6 Ways to Boost Progesterone Naturally
Oestrogen gets so much attention when we talk about women’s hormones that progesterone is often forgotten. But low progesterone levels give women so much grief, think PMS, infertility and even sleep problems. Keep reading to learn how to boost your progesterone levels naturally.
A little background info
Progesterone is not present all cycle long, it is produced in response to ovulation so if you don’t ovulate you don’t make progesterone. At ovulation the egg kind of bursts out of the follicle leaving behind a hole, kinda like an olive that has been deseeded. The follicle heals itself by producing the corpus luteum (scare tissue) and it’s this corpus luteal that produces progesterone. Oestrogen grows the endometrium (uterine lining) and the presence of progesterone primes the endometrium ready for the egg to implant for pregnancy. Not only that but it holds the endometrium stable so if you experience spotting it’s a sign your progesterone levels are low and the endometrium is starting to shed, not a good sign! Progesterone is also very calming and relaxing on the brain and is why low progesterone levels result in the anxiety, depression and irritability.
Oestrogen and progesterone have a sea saw like relationship. Before ovulation oestrogen is high and progesterone is very low but after ovulation progesterone rises and oestrogen decreases. The balance of progesterone and oestrogen after ovulation is crucial to whether you experience PMS or not. When oestrogen levels are higher than progesterone or progesterone is low during the luteal phase you are more likely to experience the symptoms of PMS like irritability, depression, bloating, fluid retention, acne, breast tenderness and pain. Keeping progesterone high during the luteal phase is crucial for blissful periods that just arrive, no PMS symptoms and for fertility!
Oestrogen is a pretty demanding hormone while progesterone is like a ‘chill pill’
Symptoms of low progesterone include:
- PMS symptoms
- Irritability, anxiety, depression
- Poor sleep
- Breast tenderness
- Short luteal phase (the period of time between ovulation to bleed is less than 12 days)
- Luteal phase defects
- Cycle less than 24 days long
A word on luteal phase defect
Is a buzz word in the fertility world. The luteal phase needs to be at least 12 days in length in order for your cycle to be fertile. This is because once the egg is fertilised it takes about 10 days to travel down the fallopian tubes and implant into the endometrium. If you are getting a period sooner than 12 days after ovulation the fertilised egg doesn’t have time to implant and is washed out in the period. This short luteal phase it what is termed ‘luteal phase defect’ and is also linked to miscarriage. Again this all relates back to your progesterone levels post ovulation. Keep reading and I will tell you how to fix it.
If you have any of the symptoms above it would be indicate there is an issue with your progesterone:oestrogen balance. But you need to identify whether oestrogen is high (read how to fix oestrogen dominance here) or whether progesterone is low. Progesterone levels peak 7 days after ovulation so progesterone needs to be tested via blood or saliva on day 21 of the cycle to identify this peak. A saliva hormone reading of progesterone should be >1000 pmol/L while a blood reading should be 20-24 ng/mL. It is also important to test oestrogen at this point too as the ratio between oestradiol and progesterone should be 1 to 300, i.e. 300 times more progesterone than oestrogen.
Low in progesterone?
You can increase your progesterone levels naturally by:
Vitamin C – this mighty little vitamin is essential for increasing progesterone levels. Studies have shown that vitamin C has the ability to increase progesterone in both women with low progesterone and those with luteal phase defects. Just 750mg of vitamin C per day for three menstrual cycles have shown to increase progesterone by 8-12 ng/mL, that’s huge!
Vitamin B6 – is often recommended to women suffering from PMS as it plays an important role in the production of progesterone. Taken every day of the cycle at 100mg/day vitamin B6 has shown to increase progesterone levels and lengthen the menstrual cycle.
Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-cactus) – it is also referred to as vitex or chasteberry is a herb that has been used for hundreds of years for fertility. Chaste tree is believed to increase progesterone by a number of mechanisms, one being that it increases luteinizing hormone which tells the corpus luteum (remember the scar tissue on the follicle) to produce more progesterone. It also reduces prolactin which hinders ovulation and therefore for progesterone production and finally it increases dopamine levels (our feel good hormone)! A clinical trial assessed the use of chaste tree in the treatment of PMS and found that taking chaste tree over three menstrual cycles showed a 93% decrease in PMS symptoms. Chaste tree can change a women from a premenstrual witch to a goddess within a number of cycles. Chaste tree doesn’t need to be taken all cycle. I usually recommend women take it from day 10 until their period at 500 – 2000mg/day equivalent dried berries.
Reduce stress – So important for healthy progesterone levels!! Cortisol is the hormone we produce when under stress and in order to produce cortisol the body pulls from progesterone in what is known as the Pregnenolone Steal pathway. So the more cortisol you make (i.e. the more stressed you are) the less progesterone you make. Cortisol will also block the progesterone receptor on your cells. So if low progesterone is your issue than you really need to assess your stress levels.
Reduce coffee – Ok I know you may not want to hear this but have you ever wondered how coffee gives you energy? By giving you a short term energy boost by raising cortisol levels. And you just read above why cortisol is bad news for progesterone.
Withania – Is an Indian herb that you should add to your tool kit when boosting progesterone. It indirectly boosts progesterone by reducing elevated cortisol levels and therefore helps reduce stress. It also helps with energy and stamina and is my favourite herb for busy women. Dose 2-4mL per day of a 2:1 liquid extract.
Once you know how, getting you hormones into balance is simple and healthy progesterone levels are vital for hormone balance!