Progesterone: What, When, and Why It’s Important For Fertility
One of the main reasons I love talking about hormones is that I am constantly in awe of the body as an amazing miracle in action. Every second different hormones are being released, having action on distant tissues, and being recycled or broken down. All of the hormones affect the other hormones, and they also have effects on cellular messenger release and metabolism in millions of different cells. And how a hormone affects two different cells can be exactly opposite. It’s amazingly complex.
For some women, getting pregnant is as easy as looking at their partner (as one patient described it to me this week). For others, falling pregnant takes a bit more effort, and for still more women maintaining the pregnancy is an issue (as was the case for this patient). Recurrent early pregnancy loss? Low to no positive readings on your OPKs? Variable length of cycles? Anovulatory cycles? You might want to start thinking about your progesterone levels.
Progesterone is an important reproductive hormone. It is responsible for many reactions that must take place in order for a healthy pregnancy to occur. If progesterone is insufficient, or released at the wrong time during a woman’s cycle, it affects the entire symphony of hormones and can make getting and staying pregnant very difficult.
In general, progesterone is a calming and soothing hormone. It boosts thyroid function and metabolism, impacts sleep, reduces inflammation, and contributes to healthy hair, skin, and nails (one of the reasons pregnant women have great hair). When progesterone release is timed properly, it is released in greatest amounts in the second half of the menstrual cycle (after ovulation), and it helps a woman sail easily into her menses without any severe symptoms. If there’s not enough progesterone, or release doesn’t last long enough in that second half of the cycle, PMS symptoms surface. Improper progesterone release can cause insomnia, excessive hair loss, irritability and mood swings, and spotting prior to the menses.
When the body gets it right, progesterone makes you feel happy and calm. It sustains the endometrial lining so implantation can take place. And it feeds an early pregnancy, helping the early embryo to grow and the placenta to form. During pregnancy, progesterone helps encourage the growth of the fetus, stimulates growth of maternal breast tissue, prevents lactation prior to birth, and strengthens the pelvic muscles in preparation for labour.
Interestingly, the only way to make enough progesterone is by ovulating every single cycle. Women taking hormonal contraceptives don’t make any of their own progesterone, because their pill (or patch, or ring.. etc) shuts down ovulation. For women trying to get pregnant, ovulating every cycle is important so that they have a chance of getting pregnant, but also because it ensures that they produce progesterone every cycle.
However, ovulation isn’t always easy. It takes a great deal of cellular energy to prepare an egg cell to be mature enough to ovulate. It takes adequate nutrient status: lots of iodine, magnesium, zinc and selenium. It requires adequate thyroid hormone production, adequate cortisol (stress hormone) control, and a healthy, low inflammatory status. All autoimmune diseases can interfere with ovulation, as can blood sugar imbalances and reproductive disorders like PCOS.
In short, a lot is required for a little progesterone.
However, the way to get your body to ovulate and produce progesterone isn’t always complicated. Start with the Acubalance fertility diet to reduce inflammation, stabilize blood sugar, support the immune system and balance hormones. Ask your practitioner about natural supplements that can boost progesterone production like Vitex agnus-castus (“chaste berry”), magnesium, iodine, zinc and selenium. Exercise regularly to increase blood flow to the ovaries and uterus and to reduce inflammation and stress. And rest adequately by sleeping enough and taking down time. Acupuncture, by balancing hormones, redirecting blood flow, and regulating the menstrual cycle, is one of our most effective modalities to incnrease the likelihood of ovulation every cycle.
In some cases, bioidentical progesterone may be necessary to treat severe PMS or recurrent pregnancy loss. We use low, physiological doses of a progesterone that is identical to that which your body produces to help you maintain an early pregnancy and treat very stubborn PMS.
If you have more questions about progesterone, catch me when you see me around the clinic or book a free 15 minute consult with myself or another Acubalance practitioner.
Dr. Kali MacIsaac HBSc, ND