I’ve had heaps of questions around a post on insta regarding progesterone testing and fertility as I was checking my own blood levels of progesterone post-ovulation. I thought now is just as good a time as any to give you an overview on what you need to know about progesterone, why it’s important and why nutrition alone can’t solve your progesterone issues.
It has been a long time holding my tongue on hormone chat as it’s a can of worms many will have their 2c on and I wasn’t sure I was ready to social-media-defend women’s rights on education and medical care that exceeds what I currently think they get.
The reality however, is women do not know what their bodies are telling them, and this isn’t their fault. We are continually being told to shut off our hormones when that is the absolute last thing we need to do. For our bodies to truly function optimally we desperately need the right balance of hormones that are naturally produced by us. We would never dream of telling a man to shut down testosterone production, so why do we continually accept that we should shut down our hormones?
Here are my 5 fast overview notes and only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to progesterone. In the clinic this is by far one of my favourite areas of both fertility and of healthy women and yet by far one of the most misunderstood by the women who deserve to know more.
1. Progesterone is a hormone we make in small amounts from our adrenal glands, and in large and efficient amounts from a healthy egg after ovulation. It is essentially our reward hormone after we have successfully produced a healthy egg, and if that egg is not fertilised, then progesterone will drop allowing the uterine lining to shed for menstruation. It will peak only for a short time so therefore is not measurable in your blood at just any old time of your cycle. It must be measured 5-7 days after ovulation, around a week before your period. This is not easy to work out if you have irregular periods.
2. It is responsible for feelings of calm and has anti-anxiety properties and this is crucial to our mood and general health. However, cortisol will steal progesterone in order to make itself. These two hormones are in competition with each other and at any one time there can only be one winner. You are either producing cortisol and feeling stressed or you are producing progesterone and feeling calm. You do not need to me to tell you which one you are likely making more of.
3. You do not ovulate on the oral contraceptive pill (or the implant, or depo) and therefore you do not make progesterone from your egg/ovulation each month. If you think the OCP is balancing any hormones than you have been advised very incorrectly by under-educated doctors. I will write more on this giant topic but in the meantime Lara Briden’s Healthy Hormone Blog can educate you far more than your GP is going to. Except of course if you have a wonderful GP that knows the OCP should be used for contraception only, and nothing else. Not skin, not hormones, not anxiety, not heavy periods and not PCOS. It is good for one thing and one thing only – preventing pregnancies!
4. You can eat nothing that will give you progesterone directly. Unlike eating green vegetables for folate or red meat for iron, progesterone; like all your other hormones, is a complex molecule requiring healthy fats, adequate protein and the right carbohydrates, and then a varied amount of vitamins and minerals in order to work. Stress alone will prevent more progesterone from being created than any good diet will help encourage it. Meaning, if you are “healthy” but stressed then we have an issue. If you’re “unhealthy” and stressed, we have an even bigger issue.
5. Science and medicine can be slow sometimes and the reality is, we are putting our young girls on the OCP younger and younger and shutting down their bodies natural ability to make progesterone. Fast forward 20 years and they’re trying to get pregnant, and we are seeing more and more women who simply can’t ovulate after suppressing this mechanism for so long. It takes an immense amount of nutrition work, boosting nutrients, repairing gut health, re-training the body, some medical intervention at times and a lot of healthcare in mind and body.
We are only NOW starting to understand these issues, and see the side effects of the OCP. Hearing someone tell me that it is completely safe, when we have never ever tested it on humans for so long until now, makes my heart break for our daughters.
My generation have been the largest experiment using hormonal birth control and what 10, 15, 20 years on it will do a women’s body. Our fertility is failing now more than ever. Yes there are many factors involved, but shutting down a women’s ability to ovulate without thinking that might do some long term damage is both naive and dangerous.