LET'S FACE IT— your hormones rule. When they're out of whack, you are, too and when they're in harmony, everything else feels harmonious, as well. It's not uncommon to blame all kinds of extraneous factors on our hormones but such offhanded comments carry more truth than you realize.
In fact, the numbers tell a very serious tale indeed. Did you know that over 75 percent of women are currently suffering from haywire hormones in their body directly related to a deficiency of one hormone? That hormone is progesterone.
When your numbers dwindle, your body can react in a whole host of unpleasant ways. These include emotionally (mood swings, nervousness, anxiety, depression) and physically (stalled weight loss, osteopenia, osteoporosis, pain, inflammation), as well as a shot libido, thinning hair, skipped periods, and insomnia-ridden restless nights.
WHY IS MY PRODUCTION DOWN?
If you suspect that this may apply to you and are wondering how you became progesterone deficient in the first place, here are a few likely culprits.
- Your body is converting progesterone into cortisol as a result of stress.
- You are deficient in zinc and vitamin B6, nutrient precursors of progesterone.
- You are not ovulating regularly, leaving you without a corpus luteum to create progesterone in the first place.
So, what exactly is progesterone? It is a hormone involved in female sexual behavior, pregnancy, and menstruation that is produced in the ovaries, the placenta, and the adrenal glands. Known as the “feel good hormone,” progesterone is up to 20 times more concentrated in the brain than in the blood stream. This hormone functions as a stabilizing force, counter-balancing estrogen. It has numerous positive benefits including promoting fat burn, helping to normalize blood sugar and cell oxygen levels, and acting as an antidepressant.
As menstruation slows during perimenopause, so does the production of progesterone. The decline in progesterone means the body now lacks some of its estrogen-equalizing force. This imbalance contributes to some of the nastier symptoms of perimenopause such as decreased libido, depressed mood, and hypothyroidism-like symptoms like fatigue and weight gain.
However, don't think you're in the clear if you haven't quite reached the perimenopause stage of life yet. In fact, no woman isn't at risk because these days having a progesterone deficiency seems to be common among women ages 18 to 80. This is because many of all ages lack the necessary nutrient precursors for their body to produce progesterone, especially zinc and vitamin B6, as I mentioned earlier.
Besides its ability to counteract the undesirable effects of estrogen, progesterone functions as both a buffer to and a treatment for various ailments. It has been credited with fighting heart disease and cancer. In women in their thirties and forties, progesterone plays an active role in bone density, and a high progesterone level is a major protective factor against later osteoporosis.
By increasing body energy, probably by helping thyroid hormones work better, progesterone causes a very slight but often noticeable rise in your body temperature when you ovulate, contributing to enhanced metabolism. This varies from woman to woman.
Because progesterone plays a promotional role in so many functions critical to a good quality of life like mood and libido, normal fluctuations in this hormone can have potentially deleterious effects. After a fertilized egg settles on the uterus wall, ovarian progesterone cares for it. After the placenta develops, it, too, secretes progesterone. Progesterone levels continue high throughout pregnancy, which is why many women in the third trimester, and in spite of some physical discomfort, feel as good as they have ever felt in their lives. Unfortunately, when her progesterone level falls sharply after the birth, the mother is vulnerable to experiencing postpartum depression.
At menopause, the drop in progesterone level is twelve times greater than that in estrogen level (estrogen declines by 40 to 60 percent). Men have higher progesterone levels than some post-menopausal women. Just like women after they give birth, this drop in progesterone can create a feeling of depression for both perimenopausal and menopausal women.
If you have hair loss and skipped periods, low progesterone levels may be the culprit. Lack of ovulation in a skipped period can cause the adrenal cortex to secrete the hormone androstenedione as an alternative chemical precursor for the manufacture of other hormones to compensate for the diminished levels of progesterone. This steroid hormone is associated with some male characteristics, one of which is male pattern baldness. When you raise your progesterone level with natural progesterone cream, your androstenedione level will gradually decline and your hair will grow back normally. Be patient—hair growth is slow and it may take several months before you notice a difference.
There are also a number of other beauty and health issues that can originate from low progesterone. On a superficial level, the consequences of low progesterone include growing whiskers on the chin, thinning hair, breaking capillaries, gaining weight, and emerging skin problems such as acne, aging, liver or age spots, and dryness. More internally, it can cause yeast infections, irritability, irregular periods, and mood fluctuations.
Back in Balance
If you're ready to get your body back in hormone harmony, it's a great idea to test your hormone levels prior to beginning any hormone treatment. Some health care professionals will recommend a saliva test. If you'd prefer to test your hormone levels outside of a doctor's office, there are quite reliable at-home tests available. Personally, I test quarterly each year. Wherever you receive the test, it should check for your body's levels of bioavailable progesterone, estradiol, estriol, testosterone, DHEA, and cortisol.
If the results show that you are indeed experiencing low levels of progesterone, there is a powerful natural option to turn to. These days, more and more women are opting for natural methods of hormone therapy.
Do note that the word natural when applied to progesterone doesn't mean exactly what it sounds like. Here, the term natural means that the plant progesterone molecule used to make the cream is identical to the human progesterone molecule, distinguishing it from the pharmaceutical progestin, whose molecule is slightly different from human progesterone. Some creams use extracts from soybeans (which are also used for phytoestrogens), and others are based on the wild yam (Dioscorea).
Natural plant-based progesterone has the same identical structure as the progesterone a woman makes naturally in her body. The physiological dose of 20 mg per day can help improve libido, enhance the immune system, increase hair on the scalp, elevate the metabolic rate with resulting weight loss, act as a natural diuretic, boost the thyroid, and stimulate the production of bone while relaxing smooth muscles and promoting the strength of the myelin sheath.
I prefer a formula that is derived from wild yam. Ensure that it is preservative-free, and be selective and diligent in your research, as some creams only contain a miniscule amount of progesterone, or even none at all. Depending upon your age and stage of life, there are different protocols, but in general a topical crème should be applied to the face, hands, chest, inner arms, and thyroid area. Rotate these as much as possible so that one area doesn't get too saturated.
No matter your age, this unsung hero is your body's BFF for creating a place of harmony and calm from within.
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Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS
Visionary health expert Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, has always been a trendsetter. With millions of followers nationwide, she has the uncanny ability to pinpoint major health concerns and provide solutions years ahead of anybody else.
Highly respected as the grande dame of alternative health and award-winning author of 30 books, she single-handedly launched the weight loss/detox revolution in her New York Times bestseller The Fat Flush Plan. A Connecticut College and Teachers College, Columbia University graduate, Dr. Ann Louise was recognized as one of the top ten nutritionists in the country by Self magazine and was the recipient of the American Medical Writers Association award for excellence. She has been a popular columnist for First magazine since 2003.