Progesterone is a female sex hormone that is mainly produced in a female’s ovaries after each month’s ovulation cycle, and it plays an important role in both pregnancy and the menstrual cycle. Besides regulating the menstrual cycle, progesterone readies a woman’s uterus for pregnancy by thickening the uterus’ lining in preparation for a fertilized egg. When no egg is fertilized, progesterone levels go down and a new menstrual cycle ensues. In the case where an egg is fertilized, progesterone helps maintain the thickened uterine lining during the course of the pregnancy. Maintaining proper levels ensures that the body does not go into Progesterone Deficiency.
In the case of progesterone deficiency, however, this vital role is not carried out, resulting in problems with your menstrual cycles and fertility. Older, menopausal women usually have a progesterone deficiency.
Progesterone, however, is not only the prerogative of women. Men also need progesterone. Albeit at much lower levels than women, men encounter a problem with sperm development without it. Fortunately, this is rare.
Progesterone is produced in a woman’s ovaries, the adrenal glands, the placenta (during pregnancy), and in men, the testes. It is thus quite possible to say that progesterone deficiency might contribute to or be the result of adrenal fatigue.
The most typical signs indicating a progesterone deficiency closely correspond with adrenal fatigue. These include:
As a woman gets older, her progesterone levels drop. One of the major reasons for a progesterone deficiency in younger women is stress. It is also one of the main reasons in men.
The body has a built in mechanism of balance. Progesterone is automatically balanced by estrogen in the body. Problems arise when they are not in balance. In the modern world, where estrogen can be the predominant hormone coming from chemicals, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and stress – the body tends to be in a state of estrogen dominance.
The protein from foods we eat is another reason for estrogen dominance and the resulting progesterone deficiency since these foods can be heavily saturated with hormones. Also, as already mentioned, our modern environment is filled with chemicals that actually mimic estrogen in the body. In turn, this subdues our progesterone levels.
Although menopause is natural, a hysterectomy or oophorectomy both cause a significant drop in progesterone production.
Although not recognized by modern medicine as a medical condition, adrenal fatigue is a fact of life for many people. This condition begins when the adrenals are overstressed and unable to perform their normal function. It is a condition characterized by a number of different symptoms such as fatigue, reactive hypoglycemia, insomnia, and low libido.
Under normal circumstances, when the body perceives a threat, it goes into a state of readiness to deal with it. This is known as the fight or flight reflex and is an automatic response. The hypothalamus, which is part of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA axis), perceives a threat and sends a message via neurotransmitters to the pituitary gland that the body needs to be put into that state of readiness in order to address the threat. This threat could be of a physiological or psychological nature.
The pituitary gland in turn releases hormones that indicate to the adrenal gland that it needs to produce cortisol (which deals with stress) and adrenalin (which puts the body in a state of readiness in order to take appropriate action). Of higher priority is the production of stress-related hormones, with other hormonal production considered as secondary. Once the stressful situation is over, however, normal bodily function and hormone production once more ensue. So far, so good.
However, when the stress is prolonged – continuing for a long period or indefinitely – reactions can be completely different. An increase in or continuation of stress means the body needs to produce increasingly larger amounts of cortisol in the adrenal glands.
At some point, the adrenals are no longer able to keep up with the ever-increasing demand, and your body’s automatic response kicks in. This is called the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response – with the adrenal glands being on the forefront of this anti-stress battle.
Once the NEM kicks into action, other avenues are sought to produce the cortisol needed to keep up with the demand, as cortisol is the body’s main anti-stress hormone. The body, however, cannot keep up with this production indefinitely, and at some point, total adrenal exhaustion sets in. At this point, you are said to suffer from ‘burnout’.
Recovery from adrenal fatigue depends on what stage you are in. Stage 3, also called adrenal exhaustion, can be very devastating. Recovery is a very long process and those with the condition often have a number of seemingly unrelated symptoms, including those as mentioned with a progesterone deficiency.
Progesterone, estrogen, and cortisol are but three of the hormones produced in the adrenal glands using cholesterol as their raw material. These hormones have similar molecular structures yet have different functions.
When the body is in ‘fight or flight’ mode due to stress, cortisol production is increased in the adrenal glands. The problem, however, is that in order to make cortisol, progesterone is needed. Since progesterone is used to make stress hormones, and no longer does what it is designed to do, an imbalance is created between your progesterone and estrogen, and conversely, testosterone as well.
It may not necessarily mean that you have too much estrogen in your body. Rather, your progesterone levels are lowered due to increased and prolonged stress, thereby lowering these levels in relation to the estrogen already present.
Because your progesterone is being depleted, it impacts on normal hormonal interaction in the body, resulting in a multitude of undesirable symptoms. Western medicine normally looks at treating the symptoms, and therefore, the cause is not necessarily treated. Progesterone replacement might help alleviate the symptoms for a while, but in the long run, it is a matter of adding fuel to the fire and serves to fuel the body’s desire for an ever-increasing cortisol production.
Holistic medicine, on the other hand, sees the body in its entirety and understands the physiological connections between the different systems present in the body and their function, while also keeping in mind the role played by the psychological condition of the person. Where one component is affected, it leads to a domino effect, with other components becoming affected as well. However, if you treat the cause – all of the other components react positively as well.
A holistic healthcare practitioner will try to increase your body’s levels of progesterone naturally. This includes looking at what you eat as well as natural supplements.
When it comes to vitamins to boost your progesterone levels, vitamin B and vitamin C are both very beneficial. Vitamin B, most noticeably vitamin B6, helps the body produce progesterone at optimal levels. It is also necessary for the liver in order to break down estrogen, as increased estrogen levels cause an imbalance.
Research has also indicated that women with higher levels of vitamin B6 stand a smaller chance of having a miscarriage.
Good sources of vitamin B6 include: lean red meat, seafood, spinach, potatoes, beans, potatoes, whole grains, and walnuts.
Vitamin C also serves to boost progesterone production. The ascorbic acid present in vitamin C is an antioxidant which fights free radicals that damage cells. Research indicates that the ovaries, immediately before ovulation, use up large amounts of ascorbic acid to ensure a healthy ovulation. A study from 2003 also indicates that the women in the study who increased their vitamin C consumption had a higher pregnancy rate than those who were part of the corresponding control group.
Foods typically high in vitamin C include dark green leafy vegetables, yellow peppers, kiwi fruit, oranges, lemons, limes, and broccoli.
Magnesium should be one of the most abundant minerals in your body. Research, however, shows that up to three-quarters of Americans actually have a magnesium deficiency.
Magnesium is crucial as it aids with calcium absorption, helps to regulate the pituitary gland, and regulates hormone levels. A lack of magnesium does not allow your body to produce enough of the necessary hormones that keep your reproductive system working optimally.
Besides taking a magnesium supplement, eat foods that are rich in this mineral, such as nuts, seeds (e.g. pumpkin seeds), fish such as mackerel, dark chocolate, and dark green leafy vegetables.
Zinc is necessary for hormonal health as well as in the production of progesterone. Zinc prompts the pituitary gland to release the hormones that promote ovulation while at the same time stimulating the ovaries to produce progesterone.
Good sources include seafood (particularly shellfish and crabs), pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts, and red meat.
All the supplements mentioned herein can be helpful, but can also worsen adrenal fatigue if not carefully deployed. The dosage required for each person can be very different.
Creams containing natural progesterone are very effective in increasing your progesterone levels. These creams have the same cellular structure as progesterone naturally produced by the body and are easily absorbed. Make sure, however, that the cream you use does not contain estrogens as well.
In the setting of adrenal fatigue, progesterone may not be well tolerated. Remember that progesterone is primarily metabolized by the liver. Liver congestion is a common finding in advanced adrenal fatigue sufferers. Adding progesterone may prove too much of a burden for the liver to bear, triggering adrenal crashes and therefore retarding the recovery process.
Whether psychological or physiological in nature, stress is probably the main reason you have a progesterone deficiency. There may not be much you can do to stop the stress from occurring, but there is a lot you can do to manage stress and deal with it.
© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.