Progesterone is your calming, soothing, happiness hormone. It interacts with GABA-receptors in your brain to promote serenity and sleep. It boosts thyroid and metabolism. It is also anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and great for your hair and skin.
Do you know if you make enough progesterone?
Progesterone rises steeply just after ovulation, and peaks about one week before your period. You will see it as a temperature rise on a basal body temperature chart, and you will see it as “serum progesterone” on a blood test taken about one week before your period. Serum progesterone should be greater than 8 ng/mL or 25 nmol/L, but the more, the better.
⚠️ Tip: If you take hormonal birth control, don’t bother testing for progesterone—you have none. See The crucial difference between progesterone and progestins.
⚠️ Tip: It’s normal to have no progesterone before ovulation, so please be careful interpreting your results. Read The Right Way to Test Progesterone.
Deficient? You can take natural progesterone as a cream or as a pill, or—even better—you can make more of it yourself.
Progesterone is hard to make
The only way to make progesterone s to consistently ovulate each month (or be pregnant). And as we saw in the last post, ovulation is not easy. Your ovarian follicle must undergo a fantastic transformation from one cell into a 4 cm gland called the corpus luteum. The formation of a corpus lutuem requires lots of energy and lots of nutrition including magnesium, iodine, zinc, and especially selenium. The formation of a corpus luteum also requires healthy immune function, so any kind of chronic inflammation (such as from gluten or digestive problems) will interfere with ovulation and therefore with progesterone. Thyroid disease and insulin resistance can also interfere.
The road to the corpus luteum is long. It takes 100 days for your ovarian follicles (pre-eggs) to journey all the way to maturity and cross the ovulation finish line. During all of those 100 days, your follicles need support and a healthy environment. So progesterone deficiency tells the story of a problem that existed months before.
Stress steals progesterone
There is another obstacle. Progesterone is a steroid hormone and the precursor to another important steroid hormone called cortisol. Under chronic stress, your adrenal glands steal progesterone to make cortisol. They take all the hard done by your corpus luteum and burn it as stress hormone.
Vitex agnus-castus (chasteberry or chaste tree)
Vitex is a medicinal plant that stimulates your hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian (HPO) axis, promotes ovulation, and boosts progesterone. Vitex has performed well in clinical trials for PMS. If you have PCOS, be careful with Vitex because it increases LH hormone and can, therefore, worsen the condition. See my post: The Do’s and Don’ts of Vitex, and join in over 1000 comments there!
Road map to progesterone
- Be well nourished, especially with real food (including protein and carbohydrate), magnesium, iodine, vitamin D, zinc, and selenium.
- Correct underlying inflammatory issues such as dairy sensitivity, gluten sensitivity, intestinal permeability, thyroid disease, and insulin resistance.
- Reduce stress.
- Consider taking ovulation-promoting herbs such as Vitex (Chaste tree) or peony. See my PCOS post.
- Play the long game. Remember: It takes 100 days to bring your ovarian follicles all the way to ovulation.
For more information, please check out my book Period Repair Manual.
Yours in health,