Low Progesterone and Stress
I’m sure we all know that progesterone is one of our reproductive hormones, but what does it really do, what happens if we don’t have enough, and does stress play a role?
Progesterone is the more dominant hormone during the second half of our menstrual cycle, after ovulation. It is our calming, feel-good hormone, and plays an important role in healthy menstrual cycles and reproduction. It helps us sleep well, have nice hair and skin, supports our energy levels and our immune system! Those all sound like important things, right? But what happens if we don't have enough?
Signs of low progesterone:
-Cycles shorter than 25 days
-Spotting mid cycle or before your period starts
-Difficulty conceiving or early miscarriage
-PMS (including premenstrual anxiety, mood swings, water retention or bloating, acne)
If you noticed, some of the signs of low progesterone might actually look the same as high estrogen levels, based on a relative imbalance between our estrogen and progesterone.
Progesterone and Stress:
Our progesterone levels start to decline in perimenopause, but a big culprit impacting our progesterone levels can be ongoing STRESS.
Pregnenolone is a precursor to cortisol (our stress hormone) and progesterone, so with chronic stress a lot of our pregnenolone goes towards making cortisol and we are left with depleted progesterone levels. Our body’s are smart, and have evolved in such a way that if we are overly stressed (or in survival mode), we are less likely to ovulate and produce enough progesterone to support a pregnancy.
Curious about your progesterone levels? The best time to test your progesterone is about a week after ovulation, when it is at it's peak (approximately day 21 of a 28 day cycle).
Ways to Support Progesterone Levels:
–Stress reduction. Strategies for this look different to everyone, but some examples are doing yoga, mindfulness meditation, boundary setting, and taking time to identify modifiable stressors.
-Support GABA activity and progesterone production with nutrients such as vitamin B6 and magnesium.
-Adaptogenic botanicals that support our body’s response to stress.
-Botanicals that support progesterone production. Keep in mind, these are more beneficial when you are taking care of that stress response- you can’t put out a fire while you are still fuelling the flame!
It is important to rule out any other underlying conditions that can be contributing to your symptoms and have a thorough assessment done by your healthcare provider. This article should not replace the advice of your naturopathic doctor or family physician.
Gordon et al. Ovarian Hormone Fluctuation, Neurosteroids and HPA Axis Dysregulation in Perimenopausal Depression: A Novel Heuristic Model. Am J Psychiatry. 2015 Mar 1; 172(3): 227–236.
Stephens et al. Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis response to acute psychosocial stress: Effects of biological sex and circulating sex hormones. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2016 Apr; 66: 47–55.