Is progesterone the secret for better menopause relief?

two happy women sharing a juicy secret

By Dr. Mary James, ND

A solution for your tough menopause symptoms could be hiding in plain sight: natural progesterone.

Many women think of progesterone as just a “pregnancy hormone.” But during the menopause transition, progesterone may help significantly to counter the symptom effects of hormonal imbalance and decreasing estrogen, including hot flashes, weight gain and bone concerns.

Progesterone occurs naturally in your body and plays many essential roles during the child-bearing years, for fertility purposes and beyond. This hand-in-glove relationship between progesterone and the female reproductive system is why many women turn to natural, or “bioidentical,” progesterone for menopause symptom relief.

Understanding more about progesterone and what it does for a woman’s body can explain why it could help resolve many of your menopause symptoms.

What is progesterone?

Progesterone is a steroid hormone known as a progestogen. It’s produced in women by the corpus luteum, the structure that forms in the ovary to prepare the uterus for pregnancy after an egg is released. If the egg isn’t fertilized, the corpus luteum goes dormant. Progesterone and estrogen recede and about two weeks later, menstruation occurs.

This cycle continues month after month, year after year, until a woman nears menopause. That’s when reproductive hormones start their inevitable but natural shift as the ovaries wind down their hormone manufacturing functions. During perimenopause, progesterone levels decline along with estrogen, though your body has other ways to make small amounts of both hormones.

But often, the worst problem for women isn’t the decrease in sex hormones. Instead, it’s the changing ratio between estrogen and progesterone, which sometimes falls out of balance into estrogen dominance. A low-progesterone-to-estrogen imbalance causes symptoms ranging from weight gain to adult acne, plus many mood-related symptoms.

What are the symptoms of low progesterone?

Having low progesterone does cause symptoms before and during perimenopause. For many women, the menopause experience has a lot in common with the monthly PMS they endured earlier on. That makes sense because science shows that having PMS often leads to menopause symptoms later. And examining the PMS symptom process helps explain how low progesterone affects a woman’s body.

Research shows that certain PMS symptoms — specifically mood-related ones like irritability, anxiety, fatigue, insomnia and even tearfulness — are tightly linked to low progesterone levels during that second half of the menstrual cycle, known as the luteal phase. One study notes that women with higher progesterone levels during this phase of their cycle have much less irritability and fatigue.

Of course you’ll notice changes in your monthly periods as you move through perimenopause. Still, your body will cycle through phases, with reproductive hormones, including progesterone, rising and falling. Progesterone and estrogen levels begin to fluctuate and become erratic, leading to symptoms that can worsen and become more frequent as perimenopause rolls on.

How do progesterone levels influence the menopause experience?

As the midlife transition continues, changing progesterone levels often lead to menopause symptoms. On top of mood changes, fatigue and insomnia, other life-disrupting menopause symptoms include hot flashes and night sweats, irregular periods, lower libido, vaginal dryness, joint aches, and skin changes.

If you have lots of stress in your life, it will have a negative effect on progesterone. Ongoing stress increases the adrenal hormone, cortisol, which can interfere with the ovaries and sex hormone levels, including progesterone.

For intolerable menopause symptoms, conventional doctors often recommend hormone replacement therapy, or even antidepressants, for menopause symptoms. Even if you’re miserable, you may be reluctant to go forward with these therapies. The controversies and side effects associated with both types of drugs have continued to mount over the years.

Many women are desperate to find a natural approach instead, one that lifts their symptoms without adding to their health worries. Severe menopause symptoms make it clear that your body can’t cope on its own with your particular type of hormone imbalance. Giving your body consistent support can help it sort out a new healthy balance between estrogen and progesterone at their midlife levels.

Diagram of the chemical composition of the hormone progesterone

Can progesterone be used to relieve menopause symptoms?

Frequent and severe menopause symptoms increase the urgency to find safe, reliable relief that you can control. Diet may provide a little help because certain foods and nutrients may have an effect on progesterone levels in your body. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts) contain a chemical called indole-3-carbinol that is thought to counter the effects of high-estrogen-to-progesterone. Vitamin B-6 (in foods like chickpeas, tuna, spinach, and lean red meat) supports liver function which can help balance hormones , including progesterone and estrogen.

But there are other options that may provide the beneficial effects of progesterone for symptom relief. Topical natural progesterone is derived from either soybeans, or an inedible plant called the Mexican wild yam. It is considered bioidentical to women’s own naturally-occurring hormones and can be a companion to other therapies or used alone.

For women who have tried other options that only provide partial relief — or none at all — plant-based progesterone topical creams may help roll back some of the effects of hormonal imbalance. This is why non-prescription topical progesterone is so appealing. It is chemically similar to the progesterone in your body and has been proven safe.

Some research shows that this kind of progesterone can also decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol over time. High cortisol is responsible for, or complicit in, the formation of many other symptoms and health threats. Even for hot flashes, which are notoriously persistent menopause symptoms, topical progesterone has shown to be effective for many women.

Will topical progesterone work for you?

Severe menopause symptoms can crush the joy out of everyday life and magnify your fears about how your body is changing. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and you don’t have to resort to extreme measures.

Even with dramatic hormone fluctuations in perimenopause, your body has the ability to adapt to the changes. Many women get good results with topical progesterone over time without having to worry about side effects. The best topical progesterone remedies have special application instructions that mimic the way progesterone rises and falls during the average menstrual cycle.

We each have a different hormonal profile which means our symptom experience is unique too. As with many natural remedies, the best way to know if topical progesterone will ease your specific menopause symptoms is to try it for several months to measure its effectiveness.

Last updated on 11/08/2019