Low Progesterone:: The Other Side of Estrogen Dominance-11677

Here at The Detox Diva we discuss hormonal health a lot, specifically about estrogen dominance.  With so many doctors prescribing birth control pills to treat a myriad of “female”problems (none of which birth control pills actually treat well), xenoestrogens in everything from pesticides and chemical residues in our foods, cleaning supplies, and even beauty and personal care items we absorb and ingest enough estrogen producing compounds to be problematic for most women and some of the men too.  

 

Even in the course of trying to live a healthy lifestyle, some of the “nutritional guidance” fails us when telling us consuming large amounts of flax seeds and oils, inordinate amounts of beans and other legumes, soy, and even the dairy industry promoting animal products that come from hormone laden feed-lot animals we are exposed to entirely too much estrogen.  All of this, of course leads to not only high estrogen but an overburdened liver which can lead to a dysfunctional thyroid, high cortisol and finally, low progesterone.

What causes low progesterone?

Estrogen dominance. Progesterone opposes estrogen meaning it balances the effects of estrogen.  Estrogen is predominant in the first half of the cycle with progesterone being predominant in the second half of the cycle.  Estrogen is needed to promote healthy ‘eggs’ and making sure they get to the point of ovulation and progesterone is needed to ensure that egg, once fertilized, makes it to a nourished uterus and is allowed to become all it is meant to be; a healthy baby.  If estrogen excess is so pronounced that the level of progesterone is not enough to oppose it, it exacerbates estrogen excess.  

Birth control pills and other hormonal therapies. Synthetic hormones are rife in birth control pills and most hormonal therapy.  Synthetic hormones such as progestin mimic the hormones in the body but are not the same and often displace some of the native hormonal activity in the body putting a strain on the liver  Add insult to injury these birth control pills and other hormones increase the levels of estrogen, causing an imbalance.

Poor Diet and Lack of Exercise.  Women (and some men too) consuming high amounts of processed foods, animal proteins from hormone addled feedlot cattle and factory farmed chickens and pigs, and so called healthy foods like flax, soy, and large amounts of other beans and legumes can have high estrogen levels.  Industrial fats high in PUFAs and, in general, laden with pesticides can have a sinister effect on estrogen levels which have a converse effect on progesterone.Regular exercise and a balanced diet are essential to progesterone production. Lack of activity can trigger hormone-producing glands in the body to become dormant and cease production of progesterone. A sedentary lifestyle and poor diet also increase the risk of obesity, which increases estrogen storage in the body, which drives down progesterone production.

Stress, stress and more stress.  When under stress our cortisol levels (cortisol is a stress hormone) rises dramatically which reduces progesterone levels.  Progesterone and cortisol compete for the same receptor sites in cells and cortisol always wins.   When cortisol levels remain high for prolonged periods, progesterone activity is impaired.  Even during progesterone therapy, if chronic stress isn’t kept in check, the therapy efficacy can be dramatically impaired. 

Insulin Resistance (and let’s not forget leptin too). Insulin resistance occurs when the body is unable to effectively use the insulin it produces. Cells in the body are unable to take in progesterone when blood glucose levels are too high or too low. In addition, anything that causes spikes in insulin levels, such as eating low quality carbohydrates and simple sugars without the presence of healthy fats and proteins, can result in a drop in progesterone levels. Insulin resistance may be caused by diabetes, obesity or polycystic ovarian syndrome.  Because insulin resistance is an eventuality of leptin resistance, usually the problems with the estrogen/progesterone ratio happen months or sometimes years before the onset of insulin resistance. 

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. PPCOS is both a cause and effect of low progesterone.  It is an ever increasing problem in modern society and a major cause of infertility today.  In PCOS, the egg follicle migrates to a location other than the ovaries and fails to release an egg. This failure to ovulate prevents the natural surge of progesterone women experience during this point in the menstrual cycle. When the hypothalamus, a gland in the brain, detects the lack of progesterone it increases production of other hormones to stimulate the ovary. More estrogen is then produced, which further decreases progesterone levels.

Thyroid and/or Adrenal Gland dysfunction.  Estrogen dominance affects the thyroid by blocking thyroid hormones and the conversion of inactive T4 to active T3.  Estrogen does this by producing too much thyroid binding globulin which then binds to thyroid hormone rendering it inactive.  Hypothyroidism is a cause of lowered progesterone as T3 is directly related to the dispensation of cholesterol into the precursors to progesterone and T4 to T3 conversion is often impaired.  

If this isn’t enough, when the adrenals are stressed, as discussed above, the body makes less progesterone because cortisol effectively steals the materials necessary for making progesterone and then competes for the receptors for the remaining progesterone in the cells.  Adrenal fatigue  causes the adrenals to down regulate many processes because they cannot keep up with the body’s demand for cortisol.  This also affects hypothyroidism because the adrenals also down regulate thyroid function.  In addition to estrogen being responsible for the lack of conversion of T4 to T3 the adrenals can also inhibit the conversion redirecting production to reverse T3 which further opposes the effects of T3 making traditional hypothyroid treatments ineffective.  This lowers progesterone and raises estrogen even further making these imbalances even worse.

What are the symptoms of Low Progesterone?

  • Weight gain especially over the belly area
  • Mood Swings
  • Abnormally heavy flow during periods or irregular periods
  • Low sexual drive
  • Infertility/no ovulation
  • Breast Tenderness or pain
  • Depression/Anxiety
  • General body pain
  • Hot flashes
  • Varying degrees of fatigue
  • Cravings of a wide variety
  • Mental stress
  • Insomnia
  • Lowered immune system
  • Hampered intestinal health including indigestion
  • Increase in cholesterol levels
  • Frequent bloating and occurrence of gas
    Migraines and headaches
  • Cramping during menstruation
  • Excess water retention
  • Puffiness in cheeks
  • Memory loss
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Joint pain
  • Changes in appetite
  • Inability to lose weight

 

Other common but more subtle signs of a progesterone deficiency include chronic constipation and getting sick often, since the hormone plays a role in intestinal health and overall immunity. Women with a long-term progesterone deficiency are also at increased risk of osteoporosis, heart disease and breast and uterine cancers.

Role of progesterone in the body

Progesterone is the single most important hormone made by the female body. It is critically important for the health of virtually every cell and organ of the body. It plays a vital role in estrogen and cortisol metabolism.  

Progesterone is imperative to regulate the menstrual cycles of women.   Men also produce a small amount of this hormone, but it is less important to sexual maturity in men than is testosterone.  In women, progesterone is produced just before ovulation and peaks at ovulation if the egg that is released is not fertilized falling gradually over the last half of the cycle enough so that the uterine lining is shed.  Should the egg be fertilized, progesterone is the protective hormone that continues the nourishment of the uterus and ensures the embryo is safe and sound.   Along with estrogen, progesterone maintains the balance of the women’s menstrual cycle, producing monthly periods or menstruation. Again, it opposes estrogen so the balance must be maintained for hormonal health to be at optimal levels.

Progesterone also serves several other important functions in the body. It enhances immunity, reduces  inflammation, stimulates and regulates the production of  thyroid hormones, and keeps blood-clotting levels at normal levels. Progesterone also can be said to be an “anti-aging” hormone. It keeps bones strong, produces collagen, and helps keep nerves functioning at appropriate levels. There has even been research testing the effects of progesterone injections on multiple sclerosis sufferers to see if it can help stave off nerve and skeletal muscle deterioration. 

As a woman ages, levels of progesterone and estrogen begin to decline though before menopause and during estrogen levels tend to rise dramatically for a time while progesterone levels tend to decline. This gradually leads to menopause. As a result of less progesterone being produced, less collagen is produced which reduces skin elasticity and leads to wrinkling therefore progesterone therapy is vital to anti-aging regimens. Low levels of progesterone also decrease the body’s ability to create new bone cells, which puts a woman at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis.  Because, in traditional menopausal therapies, estrogen is the predominant hormone replacement and estrogen must be opposed by progesterone, we now understand the elevated risk of decline in bone health.

Natural progesterone in even younger women showing signs of hormonal dysfunction can work wonders as a part of thyroid and  adrenal imbalance treatments as well as  in the treatment of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.  

While you can have an estrogen dominance and normal progesterone levels it is possible to have normal estrogen levels and very low progesterone levels which would still create an estrogen dominant state.  

If you have any of these symptoms and want to explore the best way to balance your hormones, feel free to contact me or book a consultation today.

Wishing you health, beauty and elegance,

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6 replies
  1. Ale
    Ale says:

    I’m confused. This is from Dr Fhurman’s website this week but you say Flaxseeds are not good?

    “Flaxseeds are the richest source of plant lignans, having about 3 times the lignan content of chia seeds and 8 times the lignan content of sesame seeds (note that flaxseed oil does not contain lignans — they bind to the fiber). The other plant foods on the list have about one-tenth or less the amount of lignans as sesame seeds per serving.2, 3

    Flaxseeds (85.5 mg/ounce)
    Chia seeds (32 mg/ounce)4
    Sesame seeds (11.2 mg/ounce)5
    Kale (curly; 1.6 mg/cup)
    Broccoli (1.2 mg/cup)
    Anti-cancer effects of lignans”

    Reply
    • thedetoxdiva
      thedetoxdiva says:

      Yes, I have read the studies. I don’t feel, knowing what I know about how polyunsaturates and RANCID ones to boot, are worth the risk when there are far better ways of getting your nutrients. I don’t ascribe to the hype and yes, I do feel flax seeds are hyped. You mentioned in your earlier comment about greens, onions, mushrooms and beans and you would be surprised how many people with certain genetic mutations in their DNA methylation pathways cannot tolerate the sulfur they produce. Considering there is a very high percentage of women walking around with these gene mutations expressed thanks to the overhyping of certain superfoods such as flax seeds doing your homework on just how biased this research is to suggest this is an across the board recommendation for all women should be something that makes you think.

      Reply
  2. Ale
    Ale says:

    Anti-cancer effects of lignans

    Enterolignans are structurally similar to estrogen and can bind to estrogen receptors — this capability allows lignans to either have weak estrogenic activity or block the actions of estrogen in the body. For this reason, plant lignans are classified as phytoestrogens, and there has been much interest in the potential contribution of lignan-rich foods to reduced risk of hormone-related cancers.2, 6 Enterolignans inhibits aromatase7 and estradiol production in general, lowering serum estrogen levels.8 Plant lignans also increase concentration of sex hormone binding globulin, which blunts the effects of estrogens.9-11 These benefits were documented when 48 postmenopausal women consumed 7.5 g/day of ground flax seeds for 6 weeks, then 15 g for 6 weeks — and significant decreases in estradiol, estrone, and testosterone were noted with a bigger decrease in overweight and obese women.12

    In a mouse model, a flaxseed diet (5%, 10%) shows dose-dependent inhibition of breast tumor growth.13 Human trials also confirmed similar beneficial effects. A double-blinded, randomized controlled trial of dietary flaxseed demonstrated dramatic protection. Women ate either a control muffin with no flax seeds imbedded or 25g flax-containing muffin starting at time of diagnosis of breast cancer for just 32-39 days until surgery. Tumor tissue analyzed at diagnosis and surgery demonstrated surprising benefits even in this short timeframe. There was a significant apoptosis (tumor cell death) and reduced cell proliferation in the flaxseed group in just the one month.14 Likewise women eating more flaxseeds with a documented higher serum enterolactone were found to have a 42% reduced risk of death from postmenopausal breast cancer and a dramatic (40 percent) reduction in all causes of death.15, 16 Flaxseeds are clearly super foods; even with a mediocre diet they offer powerful protection against breast cancer. Another interesting study on flax followed women for up to 10 years and found a 51% reduced risk of all-cause mortality and a 71% reduced risk of breast cancer mortality. The intake of dried beans was also associated with a 39% reduced risk of all-cause mortality.17 Endometrial and ovarian cancer have not been as extensively studied, but the few studies that have been conducted suggest a protective effect.2, 18

    Bottom line; don’t forget to take your ground flax seeds (or chia seeds) every day. I sometimes forget too, but reviewing the science encourages me to remember. When used in conjunction with dietary exposure to greens, onions, mushrooms and beans, dramatic reductions in the risk of breast cancer are possible.

    Reply
    • thedetoxdiva
      thedetoxdiva says:

      I do NOT suggest flax seeds not only for their estrogenic qualities but for their high PUFA content. If you have no estrogen dominance issues or any genetic defects in your methylation pathways I suppose you could get away with eating flax seeds in small quantities but beware if you are pregnant (flax seeds have been known to quadruple the instances of preterm labor and miscarriage), leads to an overproduction of serotonin (which, if I may reiterate, is not the cure all it is made out to be), and is high in phytic acid which binds to many important minerals including zinc. The Omega 3’s produced are in the form of ALA rather than EPA or DHA and we don’t convert ALA easily as humans.
      Bear in mind many of the “studies” that you are citing were not peer reviewed rather were industry led which makes them suspect. Because much of the flax seed and flax oil is rancid, this causes more inflammation and oxidation in the body which actually leads to great risk of obesity.
      Don’t believe all the hype and don’t believe the pseudo science behind the “superfood” media machine. There are far better ways through a real foods diet to garner your omega 3s (to temporarily boost your ratio while you are detoxing from years of PUFA ingestion) and lignans including green vegetables, small amounts of nuts, and berries that do not contribute to estrogenic activity.

      Reply
  3. Meg
    Meg says:

    I’m 32 years old, mother of a 3 year old and a 16 month old and lived in a home with toxic mold. While living there and until recently ate only a low-fat, plant based diet (Read: strict vegan, LOTS of BEANS), and I just read your articles regarding estrogen dominance and diet, so I had some concerns…

    Long story short, I began seeing a holistic doc for mold detox, as I had high levels of Stachybotrys and Aspergillus / Penicillum in my urine, but recently she diagnosed me also as having low cortisol and am estrogen dominant (currently on Month #2 of natural progesterone troches). However, I’ve noticed I’m having hot flashes, oilier skin, seems like I’m more swollen, the list goes on. Is this normal or are these signs that I possibly should NOT be on the progesterone? It really seems that the effects of the mold are much like or act as xenoestrogens? I’ve since become extremely chemically sensitive, so much so I almost cannot sit in my new car without feeling sick.

    I’ve read all of your articles regarding estrogen dominance and diet, etc., so I will definitely be making those changes, as well as starting my glutathione supplement that I had been taking for mold detox. I’m really hoping to get my life back, shed this excess weight and get on with life!

    Thanks!

    Reply

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