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
- General body pain
- Hot flashes
- Varying degrees of fatigue
- Cravings of a wide variety
- Mental stress
- 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.
Wishing you health, beauty and elegance,