Estrogen, Estrogen, Estrogen. Everybody loves to talk about Estrogen. Well, today we’re not talking about Estrogen for once. We’re talking about all things Progesterone, including Progesterone dominance, what happens when your levels are too low, and what to watch out for. So let’s dive right in.
Why have I never heard of Progesterone dominance?
Generally speaking, there isn’t a medical treatment that is widely recommended for high levels of Progesterone. This is because Progesterone dominance — as far as we know — does not cause health problems. Which may be why you’ve not heard of it before.
It can, however, indicate other health problems. So, your doctor may order additional tests to get to the root of the problem.
Why should I care about Progesterone?
We know learning about hormones can be overwhelming. There are just so many! But Progesterone is a big deal, especially for women. So, you really do need to know about it.
In a nutshell, Progesterone levels affect:
- Breast tissue development in puberty
- Regulating menstrual cycles
- Maintaining pregnancy
- Your metabolism
- Your moods
Like we said, Progesterone is a big deal!
Understanding Progesterone is about more than impressing people with your knowledge — though we highly encourage you to spread the word. It’s about understanding how your body works and why it does what it does. If that’s not empowering, we don’t know what is.
So what is Progesterone?
Progesterone is a naturally occurring sex hormone in both men and women. Small amounts are produced in the adrenal glands, located just above the kidneys. In the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, Progesterone is also produced by the placenta. But generally, most of your Progesterone is produced in your gonads.
And in women, that means your ovaries, or, more specifically, your eggs. Now, that might sound kind of odd, so allow us to explain. Eggs themselves don’t actually produce Progesterone, but the little sac that once housed them does. Here’s how that breaks down:
During the first half of your cycle, several eggs are quietly growing in their little sacs, pushed on by the ever-increasing levels of Estrogen your ovaries are producing. And they’re doing that to ensure one egg makes it to the right size, just before ovulation. At which point, that egg bursts free. But the sac’s job isn’t over just yet.
Having grown its egg, the leftover sac, now officially called the corpus luteum, begins to produce Progesterone. And it does that for some very good — also, important — reasons…
Progesterone, your period, and pregnancy
In menstruating and pregnant women, Progesterone is incredibly important. Every month, Progesterone prepares your uterus for a potential pregnancy. It tells your body to thicken the lining of your uterus to make it a more nurturing environment should a fertilized egg drop by.
But if conception doesn’t occur, Progesterone levels then drop. In fact, a lot of your premenstrual symptoms are caused by this sudden change. And after a couple of days, the uterus starts to shed its lining, and you get your period.
Progesterone is so vital in pregnancy that it’s often called the pregnancy hormone. When a fertilized egg is present, Progesterone levels rise. This helps to prevent your period and maintain the pregnancy. After the first two to three months, the placenta takes over, creating the bulk of the Progesterone needed to support the pregnancy.
All of which means that low levels of Progesterone can be problematic in many ways for menstruators. Some of the symptoms of low Progesterone include:
- Difficulty conceiving and maintaining pregnancy
- Mood swings
- Anxiety and depression
- Difficulty sleeping
But is there such a thing as having too much Progesterone?
In a word, yes. And while we’re calling it Progesterone dominance, what that really means is that your body has higher levels of Progesterone than it should. Although, it’s not quite as simple as that. Progesterone levels vary widely based on where you are in your cycle, whether you’re pregnant or not, and even your age.
For example, during the Follicular phase — the first part of your cycle — levels are typically less than 0.7 micrograms per milliliter (μg/mL) for the chemists out there. During the Luteal phase, when levels peak, they can be 5.3 – 59 μg/mL. Yup, that’s a top level of 59μg.
In prepubescent girls, Progesterone levels are very low. And in women transitioning through Menopause or who may be Postmenopausal, levels can be all over the place. So, you really have to know your body, and track your cycle diligently.
Progesterone dominance is rare. Or at least, it’s not very well documented. That’s because symptoms of elevated Progesterone are very similar to premenstrual and pregnancy symptoms. Common symptoms of Progesterone dominance include:
- Breast swelling and tenderness
- Mood swings
- Depression and anxiety
- Low libido
- Weight gain
See what we mean? Doesn’t that just sound like a pregnant woman? Or someone who is about to get their period?
So, how can you tell the difference?
How do you know you’re Progesterone dominant?
Progesterone dominance can be caught through a simple blood test, but it’s more likely that a discussion of your symptoms will suffice. However, a single high Progesterone result isn’t enough to say for sure that your levels are chronically high. Remember, Progesterone levels fluctuate throughout the day, the month, and — crucially — as you age.
And that’s why daily tracking can be so important when it comes to nailing down those repeat symptoms that might be trying to tell you something. Yes, it’s time for a shameless plug, but this is the kind of situation the Hormona app was invented for. You can track, monitor, and see any progression or change in your cycle or symptoms, get daily insights and advice about your hormones, and even tailor your diet to your specific cycle stage. It’s amazing, and you’ll love it!
If you suspect that your Progesterone levels may be out of whack, tracking is just the first step. Once you can see the patterns and issues, it’s time to see your doctor. But as Progesterone dominance is rare, you may need to be open to looking at your health — and your hormonal health — as a whole.
What problems are caused by Progesterone dominance?
Unlike Estrogen dominance, Progesterone dominance itself doesn’t seem to cause significant health problems… That we know of. It’s more of a squeaky wheel, telling you there may be a problem elsewhere in your body.
Progesterone dominance can be caused by ovarian cysts or an adrenal gland disorder. Sometimes, it can indicate a molar pregnancy or ovarian cancer. Let’s tackle each one of those.
An ovarian cyst is a sac of fluid that forms on or inside an ovary. They may produce hormones, including Progesterone, and lead to a hormonal imbalance. Ovarian cysts can be all different sizes and are actually quite common. Most of the time, they go away on their own without treatment and without any symptoms. But sometimes, they can grow quite large and may rupture or become twisted. In this case, you may experience:
- A sharp pain or a dull ache in your pelvis that might come and go and may get worse with movement
- Bloating or heaviness in your abdomen.
If this happens, you should seek medical attention, particularly if you are running a fever, vomiting, or having trouble breathing.
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia, or CAH, is a rare disease that affects the adrenal glands. It can cause adrenal glands to under or over-produce hormones, including Progesterone. In severe cases, unusual levels of Progesterone can present as ambiguous genitalia at birth. In milder cases, CAH can cause irregular menstrual cycles, heavy bleeding during your period, or fertility issues. Many babies are screened for CAH, but if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please let your doctor know. They can help monitor and track your symptoms and can order additional testing.
No, this doesn’t have anything to do with your teeth.
Essentially, a molar pregnancy means that there are cells growing in the placenta that shouldn’t be. This can cause the placenta to become enlarged. Again, this is quite rare but, unfortunately usually resolves in miscarriage. In addition to high levels of Progesterone, other symptoms include:
- Passing tissue or cysts via the vagina
- Brown watery discharge
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pelvic pain
As always, gang, if you’re seeing any of the above, please see a doctor as soon as possible.
How can I balance my Progesterone levels?
If you suspect that your Progesterone levels are low, see your doctor. They will likely recommend some kind of hormonal therapy. This could include oral pills, injections, or vaginal suppositories in the form of a cream or gel.
Anyone who has ever looked into balancing hormones knows that a holistic approach is usually more effective than a narrow one. And a well-balanced diet is always part of a holistic approach to hormone health. Make sure you’re eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy sources of fats.
Technically speaking, foods don’t contain Progesterone. However, some anecdotal evidence suggests that certain vitamins and minerals may stimulate your body to produce more Progesterone. These vitamins and minerals include:
- Zinc: Found in oysters, crab, lobster, pork, beef, chickpeas, tofu, oats, nuts, and seeds
- Magnesium: Found in whole grains, dark chocolate, tofu, nuts, avocados
- Vitamin B: Found in broccoli, leafy greens, chickpeas, kidney beans
- Vitamin C: Found in apples, citrus fruits, tomatoes, broccoli, bell peppers
Progesterone dominance: What now?
There is no question that Progesterone is a vital part of women’s health. But when you understand how it works and know what to watch for, you can take better control of your health. And that means you can advocate for yourself and take better care of your body, so it can take better care of you.