Progesterone is your calming, soothing, happiness hormone. It prevents heavy periods and reduces anxiety. It also boosts thyroid and is anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and great for your hair and skin.
If you can make enough progesterone, it will buoy you smiling and serene to the start of each period. If you can’t make enough, you will feel it. You will suffer PMS, heavy periods, hair loss, and sleep problems.
Signs of progesterone deficiency
Physical signs of progesterone deficiency include:
- Short luteal phase, which is the time between ovulation and your period. It should be at least 11 to 14 days, which is the lifespan of your corpus luteum.
- Low temperatures in your luteal phase because progesterone is the thyroid-stimulating hormone that raises your temperature after ovulation.
- Fertile mucus in your luteal phase because progesterone is the hormone that dries up cervical fluid.
- Spotting in your luteal phase because progesterone is the hormone that matures and stabilizes your uterine lining.
Tests for progesterone deficiency
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.
What if you’re deficient in progesterone? You can supplement 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 is to consistently ovulate each month (or be pregnant). And as we saw in the last post, ovulation is not easy. That’s because your ovarian follicle must undergo a fantastic transformation from one cell into a 4 cm gland called the corpus luteum. Then, and only then, can your ovary make progesterone.
To be able to make a corpus luteum and progesterone, you need to be healthy in every way. You need to not have thyroid disease or insulin resistance (two conditions that impair ovulation). And you need to not be suffering stress or chronic inflammation.
Finally, you need to be fully nourished.
You need to be fully nourished
Being fully nourished is the single most important way to promote healthy ovulation.
Being fully nourished means getting enough of the key ovulation nutrients iodine, zinc, vitamin D, and selenium. It also means eating some starch because a low-carb diet can impair ovulation. And finally, at least for some of you, being fully nourished may mean eating some animal protein because my observation with patients is that an exclusively plant-based diet can impair ovulation. (Fortunately, this is not always the case. For the full conversation with my readers about a vegan diet, please read Calling All Vegans. Please Tell Me About Your Periods.)
100 days to ovulation
The road to the corpus luteum is long. It takes 100 days for your ovarian follicles (eggs) to journey all the way to maturity and cross the ovulation finish line. That means it takes 100 days of health and nutrition to journey all the way to progesterone.
Your progesterone deficiency now may be telling the story of stress or inflammation or undernourishment weeks, or even months ago.
Vitex agnus-castus (chasteberry or chaste tree)
Vitex is a herbal medicine that stimulates your hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian (HPO) axis, promotes ovulation, and boosts progesterone. It’s been proven to be effective for progesterone-deficiency conditions such as PMS and PMDD.
⚠️ Tip: Be careful with Vitex if you have PCOS because the herb can increase the hormone LH and worsen the condition. See my post: The Do’s and Don’ts of Vitex, and join the conversation of more than 1000 comments!
Roadmap to progesterone
- Be well nourished with protein, carbohydrate, fat, 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,