Balancing your hormones is one of the keys to getting pregnant and supporting a healthy pregnancy. Throughout the cycle — your hormones change every single day in response to the signals the brain gives to the ovaries. In the first half of the cycle, estrogen starts to slowly build up and as it rises to its peak level — Luteinizing Hormone (LH) will surge, resulting in ovulation (when the egg is released from the follicle). Once this happens, the follicle becomes a corpus luteum which will now produce progesterone.
What is the role of Progesterone in trying to conceive?
Progesterone is more predominant in the second half of the cycle after ovulation has occurred. Progesterone is important to support the developing embryo. Symptoms associated with pregnancy such as nausea are a direct sign that progesterone levels are robust. If you become pregnant, the corpus luteum will continue to produce progesterone for approximately seven weeks until the placenta can take over. If fertilization does not occur, the corpus luteum will disintegrate and the whole process will start over again.
What are some of the signs of Progesterone deficiency?
Some of the signs and symptoms of low progesterone include:
– Recurrent pregnancy loss
– Breast tenderness
– Fibrocystic breasts
– Spotting before menses
– Mood changes such as anxiety and depression
– Weight gain
– Decreased libido
– Fluid retention
– Increased facial hair or body hair
– Sleep disturbances
Often times, there is an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone and this results in higher amounts of estrogen in relation to progesterone. This means that even though your progesterone levels may be normal on testing, it might be lower in relation to estrogen in the second half of the cycle. This is often called Estrogen Dominance.
What are some of the causes of low progesterone?
Some of the causes include:
– Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
– Increased prolactin
– Estrogen dominance
How do you test Progesterone levels?
There are a few ways to test for progesterone — through serum levels in the blood, saliva or urine. The best day to test progesterone is approximately 5 days after ovulation. This is typically around Day 21 of your cycle if you have a 28-day cycle.
Other ways to determine how strong your progesterone levels are include tracking your Basal Body Temperature or determining how many days there are in the luteal phase. Progesterone is our so-called heat hormone — your temperature will rise in the second half of the cycle when more progesterone is made. The more constant rise in temperatures — the better your progesterone levels will be. In terms of the luteal phase, typically you want there to be between 12-14 days from ovulation to your period. If there are fewer days between ovulation and your period it can be called Luteal Phase Defect.
Four Natural Ways to Support Progesterone
1. Vitex or Chaste Tree Berry
Vitex is one of the most famous herbs for balancing hormones. What is so great about Vitex is that it is a plant that naturally helps to balance out the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis. This axis is known for the signals from the brain to the ovaries. Vitex is known to help with progesterone production and reducing elevated prolactin levels.
2. Vitamins and Minerals — Zinc and Vitamin C
Zinc is important as it increases follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) which in turn helps with ovulation, and eventually signaling to the ovaries to produce progesterone. One of the foods that contain a high source of zinc includes pumpkin seeds! Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and can also help to raise progesterone levels.
Stress can impact your ability to make progesterone. The body will always favour survival over getting pregnant. Both cortisol and progesterone come from a hormone called pregnenolone and if you are under constant stress your body will make more cortisol instead of progesterone. Explore various forms of relaxation to see what is best for you from yoga, tai chi or meditation.
4. Consume Healthy Fats
In the hormone pathway, progesterone comes from pregnenolone which is made from cholesterol and healthy fats. Healthy fats help to keep you fuller longer and will support balancing insulin and blood glucose which is required in Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Opt for healthy fats such as coconut oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, and olive oil. Try to get at least 1-2 tablespoons of good healthy fat in each meal.
Understanding your hormones and treating the underlying root cause of the issue is key to long-term results.
By Dr. Samina Mitha, ND, www.saminamitha.com