Bloating, swollen and tender breasts, insomnia, headaches, craving for sugar, constipation, mood fluctuations (especially sadness and irritability)…do any of these symptoms sound familiar? Most commonly, women experience these symptoms 1-2 weeks before their period, indicating a drop in progesterone, or a deficiency relative to estrogen. Progesterone is an essential hormone for pregnancy, and for healthy sleep and mood.
Where does progesterone come from?
Progesterone is made in your ovaries, placenta, and your adrenal glands. Up until menopause, a woman’s main supply of progesterone comes from the ovaries; specifically the corpus luteum, the sac the ovulated egg grew in. The signal for your ovaries to secrete progesterone comes from your pituitary gland, an endocrine gland just below your brain. Post-menopause it’s up to your adrenal glands to support progesterone levels.
What does progesterone do?
Progesterone is a hormone that both men and women have in varying amounts. For women during menstruating years, progesterone supports the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle; the phase from ovulation to menstruation or through to pregnancy. Progesterone from the adrenal glands has a different function, and is transformed into allopregnanolone, an intermediate hormone, which helps decrease anxiety.
This hormone supports a number of processes in the body. Most notably, it is essential for implantation of an embryo in the uterine lining, and to maintain pregnancy. It also performs a variety of amazing feats, including:
- increasing body fat deposition
- stimulating development of milk-producing glands in the breasts during pregnancy
- protecting and repairing brain tissue
- supporting memory
- improving sleep
- decreasing anxiety
Note that progestin (found in synthetic birth control options) is not progesterone, but has some progesterone-like actions in the body.
How can you support healthy progesterone levels?
Unless you’re relying on a synthetic hormone birth control option, there are many options to naturally support your progesterone levels. Here are a few of my favourites:
- Seed Cycling: This is some old-school naturopathic medicine. The idea is to rotate different seeds throughout your menstrual cycle. The seeds contain lignans; which bind excess hormones, and different fatty acids; which participate in how estrogen or progesterone are made. It works, but not everyone likes to eat ground seeds every day. If you do, the “recipe” is:
1-2 Tbsp ground pumpkin and flax seeds Days 1-14 of your cycle, supporting healthy estrogen levels (Day 1 is the first day of your period)
1-2 Tbsp ground sesame and sunflower seeds Days 15-28, supporting healthy progesterone levels
- Vitamin B6: Pyridoxine HCl or Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate are the two main forms this vitamin comes in. B6 is essential to the manufacture of progesterone, as well as neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin. 50mg a day is a great start for supporting progesterone.
- Chaste Tree Berry: A fantastic luteal phase support, chaste tree berry extract has long been known to support progesterone output from the corpus luteum via the pituitary gland. A good starting dose is 1000mg daily.
- Adrenal Support: Remember the adrenals make sex hormones too. If your adrenals are not being supported, your progesterone output could suffer. Common and effective adrenal herbs include: schisandra berries, rhodiola, korean or siberian ginseng, and ashwagandha. Many of these herbs can be found as a food powder and added to smoothies or soups on a regular basis..
- Cruciferous Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage… you know, the veggies that seem like they’d taste better cooked. These veggies are fantastic for supporting your liver detoxification pathways, which indirectly impacts progesterone, as hormones are a key part of what the liver detoxifies. Aim for 2-3 servings a day.
- Fermented Foods: Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and any other delightful fermented food you can make or purchase. A ¼ cup a day of fermented food offers the gut a wide and plentiful variety of healthy bacteria. A bountiful array of gut bacteria influences hormone synthesis and detoxification. Eat your ferments to support progesterone.
For more individualized support, contact your naturopathic doctor.
Hi, I’m Dr. Jenny Schmidt-White. My practice focuses on family health and wellness, healthy aging for men and women and optimizing fertility & hormone function. I work with you, within realistic and sustainable parameters, to find the root cause of dysfunction in your body and address it.