Your Go-To Guide To Increasing Progesterone Levels, Naturally

progesterone

In my telehealth functional medicine clinic, I often see hormone imbalance as the catalyst for people’s health problems. Unfortunately, this can be overlooked in conventional medicine and not given the weight it deserves - especially when it comes to female sex hormones and reproductive health.

Progesterone is just one hormone that is necessary for women’s health, and when low can contribute to everything from infertility to weight gain. But what exactly does progesterone do and how can we ensure proper balance? Read on for my complete functional medicine guide to rebalancing your hormones with natural ways to increase progesterone.

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What is progesterone and what does it do?

Progesterone is a primary female sex hormone that helps prepare your body for pregnancy. During the luteal phase of your cycle immediately following ovulation, progesterone spikes to help maintain the lining of your uterus and make it easier for a fertilized egg to implant itself and initiate pregnancy. However, if pregnancy doesn’t occur, progesterone immediately drops to trigger the beginning of menstruation.

In the case of pregnancy though, progesterone continues to stay high in order to provide a healthy environment for the fetus to thrive and develop properly.

Progesterone works hand-in-hand with estrogen. The ratio of the three forms of estrogen – estrone (E1), estradiol (E2), estriol (E3) – is important for women’s overall hormone balance. Women also need healthy progesterone levels to keep estrogen balanced. This is because progesterone helps balance and neutralize the effects of too much estrogen. Without proper progesterone levels, estrogen becomes out of control, also known as estrogen dominance.

Needless to say, when one hormone is out of balance, it increases your chances of further hormone imbalances. Achieving healthy progesterone balance is the first step to overall healthy female hormones and your overall health! In fact, progesterone is necessary for thyroid hormone health, brain function, strong bones, balanced mood, and a fast metabolism.

What are the signs of low progesterone?

With progesterone implicated in so many aspects of your health, it is no wonder that you feel a little off if your progesterone is low. These are just a few of the main symptoms you may experience with low progesterone:

  • Irregular periods
  • Low libido
  • Hot flashes
  • Migraines or frequent headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Weight gain
  • PMS
  • Infertility
  • Acne
  • Trouble sleeping

How do you know if your progesterone is low? Urine saliva hormone labs can give us a complete overview of how well your hormones are functioning and look at sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone as well as cortisol levels and your HPA-axis function.

Risk factors of low progesterone

While everyone is different, there are a few main factors that could be contributing to low progesterone.

1. Stress

Chronic stress is the underlying trigger of multiple different health problems from autoimmune conditions to hormone imbalance. When you are constantly stressed your cortisol levels are going to be consistently elevated. Since cortisol blocks progesterone receptors, your body won’t be able to use the progesterone you are producing. In this case you may actually have enough progesterone but you aren’t using it efficiently.

2. Estrogen dominance

Estrogen dominance can happen whether or not you have adequate progesterone. While low progesterone can lead to estrogen dominance, you can also have estrogen dominance while still having enough progesterone hormone. This type of estrogen dominance will lead to symptoms of low progesterone because your body isn’t producing extra to compensate for the overload of estrogen hormones in your body.

3. Age

As you age, progesterone levels naturally decrease, typically starting in your mid-30s. Thankfully there are many things you can do to keep your progesterone levels balanced, you just need to be aware that as you get older you might have to put more effort into this area of your health.

4. Lack of ovulation

When you ovulate, that is the signal for your body to increase progesterone production to prepare your body for pregnancy. However, if you don’t ovulate this can lead to insufficient progesterone levels. Menopause and PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) are two reasons why you may not be ovulating - even if you are still having a period!

5. High prolactin

Prolactin is a hormone responsible for triggering lactation after pregnancy. However, it can become elevated in non-lactating women due to poor diet or stress, and can inhibit ovulation and progesterone production.

6. Thyroid problems

In order to produce progesterone, your body first needs to make the hormone pregnenolone. But for those with thyroid problems like hypothyroidism, your body won’t be able to produce enough pregnenolone to make progesterone.

7. Nutrient deficiencies

There are certain nutrients like fat, vitamins, and other micronutrients that facilitate healthy hormone production. If you aren’t getting enough of these specific nutrients it can inhibit your progesterone production.

How can I increase my progesterone levels naturally?

Thankfully, there are many natural ways to increase progesterone. These are my favorite tips that you can easily incorporate into your daily routine.

1. Eat more healthy fats

Are there foods that increase progesterone? The answer is yes, but not always directly. Dietary healthy fats are necessary for all aspects of your health, especially your hormones. Cholesterol is responsible for making thyroid hormones and synthesizing pregnenolone to make progesterone. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1) found that regular consumption of healthy fats can increase progesterone levels and improve ovulation rates.

Throw out the notion that eating low-fat is the healthiest option and instead add in more grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, and plant-based fats like coconut oil, olives, nuts and seeds, and avocado into your diet.

2. Alleviate stress

As we’ve seen, chronic stress and high cortisol inhibit progesterone production. Therefore, it’s vital that we do everything we can to manage our daily stress levels. Incorporating regular mindfulness practices throughout your day like meditation and breathwork are easy ways to alleviate stress in the moment and can be done wherever you are without additional tools.

3. Take zinc

You may be familiar with zinc for its incredible ability to help fight off sickness. However, zinc is a micronutrient that plays a role in so many different aspects of your health. In this case, zinc works to increase your follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) that promotes ovulation, and in turn, progesterone production.

Even though you can get zinc in supplement form, increasing your intake of zinc-rich foods like oysters, Brazil nuts, beef, egg yolks, and liver can be a great way to get in more bioavailable zinc as well as other important nutrients in these foods.

4. Try Chaste Tree berry

Also known as Vitex agnus-castus, chaste tree berry supplementation is something I recommend frequently in my telehealth functional medicine clinic for its ability to boost progesterone production and keep prolactin levels in check. (2)

5. Take magnesium

Magnesium is involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in your body including your hormones. One study (3) in particular looked at the relationship between magnesium and estrogen and found that increased magnesium intake resulted in lower estrogen levels. If you are struggling with estrogen dominance-related low progesterone, upping your intake of magnesium through a high-quality supplement, or foods like dark leafy greens and nuts, can help support progesterone production.

6. Take Vitamin B6

In cases of estrogen dominance, Vitamin B6 can become depleted which is a problem considering it is necessary for estrogen metabolism and keeping progesterone levels balanced. A B-Vitamin complex like my supplement The Methylator, contains activated forms of B6 to increase bioavailability. 

7. Take Vitamin C

What vitamin raises progesterone? Vitamin C is your answer! Vitamin C has been shown to increase progesterone levels with one study (4) showing that those who took 750mg of vitamin C per day, increased their progesterone levels by 77%! Citrus fruits and peppers contain some of the highest levels of vitamin C.

8. Limit caffeine

Not only can caffeine increase stress and cortisol levels that affect progesterone, caffeine also affects estrogen metabolism with studies showing a correlation (5) between reduced caffeine intake and improved progesterone levels.

9. Try seed cycling

Seed cycling has been rising in popularity as a natural tool to keep your hormones balanced. The idea is that by incorporating certain seeds at specific times in your cycle it can help rebalance hormones that may have gone astray due to their particular amounts of healthy fats, vitamins, and nutrients.

10. Balance blood sugar

Your hormones are all connected - when one hormone is off it can impact the balance of all your other hormones. Blood sugar in particular is not something we necessarily always associate with our sex hormones but high blood sugar can play a role in low progesterone. Incorporating healthy fats into your diet helps stabilize your blood sugar levels while also fueling healthy hormone production.

When to see a medical professional

Once you start noticing symptoms it is important to seek out help from a medical professional. Even if your symptoms are mild at first, they can quickly turn into something more serious that affects your fertility and trigger further health problems. By addressing your symptoms as soon as possible, your doctor will be able to provide you with easier solutions to get your hormones back on track as quickly as possible.

How Dr. Will Cole can help

Often in conventional medicine, they opt to alleviate symptoms with medication rather than treating the underlying cause of your symptoms. In functional medicine we aim to address the root cause of why your hormones are imbalanced and work on incorporating natural solutions to get your hormones back on track.

Since everyone’s biochemistry is different there is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to the best treatment plan. A functional medicine practitioner will work with you to determine your specific triggers - diet, stress, medications, etc. - and will put together a practical action plan of how to best address these triggers, naturally.

If you believe low progesterone is a factor in your health case, a consultation at our telehealth functional medicine clinic is the first step to finding answers and facilitating healing.

As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe. 

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References:

  1. Mumford, Sunni L et al. “Dietary fat intake and reproductive hormone concentrations and ovulation in regularly menstruating women.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 103,3 (2016): 868-77. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.119321
  2. van Die, M Diana et al. “Vitex agnus-castus extracts for female reproductive disorders: a systematic review of clinical trials.” Planta medica vol. 79,7 (2013): 562-75. doi:10.1055/s-0032-1327831
  3. Muneyyirci-Delale, O et al. “Serum ionized magnesium and calcium in women after menopause: inverse relation of estrogen with ionized magnesium.” Fertility and sterility vol. 71,5 (1999): 869-72. doi:10.1016/s0015-0282(99)00065-5
  4. Henmi, Hirofumi et al. “Effects of ascorbic acid supplementation on serum progesterone levels in patients with a luteal phase defect.” Fertility and sterility vol. 80,2 (2003): 459-61. doi:10.1016/s0015-0282(03)00657-5
  5. Kotsopoulos, Joanne et al. “Relationship between caffeine intake and plasma sex hormone concentrations in premenopausal and postmenopausal women.” Cancer vol. 115,12 (2009): 2765-74. doi:10.1002/cncr.24328
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BY DR. WILL COLE

Evidence-based reviewed article

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.