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.
- What is progesterone?
- Why is progesterone so important for fertility?
- Reasons you might have low progesterone
- Low progesterone symptoms
- How to increase progesterone
What is progesterone?
Progesterone is a female sex hormone that prepares the uterus for pregnancy. Progesterone is the main hormone of the luteal phase which begins following ovulation (around day 14 of your cycle). The drop in progesterone (and estrogen) at the end of your luteal phase triggers the beginning of your menstrual cycle. But what does progesterone do? Progesterone's job is to maintain the lining of the uterus which makes it possible for a fertilized egg to implant if you're trying to get pregnant. It also helps maintain healthy cervical mucus which provides nourishment and safe travels for sperm as it moves towards the egg.
Progesterone stays high throughout a pregnancy as well, which helps to ensure survival and overall health of the baby.
Why is progesterone so important for fertility?
Well, first off … libido! Arguably the best and most important part of fertility. 😉 Progesterone hormone is what increases your libido around ovulation and low progesterone can make it very difficult to get into the mood.
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.
Reasons you might have low progesterone
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 mean 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!
5. Elevated prolactin
Prolactin is the hormone that triggers lactation but can rise in non-lactating women as well. This is a problem because high levels of 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.
6. Estrogen dominance
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.
Low progesterone symptoms
- Insomnia or sleep disturbance
- Low libido
- Mood changes, anxiety and irritability
- Breast tenderness
- Headaches and migraines
- Weight gain
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Short cycles
- Mid-cycle spotting
How to increase progesterone
There are plenty of natural ways and foods to increase natural progesterone! For some women, using natural therapies alone will help them eliminate unwanted symptoms and increase progesterone. For other women, they may need additional support and may choose to use a progesterone cream or other forms of bioidentical progesterone.
1. Manage stress
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!
2. Progesterone foods – Eat fat!
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 progesterone food choices . Women wanting to improve their hormones should eat at least 2 tablespoons of fat at every meal to support natural hormone balance.
3. 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.
Balance by Dr. Brighten is formulated with Vitex to support healthy levels of progesterone.
4. Green tea
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. I've formulated Balance by Dr. Brighten with this in mind. You'll find 100 mg of green tea extract in your serving of Balance.
5. Rhodiola rosea
Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb that helps to balance cortisol output, which indirectly supports healthy progesterone production.
Aim for a supplement that contains 100 mg of Rhodiola daily. Adrenal Support, which is part of my Period Problems Kit™ contains Rhodiola and other adaptogenic herbs to support adrenal health and hormone balance.
Zinc increases follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which supports 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, chilli powder, peas, carrots, beets, and cabbage.
Bonus points for getting your man to eat these zinc-rich eats as well. Zinc is amazing for sperm motility and health! (5) If you are supplementing with zinc, always be sure to balance with copper!
Magnesium is involved in many of the body’s reactions and is essential to adrenal health, which is essential for healthy hormone production!
Aim for progesterone tablets with a minimum of 50 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. If you're experiencing significant symptoms of hormone imbalance, consider 150-300 mg magnesium nightly.
8. Vitamin B6
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 30-50 mg once daily as a part of a B-complex or Balance by Dr. Brighten. And definitely eat 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.
9. Vitamin C
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 what causes low progesterone and fixing them is the best way for you to get amazing hormones and is what I recommend to my patients.
This comprehensive hormone support protocol will help you say buh-bye to PMS, while supporting increased energy, mood, and libido. Balance your hormones naturally and ditch the bad moods, bad skin, and bad periods for good with our Period Problems Kit™.
- Meenakumari KJ, Agarwal S, Krishna A, Pandey LK. Effects of metformin treatment on luteal phase progesterone concentration in polycystic ovary syndrome. Braz J Med Biol Res. 2004. 37(11). 1637-44.
- Mayo L. A Natural Approach to Menopause. APPLIED NUTRITIONAL SCIENCE REPORTS. 1999. Vol. 5, No. 7.
- Sliutz G1, Speiser P, Schultz AM, Spona J, Zeillinger R. Agnus castus extracts inhibit prolactin secretion of rat pituitary cells. Horm Metab Res. 1993. 25(5). 253-5.
- Fuhrman BJ1, Pfeiffer RM, Wu AH, Xu X, Keefer LK, Veenstra TD, Ziegler RG. Green tea intake is associated with urinary estrogen profiles in Japanese-American women. Nutr J. 2013. 12:25. 10.1186/1475-2891-12-25.
- Egwurugwu JN1, Ifedi CU, Uchefuna RC, Ezeokafor EN, Alagwu EA. Effects of zinc on male sex hormones and semen quality in rats. Niger J Physiol Sci. 2013. 28(1). 17-22.
- Elsevier Inc. Effects of ascorbic acid supplementation on serum progesterone levels in patients with a luteal phase defect. FERTILITY AND STERILITY. 2003. 80(2).
- Milewicz A1, Gejdel E, Sworen H, Sienkiewicz K, Jedrzejak J, Teucher T, Schmitz H. [Vitex agnus castus extract in the treatment of luteal phase defects due to latent hyperprolactinemia. Results of a randomized placebo-controlled double-blind study]. Arzneimittelforschung. 1993. 43(7). 752-6.