Increasing Progesterone for Hormone Balance
Hormone imbalances are all too common these days and can lead to many chronic disorders. Estrogen and progesterone are the main female sex hormones that naturally fluctuate with the menstrual cycle. Estrogen peaks during the first half of the cycle, the follicular phase, while progesterone peaks after ovulation in the second phase, or the luteal phase. These two hormones have various responsibilities and effects throughout the body and their balance is critical for maintaining balance and homeostasis.
In many cases, estrogen tends to be high, or dominant, while progesterone becomes too low. When progesterone drops too low the body may present various symptoms including:
Estrogen dominance - The main cause of low progesterone with symptoms such as ovarian or breast fibroids, endometriosis, varicose veins, weight gain, heavy and/or painful periods, bloating and mood swings.
Fertility and menstrual problems - Both estrogen and progesterone are important for the phases of the menstrual cycle. Estrogen grows the lining of the uterus in preparation for conception. Progesterone maintains the lining throughout the luteal phase and if conception is successful progesterone levels rise, but if not, levels drop and the uterine lining is shed as menstruation. If progesterone is abnormally low this process can malfunction and lead to symptoms of irregular periods, heavy bleeding and troubles getting pregnant.
Anxiety and mood disorders - Progesterone has anti-anxiety and antidepressant actions by increasing the neurotransmitter GABA which is calming to the brain and nervous system. when progesterone is low, these symptoms tend to increase.
Low energy and insomnia - Low progesterone has been associated with difficulty falling asleep and getting quality sleep. This too is related to low levels of GABA. Poor quality of sleep causes low energy throughout the day.
Brain fog and memory loss - Progesterone is protective to the brain and can improve mental clarity by reducing swelling and protecting nerve cells.
There are many factors relating to diet and lifestyle that can lead to low progesterone levels. The following factors are generally at the root:
Stress - Whether physical, mental or emotional, stress causes the fight-or-flight hormones adrenaline and cortisol to increase and over time can lead to imbalances in other hormones. In the case of progesterone, the body will lower progesterone levels while under stress.
Estrogen dominance - The female body must maintain a delicate balance of estrogen to progesterone to function properly. Estrogen dominance can occur when that delicate balance is disturbed because of progesterone levels are too low. There are many other causes of estrogen dominance such as estrogen-mimicking chemicals, synthetic hormones, pesticides, and herbicides etc.
Poor Diet - A diet low in vitamins and minerals while high in processed and packaged foods, as well as poor quality animal products that contain chemicals and hormones, are major causes of hormone imbalances.
Nourishment - Foods do not actually contain progesterone, however eating a nutrient dense diet full of vitamins and minerals will support the body to boost progesterone production and balance hormones
Consume foods rich in vitamin C - camu camu, citrus fruits, sweet potato, kiwi, papaya, pumpkin, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and mustard greens. You can also supplement with 1,200 - 3,000mg/day vitamin C in the form of ascorbic acid.
Add in Foods rich in vitamin B6 – wild salmon, potatoes, avocado, spinach, banana, hazelnuts, walnuts, dried plums. You can also supplement with 100mg/day of vitamin B6
Eat more foods rich in zinc - oysters, shrimp, grass-fed beef, pumpkin and cashews. You can also supplement with 30mg/day of zinc.
Include foods high in magnesium - leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, black beans, cashews, cacao powder, whole grain brown rice. You can also supplement with 500 - 1,000mg/day of magnesium. Most absorbable forms of magnesium are bisglycinate and malate.
Include foods rich in vitamin e - almonds, sunflower seeds, avocado, collard greens, broccoli. You can also supplement with 400 - 800IU/day of vitamin E.
Include foods rich in sulfur - broccoli, collard greens, cabbage, brussels sprouts (it is best to steam or bake these types of cruciferous vegetables which contain goitrogens that can lower thyroid function). You can also supplement with MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) or N-Acetylcysteine up to 3,000mg/day.
Include foods rich in fiber - flaxseeds, chia seeds, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. It is always best to buy flaxseed vs. ground flaxseed since flaxseeds go rancid easily. Buy flaxseeds and grind them yourself.
Vitex/chaste tree berry - one of the most powerful herbs for women’s fertility and menstrual health as it can help to support hormone balance within the body by stimulating the pituitary gland to produce more progesterone. Dosage - 15 drops of liquid extract daily between menstrual cycles.
Kava kava and passion flower – promotes calmness and helps to reduce anxiety. Dosage - 500mg daily.
Ashwagandha and Rhodiola – these adaptogens have been used for many years to the body manage stress. Dosage - 600mg daily
Maca – increases progesterone production and suppresses cortisol, the stress hormone. Dosage - 1,000mg twice daily.
Thyme, sandalwood, clary sage and lavender oils are hormone balancers. They work to either directly boost progesterone production or indirectly through decreasing stress.
Avoid xenoestrogens - Although we can’t avoid them completely, do what you can to keep your contact with xenoestrogens at a low. sources include parabens, benzophenone, 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor, phtalates, pesticides, BPA in plastics, chemicals in cleaning products, insecticides, etc. INSTEAD - whenever possible choose organic, grass-fed, non-GMO, locally grown foods, natural body and beauty products, household cleaners made from natural ingredients.
Exercise - Excess estrogen is stored in body fat (adipose tissue) which affects hormone production in the ovaries by releasing estrogen and in turn affecting the ratio of estrogen to progesterone causing low progesterone. Keeping active will reduce the amount of stored estrogen while offering endless benefits to the body, mind, and soul. But keep in mind that excessive exercise will also lead to hormone imbalances and low progesterone, so find a comfortable balance doing exercise that you enjoy doing.
Manage stress response – The stress hormone cortisol has its benefits in fight or flight mode or for responding to inflammation, but constantly elevated levels of cortisol can wreak havoc on the body emotionally and physically. One of the things your body does when responding to stress is to redirect synthesis of progesterone to cortisol, therefore, managing stress is key in balancing hormones. To manage your stress response, try meditation, yoga and walks in nature or infrared saunas.