Does Progesterone Cause Weight Gain? What You Need To Know About This Hormone-Metabolism Connection
Does progesterone cause weight gain? It's a common question that I get asked often in my telehealth functional medicine clinic from patients struggling with their weight. But the answer is not as simple as a yes or no. In reality, the relationship between progesterone and weight is multifaceted. So, in order to understand exactly how progesterone plays a role in your weight, let’s take a deeper look at what progesterone is, how it interacts with your other hormones, and natural ways you can start to support healthy progesterone balance today.
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What is progesterone?
Progesterone is a vital hormone that plays a crucial role in a woman's health. It is mainly produced in the ovaries, but can also be produced in smaller amounts by the adrenal glands. One of the main responsibilities of progesterone is to prepare the lining of the uterus for pregnancy by thickening the endometrium to create an ideal environment for a fertilized egg to implant. If pregnancy occurs, progesterone continues to be produced to support the growth and development of the fetus. Progesterone also helps to regulate the menstrual cycle and can help to alleviate symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Weight change as a health signal
While it is normal to fluctuate a few pounds up and down, dramatic weight gain or weight loss that is difficult to overcome is not. When extreme weight changes happen, it is one of your body’s main signs that something is going on beneath the surface, most likely due to your hormones.
Hormones can influence weight because they play a key role in regulating metabolism, hunger, and satiety. For example, hormones such as insulin and glucagon help to regulate blood sugar levels and influence how the body stores and uses energy from food. The thyroid hormones play a role in regulating metabolism and how the body burns calories. And sex hormones - including estrogen and progesterone - affect how fat is distributed and stored in the body.
Is it estrogen or progesterone that causes weight gain?
The truth is, both influence your weight based on how they operate with each other. Progesterone works closely with estrogen to maintain hormone balance in women. The balance of the three forms of estrogen - estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), and estriol (E3) - is crucial for overall hormone health. Healthy progesterone levels are also necessary to maintain estrogen levels to avoid estrogen dominance. An imbalance of progesterone can be caused by chronic stress, age, a lack of ovulation, thyroid problems, and nutrient deficiencies.
How progesterone levels can impact weight gain or loss
Does progesterone cause weight gain? Ultimately, progesterone's role in weight regulation is closely intertwined with estrogen and how it interacts with this hormone. As I briefly mentioned above, progesterone and estrogen work hand-in-hand, but in order to understand how their relationship impacts your weight, we first need to look at how they influence your weight individually.
Estrogen promotes storing energy as fat in certain parts of your body whereas progesterone supports the metabolism of stored fat so that you burn it as energy. It also acts as a natural diuretic, encouraging your body to expel excess water - aka water weight and swelling.
That’s why, low progesterone can in turn lead to weight gain as there are minimal levels of this hormone to prevent estrogen levels from going haywire and high progesterone can result in rapid weight loss. This is the perfect example of the Goldilocks principle in action…”not too high, not too low, but just right.”
Signs that progesterone is the reason for your weight gain or loss
Changes in weight can happen with a variety of health problems, not just progesterone imbalance. Therefore it is important to pay attention to your other symptoms happening in conjunction with weight fluctuation to better determine if progesterone is the reason for your weight changes.
Symptoms of weight gain due to progesterone
When progesterone levels are too low it can interfere with many different areas, including mental and sexual health. If you have any of these symptoms, low progesterone may be to blame:
- Irregular periods
- Low libido
- Hot flashes
- Migraines or frequent headaches
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
- Trouble sleeping
Symptoms of weight loss due to progesterone
In general, high progesterone levels are less common than low progesterone and are usually the result of hormone replacement therapy or birth control. In addition to weight loss you may experience:
- Water retention
- Low libido
How to test progesterone levels
There are various ways to test progesterone levels, including blood, saliva, and urine tests. In functional medicine, we often prefer saliva testing as it can provide a more accurate picture of hormone levels over a longer period of time. Saliva testing can also measure the ratio of progesterone to estrogen, which is important for overall hormone balance. Blood tests can be useful to measure progesterone levels during a specific point in the menstrual cycle, while urine tests can measure overall hormone metabolites.
It's important to note that progesterone levels can fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle, so testing at the appropriate time is crucial for accurate results. A functional medicine practitioner can help determine the best testing method and timing based on an individual's unique needs and symptoms.
Lifestyle tips to support healthy progesterone levels
Thankfully, there are many ways that you can naturally encourage healthy progesterone levels. Keep in mind that while you may need some more targeted support, you can easily implement these tips into your daily routine without a complete lifestyle overhaul.
1. Eat more healthy fats
Increasing your fat intake if you are struggling with losing weight might seem like the opposite of what you should do. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. See, cholesterol is responsible for synthesizing pregnenolone for your body to produce progesterone. Recent studies (1) have found that regular consumption of healthy fats can help increase progesterone levels and in turn, help put you on the path to a healthy weight.
- Chaste Tree Berry: A popular supplement for balancing progesterone, it has been shown to boost low progesterone production. (2)
- Magnesium: Studies have found that adequate magnesium levels were necessary to keep estrogen levels in check to avoid low progesterone due to estrogen dominance. (3)
- Vitamin B6: This vitamin is necessary for estrogen metabolism and keeping progesterone levels in check.
- Vitamin C: Studies have found that supplementing with Vitamin C was able to increase progesterone levels by 77%! (4)
3. Alleviate stress
Chronic stress and high cortisol can disrupt the delicate balance of hormones in the body, including inhibiting progesterone production. Incorporating stress reduction techniques such as meditation, yoga, and breathwork can help lower stress levels and support healthy hormone balance.
4. Daily movement
Regular exercise has been shown to help regulate hormone levels, including progesterone. If you are new to exercising on a regular basis I recommend starting off slow with 30 minutes of low-impact movement a day whether that is walking or yoga.
5. Get adequate sleep
Sleep is essential for your body’s hormone production. Aim to get 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.
Seeking help from a functional medicine expert
Even though the relationship between weight gain and progesterone can be complicated and finding answers to your health problems can be overwhelming, it's possible to support progesterone levels and a healthy weight with the right lifestyle modifications and natural interventions
If you're struggling with symptoms related to hormonal imbalances, including weight gain, and suspect it is due to your progesterone levels, it's important to seek the help of a qualified functional medicine practitioner. At our telehealth clinic, we specialize in helping patients identify the root causes of their health issues and create personalized care plans to support optimal health and facilitate long-term, sustainable healing.
Take the next step in your health journey, and schedule a telehealth consultation today to learn more about how we can help you with functional medicine.
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- Mumford SL, Chavarro JE, Zhang C, Perkins NJ, Sjaarda LA, Pollack AZ, Schliep KC, Michels KA, Zarek SM, Plowden TC, Radin RG, Messer LC, Frankel RA, Wactawski-Wende J. Dietary fat intake and reproductive hormone concentrations and ovulation in regularly menstruating women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Mar;103(3):868-77. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.115.119321. Epub 2016 Feb 3. PMID: 26843151; PMCID: PMC4763493.
- van Die MD, Burger HG, Teede HJ, Bone KM. Vitex agnus-castus extracts for female reproductive disorders: a systematic review of clinical trials. Planta Med. 2013 May;79(7):562-75. doi: 10.1055/s-0032-1327831. Epub 2012 Nov 7. PMID: 23136064.
- Muneyyirci-Delale O, Nacharaju VL, Dalloul M, Altura BM, Altura BT. Serum ionized magnesium and calcium in women after menopause: inverse relation of estrogen with ionized magnesium. Fertil Steril. 1999 May;71(5):869-72. doi: 10.1016/s0015-0282(99)00065-5. PMID: 10231048.
- Henmi H, Endo T, Kitajima Y, Manase K, Hata H, Kudo R. Effects of ascorbic acid supplementation on serum progesterone levels in patients with a luteal phase defect. Fertil Steril. 2003 Aug;80(2):459-61. doi: 10.1016/s0015-0282(03)00657-5. PMID: 12909517.
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.
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