Why Low Progesterone May be Bad for You
Hormone balance is important. Any woman can tell you that she notices when her hormones are off. Imagine many of the diagnoses that women come to the doctor with that are related to an imbalance in hormones. Menopausal symptoms, hot flashes, night sweats, PMS, postpartum depression, and infertility; just to name a few. But, there are many more conditions related to hormone balance; some obvious, and some not. I think we are experiencing an epidemic of female conditions that are specifically related to low progesterone or similarly, elevated estrogen.
What does Progesterone Do?
Progesterone is such an important hormone in mood and sleep and overall sense of wellbeing. Progesterone helps you maintain your level-headedness. In the body, progesterone is responsible for preparing the lining of the endometrium to get ready for implanting a fertilized egg, therefore progesterone is extremely important in the success of conception. Each month when this doesn’t happen, the lining is shed. Progesterone also helps balance blood sugar levels, boosts and regulates thyroid function, helps the break down of fat to be used as energy, is anti-inflammatory in nature as it helps to reduce swelling and inflammation.
A few of the symptoms of low progesterone are sugar cravings, ovarian cysts, irregular periods, recurrent early miscarriage, blood clots, cold hands and feet, decreased sex drive, depression, anxiety, mood swings, acne, insomnia, constant allergies, fatigue, endometriosis, short luteal phase, infertility, and slow metabolism
Many conditions are termed “low progesterone” but may in fact not be related to low progesterone. Many times, when someone has what we call estrogen dominance, they have elevated estrogen relative to how much progesterone they have. So this means that someone can have low progesterone symptoms with normal progesterone levels. The reason this happens is because when your estrogen is high, your body senses that your progesterone is low, even if it is not. Therefore your body will trigger symptoms of low progesterone because of the excess of estrogen.
Estrogen dominance, or excess estrogen, is happening more commonly due to our increase in exposure to estrogens. We get exposed to them environmentally as well as in some water supplies due to the abundance of estrogens being taken orally by women. If a woman is using a form of topical estrogen in the home, tests have found elevated estrogen in family members as estrogen is easily transferred from the hands of one to another. Environmentally, we have accumulated excess estrogen-like compounds throughout our years of using plastics. These chemicals are called xeno-biotics and they fit similarly into estrogen receptors, making the body sense extra estrogen and sometimes even driving some metabolic processes within the body.
In addition, we are becoming larger as a culture and with additional fat cells, we tend to accumulate more estrogen. In an overweight individual, this excess estrogen can lead to low progesterone or low progesterone symptoms.
True Dangers of Low Progesterone
My concern for the low progesterone/ high estrogen problem is that we are seeing the imbalance leads to some dangerous conditions such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, and possibly uterine cancer. Excess estrogen, without the balance of progesterone, can be dangerous if left untreated.
I am not saying that everyone needs to take progesterone, but every woman should be aware of what her body is telling her. Early symptoms are the best way to determine E:P balance. Estrogen to progesterone imbalance can be discovered from a very young age and it can be treated and prevented early. So, for instance, if I see a 14 year old girl having significant cramping, heavy bleeding, and PMS, my first line of treatment is to balance the E:P ratio so that she starts having a more comfortable cycle. This is what is important to her. But what is important to me, but maybe I haven’t shared this with her, is that in keeping her hormones balanced when she is younger, she is going to have a better transition into fertility, have healthier balanced pregnancies, can go into menopause more smoothly, and have a better chance at preventing breast or ovarian cancer. This is a lot to think about for a 14 year old, but when balancing a girl’s hormones, I can’t but think of her future and feel grateful that I can be a part in her prevention.
Stress Causes Low Progesterone
Another reason progesterone may be low is when a person is under stress. You may recall someone under a great deal of stress who may have missed one or a few cycles. This occurs because the precursor hormone that is used to make progesterone and estrogen also has to make the stress hormone. When someone is under stress for any reason, stress always wins. We were designed that way evolutionary because the types of stressors we came across were significant such as the common example of running from the tiger. We have not evolved past this time as of yet, therefore living under constant stress as many people do, has certainly taken a toll on physiology and how all of the organs of the body function together. The stress glands, the adrenals, always win and usually what organs suffer are the ovaries and the thyroid.
Taking progesterone is not always the best solution, depending on many factors. Age, whether one wants to get pregnant in the near future, family history of progesterone sensitive breast cancers, and other precautions must be taken before just starting progesterone. Herbs and dietary habits can help with estrogen dominance and reducing stress can help with stress induced low progesterone. Decreasing inflammation through diet and improving blood sugar can help ward off estrogen dominance. Here are some dietary suggestions below.
Dietary Suggestions for Reducing Estrogen Dominance:
Eliminate all sugar
Eliminate all juice
Consume only 1-2 fruits per day
Do no consume any dried fruit
Drink ½ your weight in ounces daily of filtered or bottled water
Eliminate all pastries, cookies, breads, donuts, and cakes
Only consume organic animal products and reduce them in your diet
Eat walnuts for reducing inflammation and increasing omega 3 fatty acids
Eat ground flax seeds for increasing sex hormone binding globulin
Eat hemp seeds for reducing inflammation and increasing omega 3 fatty acids
Eat vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower
Rid your diet of all processed foods. No boxes.
Stress Relief Suggestions:
Try meditating daily, even if it is 5 minutes per day. Sit in a comfortable position and concentrate and bringing air in through the nose and out through the mouth. Practice mindfulness and keep yourself in a place of non-judgment
Drink chamomile tea after dinner
Take 400 mg of magnesium after dinner
Begin to visualize happy thoughts daily
Progesterone has Influences Throughout the Body
The sooner you start to work on hormone balance, the better you will feel. Because of progesterone’s widespread functions throughout the body, working towards better hormone balance between estrogen and progesterone is also important to any other symptoms you may be experiencing. I once treated a woman who came in with endometriosis and a seizure disorder. Since I didn’t know how to start approaching her seizures (this was early on in practice), I told her we were going to work on her endometriosis first. After we treated her endometriosis, her seizures spontaneously stopped.