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HEALTH CONCERN? BioHealth Health Concerns

Progesterone - Are You Thinking of Using It?

Contributing Author: Warnke, Cheryl L.Ac.

Cheryl WarnkeCheryl Warnke, LAc, is an acupuncturist and herbalist based in California, helping to resolve a broad variety of conditions including pain, gastrointestinal disorders, fatigue, and hormone imbalances. Because she believes in a holistic approach to health, she works to uncover the underlying cause of complex health issues instead of just masking symptoms. Cheryl has been using functional diagnostic testing for over a decade to complement her traditional Chinese approach, to help resolve even the most complex of patient cases.

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Most women know that progesterone is a sex hormone produced during the menstrual cycle, and that it is good for them. Women purchasing progesterone creams has become the rage because of the benefits that have been touted about the hormone. However, I find that many women are unaware of the role of progesterone in the menstrual cycle, the beneficial effects it has on the body, and the ill side effects if overdosed. As it turns out, progesterone may not be the panacea to whatever ails you.

You may be facing deeper underlying issues that need to be addressed. Any imbalance in the body, including related to sex hormones, is a signal that something is disrupting the body's natural tendency toward homeostasis (a steady state in the internal environment of the body maintained by various feedback and control mechanisms, i.e., temperature, electrolyte balance, and respiration).

First, where does progesterone come from? The menstrual cycle can be divided into two phases: the follicular phase, which is roughly the first half of the cycle, and the luteal phase, which is the second half. The first day of menses is at the early follicular phase, and is considered the beginning of your cycle. This is when estrogen peaks and ovulation occurs. The second half of the cycle is when progesterone is released from the corpus luteum, the rupture that forms on the ovary by the egg being released at ovulation. A hormone from the pituitary gland stimulates the corpus luteum, releasing large quantities of progesterone. Then, about two to three days before your period starts, levels of both hormones decrease sharply. This causes the shedding of the endometrium (the inside lining of the uterus), or the menstrual blood.

As you can see, the menstrual cycle is a balancing act between estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen is released during the first half, and progesterone during the second half. If there is a low output of progesterone in the second half of the cycle, a woman can experience premenstrual syndrome as well as a myriad of other problems. These may include infertility, early onset menopause, uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, fibrocystic breast condition, irregular menses, and painful periods. Also, postpartum depression is due, in part, to a relative depletion of progesterone to estrogen.

Progesterone also counteracts the ill effects of estrogen, one of which is the stimulation of cellular proliferation. For example, during the early days of hormone replacement therapy, estrogen, if not given with progesterone to a woman who still had her uterus, was discovered to create a tremendously higher risk of developing cancer. However, progesterone has incredible benefits in addition to its use in hormone replacement therapy.

In the cycle, progesterone maintains the endometrium to allow a fertilized egg to implant. The placenta also produces progesterone to assure the survival of the embryo. Progesterone has been said to even increase the intelligence of the fetus, and increases the blood’s supply of oxygen and improves circulation, both of which are important in pregnancy.

Progesterone also sustains bone density, as estrogen is known to do, and it actually promotes the growth of new bone. Although estrogen is promoted for preventing osteoporosis, in reality, progesterone does more for bone integrity than estrogen does.

In addition, progesterone can help with regulating weight, is a natural diuretic, decreases a tendency toward blood clots, helps normalize thyroid function, and protects against fibrocystic breast condition and endometriosis.

What usually motivates a woman to seek out progesterone creams, or any other form of progesterone, is premenstrual syndrome. If a woman administers the cream during the second half of her cycle, it may help with some of the premenstrual discomfort. After a while, however, she may still experience discomfort, the symptoms may return, or some other discomfort will surface, and she may think that she needs more progesterone to fix the problem.

This "if a little is good, then more is better" approach with progesterone cream might not be what your body needs. I have seen hormone tests come back on women that measured over 20 times the acceptable range of progesterone in their bodies!

Self-administering a progesterone cream can cause problems. This is because, with a cream, controlling the dose is difficult. Also, the amount of actual progesterone in any given cream is anybody's best guess. There have even been instances where an over-the-counter progesterone cream contained no measurable progesterone at all! Excessive progesterone in the body may contribute to all kinds of problems, such as depression, fatigue, water retention and weight gain, decreased libido, and hyperinsulinemia. Moreover, it can cause excessive corticosteroids (hormones produced by the cortex of the adrenals), which may affect metabolism and other bodily functions.

Progesterone is part of an intricate balance of many hormonal functions, including adrenal hormones. This means that progesterone deficiency may be the result of depletion in another hormone pathway. The systems involved with progesterone output should be examined to determine correct treatment.

Nutritional insufficiencies, such as a deficiency of vitamin E or magnesium, may also affect progesterone production. Consumption of too much animal fat may also inhibit progesterone, making even diet a consideration in correctly assessing hormone balance.

When it comes right down to it, slathering on a progesterone cream may not be the answer to hormonal imbalance, especially in the long run. With even the best intentions, doing so may compromise your health, especially if the dosage is off. To determine whether you need progesterone, the possible underlying cause, and the correct dosage, a proper hormone assessment test, and most likely a set of tests, are necessary to providing valuable information about your overall health. I have found that the lab tests from COREONE offer the most extensive information available regarding cycling progesterone, as well as other aspects of your overall health.

If you have a clear picture of what your body needs—and these kinds of test help provide that information—then assisting the body to return to a natural state of balanced health will be easy.

This "if a little is good, then more is better" approach with progesterone cream might not be what your body needs. I have seen hormone tests come back on women that measured over 20 times the acceptable range of progesterone in their bodies!