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 have concerns about the side effects or risks that come 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 that occur during 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 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. The manufacturer produces these in a lab from a natural compound called diosgenin. Crinone and Prometrium are available in gel and capsule form.
However, many products are also available that claim to serve as natural sources of progesterone. These products are made from soybeans or a wild and inedible Mexican yam called Diascorea villosa.
The 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 to be a natural form of progesterone they contain diosgenin, not progesterone. Unfortunately, the diosgenin in wild yams cannot be converted into hormones by the human body, synthetic chemical laboratory reactions are required. Therefore, taking a product that contains only wild yam will not provide any progesterone activity.
People using progesterone supplements 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. Women who have a history of pregnancy loss often use these products to help maintain a pregnancy.
Be 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 increase its production of progesterone or balance estrogen levels.
Little research supports these claims, and many studies look at the effects on animals or cells in a laboratory setting. More studies are necessary to confirm them.
Some foods claimed to help low progesterone include:
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 and is an important nutrient for progesterone.
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 reduce any symptoms related to low progesterone and better regulate their menstrual cycle. However, few studies support this.
Natural remedies for low progesterone
Other options are 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
People claim that some herbs and supplements can help raise progesterone levels. These include:
- evening primrose oil
Remember that the FDA do not test herbs and supplements in the same way as prescription medications. Also, not much evidence is available supporting their use for these purposes.
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 triggers the thickening of the endometrial lining to make it ready for pregnancy.
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 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.
A person can also combine progestin with different forms of estrogen alongside birth control pills and hormonal therapy for those transitioning to menopause.
Benefits of using natural progesterone
Natural progesterone products have some benefits.
However, these products must contain progesterone and a doctor must prescribe them.
- a possible protective effect against endometrial cancer
- reduced side effects in comparison with synthetic progesterone
- decreased perimenopausal symptoms
Risks of natural hormone products
Natural hormone products, such as progesterone cream, also carry potential risks.
Not many studies support the use and effectiveness of products that do not contain progesterone itself. Also, the FDA does not oversee natural hormone products, which can create additional risks concerning their safety.
Natural progesterone products do not provide contraception.
Research has shown that there are some increased risks for individuals who take hormone replacement or supplement therapy. These risks can include dangerous medical conditions, such as:
More research is necessary to determine the difference in effect between natural progesterone products and synthetic products since they have similar hormonal activity.
As such, any products containing natural or synthetic 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 menopause or infertility symptoms. However, scant research supports their use or safety.
Due to the lack of evidence supporting their use, speak with a doctor before beginning any hormone products, including natural supplements.
Your doctor may recommend approved products that are safer and more effective.
What can I do to safely improve progesterone levels?
Eating a diet full of nutrients and omega 3 fatty acids, such as cold water fish or flax, improves the ability of the body to produce progesterone.
Take in Vitamin B and C rich foods every day, as the body does not store them, and they are essential to reducing estrogen to balance progesterone. Work with your doctor to understand what your hormone levels are and decide a plan of action.
As you age, hormone levels will change. If you have low functioning thyroid or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), these may need treatment before progesterone levels can be changed.Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.