentitcal hormone replacement therapy. Follow the directions of your doctor when taking bioidentical hormones and have your hormones tested regularly. Although low progesterone levels may simply be attributable to a normal phase of life, they can be the result of something more serious. Discuss all treatment options with your doctor.

SUPPLEMENTS

Depending on the cause of your low progesterone level, chasteberry may be beneficial. Do not take this substance before discussing its use with a doctor.

SUPPLEMENTS FOR LOW PROGESTERONE
Supplement Dosage Considerations
Chasteberry standardized to contain at least 0.5-percent agnuside and 0.6-percent aucubin) 100 to 200 mg every morning, preferably on an empty stomach, one hour before or two hours after breakfast. Do not use if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Avoid use if you have a hormone-sensitive condition such as uterine fibroids or breast cancer. Use with caution if taking dopamine agonist drugs, including metoclopramide and levodopa.

LIFESTYLE CHANGES

In some cases, lifestyle change may have enough impact on progesterone production to bring about a normal reading. Cutting out processed foods and refined sugars, getting more exercise, and reducing stress are ways to bring balance to hormone levels.

Did You Know?

Although progesterone is normally associated with reproductive health, recent studies have indicated that it plays a role in protecting the neurological system, too. Noting that in every age group, women were significantly less likely than men to die from a traumatic brain injury (brain injury caused by sudden impact, as in a fall, a car collision, or a blow to the head), scientists have hypothesized that progesterone–found in higher levels in women–reduces swelling around the brain and perhaps eliminates free radicals that cause cell death.


 

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