Progesterone is a hormone that the body produces naturally. It plays an essential role in pregnancy and fertility.

Many people take a combination of progesterone and estrogen around the time of menopause to reduce the symptoms, such as hot flashes. Others may take progesterone while trying to conceive or in early pregnancy.

This article examines what can happen when progesterone levels become low and whether synthetic progesterone products can help. It also discusses ways to boost progesterone naturally.

When progesterone levels are too low, the body may be unable to support the complex processes involved in menstruation and pregnancy.

Signs of low progesterone levels include:

Also, aging causes levels of hormones, including progesterone, to decline. This can lead to irregular ovulation and periods.

For people with low progesterone levels, doctors can prescribe progesterone supplements, such as Crinone or Prometrium. Progesterone supplements can come in capsule, gel, suppository, or injectable forms.

Meanwhile, many products on the market claim to be natural sources of progesterone. Manufacturers make many from soybeans or a wild, Mexican yam called Diascorea villosa.

Wild yam products are available over the counter as vaginal cream or capsules.

While some people believe them to represent a natural form of progesterone, wild yam products contain diosgenin, not progesterone. And the body cannot convert the diosgenin in wild yams into hormones. This conversion is only possible via synthetic chemical reactions in a laboratory.

It is also important to note that the Food and Drug and Administration (FDA) does not approve the use of wild yam products for treating low progesterone levels because these products are not sources of progesterone.

By contrast, products that do contain progesterone, such as Crinone and Prometrium, help boost levels of the hormone in the body. Doctors may prescribe progesterone supplementation for people with infertility or a history of pregnancy loss to help maintain a pregnancy.

Many types of progesterone products are available, including creams, supplements, and suppositories. A healthcare professional prescribes these. Anyone who believes that they may benefit from progesterone supplementation should contact a doctor.

Creams

Progesterone creams are widely available. A person can apply them to their arms, wrists, chest, thighs, or stomach once or twice a day.

However, some research suggests that the body may not absorb progesterone as from creams, compared with prescription treatments. It is also worth noting that these products are not subject to the same federal regulations as medications, in terms of testing for safety.

Supplements

A person can take progesterone supplements as a liquid or capsules two or three times a day, or as the manufacturer recommends. Like progesterone creams, these products aim to relieve symptoms of menopause or premenstrual syndrome, better known as PMS.

Suppositories

A person inserts a suppository vaginally. The aim may be to boost fertility, as an accompaniment to fertility treatments, or to maintain a pregnancy by increasing progesterone levels.

A person needs a prescription for progesterone suppositories, and it is important to follow the timing and dosage that the doctor recommends.

Food products do not contain progesterone. However, some believe that certain foods may help the body produce more progesterone or better balance estrogen levels.

Dietary choices can affect hormone levels and ovulation, which can influence progesterone levels.

Little research supports the use of specific foods. Scientists conducted many of the existing studies in animals or cells in a laboratory setting.

Below, we describe some foods and components that people say may address low progesterone levels. But more research is necessary to support any claims about effects on this hormone.

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 plays a role in liver function, which helps keep hormone levels balanced.

Foods rich in this vitamin include:

  • chickpeas
  • tuna
  • spinach
  • bananas
  • potatoes
  • lean red meat

Zinc

Zinc plays a role in fertility and the development of the body during pregnancy.

The following foods contain high levels of zinc:

  • cashews
  • almonds
  • chickpeas
  • kidney beans
  • shellfish

A person may find that having a diet rich in these foods could help reduce symptoms of low progesterone and regulate the menstrual cycle. However, few studies support this.

No single remedy can boost progesterone levels. However, certain lifestyle modifications can affect hormone levels and indirectly help improve menstrual function and progesterone production.

Having low progesterone levels does not always affect health, and it does not always require treatment. But anyone interested in making helpful changes to supplement infertility treatment or reduce menopause symptoms can try:

Reducing stress

Excessive stress can elevate levels of stress hormones, which can affect the ovaries and sex hormones. This is why a person may miss a period when they have high levels of stress.

Finding healthy ways to manage stress is important. Meditating, exercising, breathing techniques, and journaling can be useful, and what works can vary from person to person.

Taking herbal supplements

Some people claim that herbal supplements help raise progesterone levels, including:

The FDA does not test supplements in the same way that it tests prescription medications. And there is very little evidence that these supplements are effective for low progesterone. Anyone interested in trying these supplements should make sure that they buy from a reputable brand.

Getting regular sleep

Getting little or poor quality sleep can raise stress hormone levels and cause other hormonal imbalances.

Adults need 7–9 hours of sleep each night, but many people get far less. Prioritizing sleep and practicing good sleep hygiene is essential for everyone, especially people with hormonal imbalances.

Maintaining a moderate weight

People who are overweight or have obesity may have hormonal imbalances and insulin resistance, which can affect ovulation, fertility, and the production of progesterone.

Maintaining a moderate weight does not necessarily raise progesterone levels, but it can help keep hormone levels balanced within a healthy range.

Exercising and being active

Regular physical activity can reduce levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. High levels of cortisol can suppress the secretion of progesterone, leading to hormonal imbalances.

Some types of physical activity that may be beneficial include:

  • walking
  • jogging
  • yoga
  • biking
  • swimming

Keep in mind, however, that strenuous or excessive exercise can increase cortisol levels and may be associated with changes to ovulation that can make conceiving difficult. For this reason, anyone looking to become pregnant should focus on moderate-intensity activity and limit vigorous exercise.

Progesterone has many important functions, including:

  • triggering the endometrial lining to be receptive and ready for implantation and pregnancy
  • preventing the smooth muscles in the uterus from contracting
  • helping to support early pregnancy
  • preventing ovulation of another egg

If pregnancy occurs, progesterone that the empty egg follicle produces helps sustain the pregnancy until the placenta takes over progesterone production. Later on, progesterone helps the breasts get ready to secrete milk.

If pregnancy does not occur, the empty egg follicle starts to break down, reducing the level of progesterone. When the progesterone level is below a certain point, the next menstrual period begins.

Doctors often prescribe synthetic progesterone as a form of contraception. The synthetic version is called progestin. Birth control pills containing only progestin thicken the cervical mucus, making it more difficult for sperm to get through. They also thin the endometrial lining to prevent implantation from occurring.

Progesterone products available by prescription have some benefits. These may include:

  • reducing the risk of breast cancer
  • supporting fertility and pregnancy
  • providing contraception
  • reducing symptoms of perimenopause and menopause

Research has shown that taking hormone replacement or supplement therapy can carry risks. This type of treatment can increase the risk of dangerous medical conditions, such as:

And older people who use some types of natural hormones for long periods may have a higher risk of heart disease and breast cancer.

Side effects

Progesterone products can cause these side effects:

  • weight gain
  • blurry vision
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • breast tenderness
  • bloating
  • changes in mood
  • irritation at the application site

Anyone with severe or lasting side effects should contact a doctor.

Some people use progesterone products to reduce menopause symptoms or promote fertility. However, very research shows that these products are effective or safe. A doctor can prescribe synthetic progesterone, and it is important to speak with them about the risks and possible benefits first.