Progesterone is hormone from which our body makes many of the other hormones vital for good health. In fact, it is a building block for the hormones estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, and DHEA, and it serves as a protective substance for the brain, among many other functions. It's essential to good health across the body.
As we age, however, our natural levels of progesterone fall. Similarly, if our hormonal, or endocrine, system becomes unbalanced through hormonal disorders, natural processes such as menopause or difficult menstruation, progesterone production can suffer, leaving us vulnerable to a host of symptoms and diseases. Bioidentical progesterone hormone replacement then becomes a viable solution to rebalance the endocrine system.
What is Progesterone?
In the simplest terms, progesterone is a hormone. Like all hormones, it controls, regulates, and protects various organs and systems in the body. You can think of progesterone as a kind of mother hormone, creating other hormones, nurturing other body systems, helping us sleep more deeply, and tending to inflammation as it occurs, particularly in the gut and brain.
First, your body turns cholesterol into a substance called pregnenolone. The pregnenolone is then converted into progesterone, from which other hormones are made. We make progesterone constantly.
Progesterone serves as a precursor not only to DHEA, testosterone and estrogen, but also to cortisol, the stress hormone. It is also the precursor to the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone and is secreted primarily by the corpus luteum within the ovaries in females and by the testes in men. Smaller amounts are produced by the adrenal glands and in the brain cells of both women and men.
Though progesterone is a foundational hormone for all bodies, it does get confused with the similarly named "progestin." To clarify, progestin is not a natural substance. It is a medication that can mimic some functions of natural progesterone and is used most for women's reproductive issues, such as birth control, hormone therapy, gynecological disorders, and fertility and pregnancy.
Some studies have also linked synthetic progestin use to an increased risk of breast cancer, particularly when used in conjunction with estrogen replacement therapy. This combination can occur in certain birth control pills. It has also been used as a hormone replacement treatment following hysterectomy.
What Does Progesterone Do?
Progesterone replacement therapy is perhaps one of the most effective methods of restoring progesterone levels in the body. Progesterone therapy boosts low progesterone levels by supplementing progesterone either synthetically or naturally. Most women opt for natural bioidentical progesterone as safer alternative to synthetic progesterone to minimize the risk of breast cancer and heart disease. Progesterone therapy is either administered by cream, gel, patch or pellet insertion, usually depending on availability, cost and convenience of use. Some physicians may decide to combine the progesterone with estrogen, and in some cases, testosterone to help women and men regain overall balance.
It's important to note that progesterone is not exclusively a female hormone. Nor is it a sex hormone. It plays no part in the secondary sexual characteristics that develop during puberty.
To be clear, progesterone is a critical part of women's reproductive function. It causes the uterine endometrial lining to release certain proteins that prepare the uterus to nourish an implanted fertilized egg. If there is no egg or it does not implant, progesterone and estrogen levels drop, allowing the uterine lining to break down and begin the menstrual period.
If, however, pregnancy does occur, the placenta produces progesterone (and estrogen) throughout gestation to keep ovulation from occurring again. Further, progesterone helps the growth of milk glands in the breast while the mother is pregnant. While progesterone and estrogen work in concert when they are balanced, they are entirely separate hormones.
For all this, progesterone remains absolutely vital to the health of both men and women of all ages. For example, this hormone has natural anti-inflammatory properties that protect brain tissue in particular. Progesterone fights against excess inflammation in the brain. It "lubes" neurotransmitters, regulates connections between synapses, and protects the outer sheaths around nerves, called myelin. In addition, it impacts learning, memory, mood, and neurodegenerative diseases.
And the list goes on. Progesterone is responsible for regulating blood sugar, developing intelligence, building bones, brain activity and many more. Additionally, progesterone plays an important role in converting fat into energy, regulating thyroid hormone production, and helping to reboot libido. It is also a natural antidepressant, aids in normalizing blood clotting, helps to initiate sleep and is a natural diuretic along with many other vital functions.
Progesterone has a calming effect by activating the GABA receptor sites. GABA is our most calming, inhibitory neurotransmitter and effective against some forms of epilepsy.
Problems with Progesterone
Low levels of progesterone can affect both men and women. Symptoms for all ages can include:
Headaches or migraines
Mood changes, including anxiety or depression
Low progesterone in women might result in fibroids, endometriosis, hot flashes, PMS symptoms, fibrocystic breasts, higher risk of miscarriage, or absent or prolonged menstrual cycles.
During the long hormonal imbalance that is perimenopause, hormones fluctuate and decrease, including progesterone, making women in this phase of life more vulnerable to menopausal symptoms of low progesterone, from hot flashes to insomnia and mood swings.
What Progesterone Replacement Therapy Is
Progesterone replacement therapy is perhaps one of the most effective methods of restoring progesterone levels in the body. Progesterone therapy boosts low progesterone levels by supplementing progesterone either synthetically or naturally.
Most women opt for natural bioidentical progesterone as safer alternative to synthetic progesterone to minimize the risk of breast cancer and heart disease. Since the natural bioidentical progesterone has the same structure as the progesterone hormones your body produces, it is able to fit on all of the progesterone receptors and create the other hormones along the hormone pathway.
Progesterone therapy is either administered by oral capsules, cream, gel or patch, usually depending on availability, cost and convenience of use. Some practitioners recommend creams over oral progesterone as the most efficient and effective way to get the replacement hormone into the bloodstream.
Because hormone levels fluctuate naturally over the course of days, weeks, and months, when and how long you take progesterone supplements will depend on your existing hormone patterns, health needs, and response to treatment. In addition, some practitioners may recommend combining the progesterone with estrogen, and in some cases, testosterone to help women and men regain overall balance.
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment; your practitioners must understand and work with your specific body chemistry and health needs to craft the most appropriate progesterone replacement treatment.
Side Effects of Progesterone Replacement Therapy
While each body will react uniquely to bioidentical hormone therapy, there are some common potential side effects. These can include: