Many people take a combination of progesterone and estrogen around the time of menopause to reduce their symptoms, such as hot flashes. Others will need to take progesterone supplementation while trying to conceive or in early pregnancy.
However, the use of natural progesterone products has been rising in popularity among those who are concerned about the side effects or risks associated with synthetic hormones.
In this article, we examine what can happen when progesterone levels become low, and whether natural progesterone products can help. We also take a look and see if there are any ways to boost progesterone naturally.
Symptoms of low progesterone levels
Natural progesterone products may be prescribed or can be purchased over the counter.
When progesterone levels are too low, the body might be unable to support the complex processes associated with menstruation and pregnancy. Signs of low progesterone levels include:
- abnormal menstrual periods
- missed or late periods
- spotting or cramping during pregnancy
Aging also causes the levels of hormones, including progesterone, to change and decline. This can lead to irregular ovulation and periods.
Natural progesterone products
Doctors can prescribe natural progesterone for people with low levels, such as Crinone and Prometrium. These are produced in a lab and made from a natural compound called diosgenin. Crinone and Prometrium are available in gel and capsule form.
However, there are also many products marketed as natural forms of progesterone. These products are made from soybeans or a wild and inedible Mexican yam called Diascorea villosa.
These wild yam products are available over the counter as a topical or vaginal cream or as capsules.
Even though some people consider wild yam products as a natural form of progesterone, they do not contain any progesterone. They contain a chemical that can be converted to progesterone, but only through a series of chemical reactions that occur in a laboratory. Therefore, taking a product that contains just wild yam will not provide any progesterone.
Users should also note that wild yam products are not sources of progesterone and the United States Food and Drug and Administration (FDA) do not approve them for treating low progesterone levels.
In contrast, products that do contain progesterone, such as Crinone and Prometrium, will help to boost progesterone levels in the body.
It is important to make sure to choose a good quality and reputable brand if trying natural progesterone products.
Food and progesterone
Food products do not usually contain progesterone. However, some people believe that certain foods may help the body to increase its production of progesterone or balance estrogen levels.
It is worth noting that there is little research to support these claims, and many studies look at the effects in animals or cells in a laboratory setting. More studies are needed to confirm them.
Some foods claimed to help low progesterone include:
These contain a chemical called I3C that some research involving animal cells suggests could help to balance estrogen levels in the body. Examples of these vegetables include:
- Brussels sprouts
Vitamin B-6 has a role in liver function, which helps to keep hormone levels balanced.
Foods that are rich in vitamin B-6 include:
- lean red meat
Chickpeas contain high levels of zinc which play a role in fertility.
Zinc has a role in fertility and the development of the body during pregnancy.
The following foods contain high levels of zinc:
- cashew nuts and almonds
- kidney beans
Some people may find that eating a diet rich in these foods could help to reduce any symptoms related to low progesterone and better regulate their menstrual cycle. But, as stated above, there is little scientific evidence to support this.
Natural remedies for low progesterone
There are other options available for raising progesterone levels naturally.
Having low progesterone levels will not always affect health, and most people with low progesterone levels will not require treatment.
However, some individuals may choose to use natural remedies to supplement infertility treatment or reduce menopause symptoms.
Natural remedies and lifestyle changes to try include:
Excessive stress can raise the body's stress hormones, which can also affect the ovaries and sex hormones. This is why a person may miss a period when they are experiencing high levels of stress.
Finding a way to manage stress is important. Meditating, exercising, and journaling can all be very useful, but what works can vary from person to person.
Taking herbs and supplements
There are some herbs and supplements that people claim can help raise progesterone levels. These include:
- evening primrose oil
It is important to remember that the FDA do not test herbs and supplements in the same way as prescription medications. There is also not much evidence to support their use for these purposes.
It is essential to choose a good quality and reputable brand if trying herbal supplements.
Getting regular sleep
Not getting enough sleep can raise stress hormone levels and cause other hormonal imbalances.
Adults should get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night, but many people get far less than that.
Prioritizing sleep and focusing on good sleep hygiene is essential for everyone, but especially for those people dealing with hormonal imbalances.
Maintaining a healthy weight
Individuals who are overweight tend to produce higher levels of estrogen, which can cause a progesterone imbalance.
Maintaining a healthy weight will not necessarily raise progesterone levels, but it can help to keep estrogen levels within the normal range, and the two hormones in balance.
Functions of progesterone
Progesterone has many important functions, including:
- triggering the endometrial lining to thicken in preparation for implantation and pregnancy
- preventing the smooth muscles in the uterus from contracting
- preventing ovulation of another egg
If pregnancy occurs, progesterone produced by the empty egg follicle will help to sustain the pregnancy until the placenta takes over progesterone production. Later on in pregnancy, progesterone will help the breasts get ready to secrete milk.
If pregnancy does not occur, the empty egg follicle will begin to break down. This decreases the level of progesterone. Once the progesterone level is low enough, the next menstrual period will begin.
In addition to natural progesterone, synthetic forms of progesterone are also available. Doctors often prescribe these as a form of contraception.
Progestin-only contraception thickens the cervical mucus, making it more difficult for sperm to get through. It also makes the endometrial lining thinner to prevent implantation from occurring.
Progestins can also be combined with different forms of estrogen alongside birth control pills and hormonal therapy for those transitioning to menopause.
Benefits of using natural progesterone
There can be some benefits of using natural progesterone products. However, these products must be the products that contain progesterone and are prescribed by a doctor.
- a possible protective effect against endometrial cancer
- reduced side effects in comparison with synthetic progesterone
- decreased perimenopausal symptoms
Risks of natural hormone products
Progesterone can influence weight gain.
There are also potential risks to using natural hormone products, such as progesterone cream.
There are not many studies that support the use and effectiveness of the products that do not contain progesterone itself. Also, the FDA does not oversee natural hormone products, which can create additional risks concerning their safety.
Research has shown that there are some increased risks for individuals who take hormone replacement or supplement therapy. These risks can include medical conditions such as:
More research is required to determine how differently natural progesterone products affect the body compared with synthetic products.
Regardless of whether natural or synthetic, progesterone will still have the same effect on the body.
As such, any products containing progesterone can cause the following side effects:
- weight gain
- blurry vision
- breast tenderness
- mood swings
- irritation at the application site
Many people report that their side effects are not as severe with natural products as they are with synthetic products. In most cases, they experience side effects when first starting the hormone and find that they lessen over time.
Anyone who experiences severe side effects or side effects that do not go away should contact their doctor.
Some people use natural progesterone products to reduce symptoms associated with menopause or infertility. However, there is not a lot of research to support their use or safety.
Due to the lack of evidence supporting their use, it is essential to speak with a doctor before beginning any hormone products, including natural supplements.