You’re probably familiar with the potential symptoms of low progesterone: mood swings, anxiety, fatigue, low sex drive, and sleep disturbances. For some women, PMS hits the week before their period. For others, the symptoms are more erratic, seemingly lasting throughout the month. If this sounds like a normal month for you, we need to talk.
First of all, feeling bad should never be considered normal.
Secondly, these symptoms could be a sign of low progesterone, which can dramatically affect fertility. If you’re working on boosting fertility or want to resolve symptoms associated with PMS, you’ll first want to address low progesterone.
Why is progesterone so important for fertility?
Well, first off … libido! Arguably the best and most important part of fertility. 😉 Progesterone is what increases your libido around ovulation and low progesterone can make it very difficult to get into the mood.
Progesterone is triggered during ovulation – about 14/15 days after your first day of bleeding and begins to drop as estrogen rises during the beginning of your cycle. (Read more about understanding your menstrual cycle here) Progesterone’s job is to maintain the lining of the uterus, which makes it possible for a fertilized egg to attach if you’re trying to get pregnant. It also helps maintain healthy cervical mucous, which provides nourishment and safe travels for the sperm as it moves toward the egg.
Progesterone stays high throughout a pregnancy as well, which helps to ensure the survival and overall health of the embryo/fetus.
If babies aren’t on the brain, I hope you’ll consider correcting low progesterone anyway. Because the symptoms can be brutal and affect overall hormone regulation. Low progesterone also may be a sign of estrogen dominance, which has its own set of health issues.
But first, let’s look at some of the reasons you might have low progesteron:
Your body will always choose survival over procreation. This means you will preferentially make cortisol over progesterone when exposed to chronic stress. Pregnenolone, which I like to think of as the “mama hormone” gives birth to both progesterone and cortisol, as well as other hormones. In times of stress, pregnenolone will be shunted to make cortisol at the expense of progesterone. This is what is known as the “pregnenolone steal.” In addition, cortisol blocks progesterone receptors, which means that you can not efficiently use the progesterone you are making.
Remember pregnenolone? Pregnenolone synthesis requires thyroid hormone. To even make the molecule you need to create progesterone you must first have adequate thyroid hormone.
Rises in testosterone means lower levels of progesterone. Making sure you’re producing adequate progesterone is essential in order to ovulate. Without ovulation, not only is it difficult for your body to adequately clear the uterine lining during menses, but it’s impossible to get pregnant. And it’s important to understand that even if you’re having a period, it doesn’t mean you’re ovulating! Read more about PCOS here.
After age 35, there is an inevitable decline in progesterone. Luckily, I’m going to give you some ways to support hormone balance, so keep reading!
Prolactin is the hormone that triggers lactation, but can rise in non-lactating women as well. This is a problem because high levels prolactin can interfere with progesterone production and inhibit ovulation. High prolactin can be the result of a poor diet, stressful lifestyle or something more serious so you definitely want to get this checked out.
Estrogen dominance occurs whenever a woman produces too much estrogen relative to her progesterone levels. Estrogen dominance can occur during perimenopause or menopause, but is becoming more prevalent among women of childbearing age. Excess body fat, chronic stress, and a diet high in sugar and processed starchy carbs can contribute to blood sugar imbalance and hormone dysregulation. When progesterone is low due to estrogen dominance, you’ll likely experience other symptoms like fluid retention, breast tenderness, and irritability.
9 Things You Can Do Today to Boost Progesterone
As mentioned above, chronic stress increases the secretion of cortisol and adrenaline at the expense of sex hormones like progesterone. Find a stress management practice that works for you, whether it’s deep breathing, mindfulness, or just walking the dog or talking with a friend. Your health and your fertility depends on it!
Cholesterol is necessary for the synthesis of pregnenolone (the “mama” hormone), which in turn makes progesterone. Cholesterol is also necessary for the production of thyroid hormone!
Fat will also help to balance blood sugar. Insulin sensitivity or blood sugar imbalance has deleterious effects on your hormones. Studies suggest that improving insulin sensitivity can dramatically increase progesterone levels in those with luteal phase defects.(1)
Fat from trusted sources of meat, lard, fatty fish, and plant-derived fats like coconut oil, olive oil, olives, nuts, seeds, and avocado are all good choices. Women wanting to improve their hormones should eat at least 2 tablespoons of fat at every meal to support natural hormone balance.
Vitex agnus-castus (Chaste tree berry)
Vitex raises progesterone by stimulating the secretion of Luteinizing Hormone (LH) from the brain, which then stimulates ovaries to produce progesterone. Vitex has also been shown to reduce prolactin secretion while raising progesterone levels.
Try 2-3 ml vitex tincture taken 2-3 times daily during the second half of your cycle.(2,3) Vitex is a strong flavored herb and many women find capsules more tolerable. Many of my patients have used Vitex 750 2-4 caps daily during the luteal phase (days 15-28 of your cycle) with great success.
Green tea helps with estrogen metabolism, which is critical when dealing with estrogen dominance and lowered estrogen levels are associated with fewer incidences of cancer, especially breast cancer. In one study, Japanese women who drank green tea daily had up to 40% urinary estrogen levels as compared to women who drank green tea only once per week.(4)
Often, more green tea is needed to initially correct estrogen dominance, making a supplement a nice addition to your tea ritual.
Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb that helps to balance cortisol output, which indirectly supports healthy progesterone production.
Take 2-4 ml of a tincture twice daily or a supplement at 100 mg twice daily, with the second dose being before 3 pm. You may need more or less of this herb and it should be avoided in people with a history of bipolar disorder.
Zinc increases follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which supports a healthy ovulation, which triggers the ovaries to produce progesterone.
Get plenty of zinc-rich foods like oysters, herring, beef, lamb, pork, liver, egg yolks, oats, pecans, Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, ginger root, mustard, chili powder, peas, carrots, beets, and cabbage.
Magnesium is involved in many of the body’s reactions and is essential to adrenal health, which is essential for healthy hormone production!
Take 100-300 mg at night (magnesium is a relaxing mineral!) or eat plenty dark green vegetables, almonds, pecans, cashews, brazil nuts, seeds, legumes, brown rice, avocado, and dried apricots. Need a little help with magnesium? This is one of my favorite ones.
B6 is involved in estrogen metabolism and can easily become depleted if estrogen dominance is a problem. Vitamin B6 possesses “progesterone-like effects” and has been shown to reduce estrogen while increasing progesterone levels.(6,7)
Take 50 mg once daily as a part of a B-complex or consume some of the following B6-rich foods: liver and other organ meats, fish, poultry, egg yolk, dried beans, peanuts, walnuts, banana, prunes, potatoes, cauliflower, cabbage, and avocado.
Antioxidants like vitamin C may increase and intensify the effects of progesterone. Vitamin C has also been shown to raise progesterone levels and resolve luteal phase defects, resulting in improved fertility.
I often recommend 1,000 mg daily of vitamin C to my patients because it raises progesterone. Or, you can try these high-vitamin C foods: Citrus fruits, strawberries, mango, papaya, watermelon, tomatoes, broccoli. Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, and spinach.(7,8,9)
As you can see progesterone is super important to your fertility and ability to become pregnant. I’ve shared 9 different ways for you to boost yours starting today.
However, as I’ve written about before these are not typically going to be enough on their own to actually get you pregnant.
As I explained above, there underlying root causes that are behind progesterone issues. Getting to the bottom of these root causes and fixing them is the best way for you to get amazing hormones and is what I recommend to my patients.
But here’s the deal, not all practitioners understand how to actually do this, which is why I have our clinic. We specialize in getting to the root causes and fixing them. I encourage you to book a free consult here.
Looking for more great hormone fixes that work? Grab a FREE copy of my book Dr. Brighten’s Quick Guide to Balancing Hormones.