Imagine your hormones are like an orchestra with violins, chellos, a piano, etc…
No, we are not trying to pick you up in a bar, or write a cheesy love song. 🙂
Just imagine a beautiful symphonic harmony, perfectly balanced and working together to create music.
How To Naturally Increase Progesterone Levels?
- No food contains progesterone but you can eat foods that can help your body increase progesterone levels.
- Eat foods that help reduce any excess estrogen in your body.
- By reducing your stress levels you naturally increase progesterone.
- Body fat produces excess estrogen which can create a hormonal imbalance.
Now, imagine what it would sound like if the violins were horribly out of tune! It would be safe to say that your orchestra would sound pretty bad right?
Having a progesterone deficiency or estrogen dominance will have the same effect on your body as the out of tune violins will have on the orchestra.
That is what a progesterone deficiency can do to your body. If you suffer from low progesterone levels, chances are you have recognized the signs of low progesterone from your out of tune hormonal orchestra and are looking for ways to naturally increase progesterone levels.
Fortunately, there are several ways to increase progesterone levels with foods, pills, cream, suppositories. But first, it is important to understand the role progesterone plays in your body.
Why is Progesterone so Important?
Progesterone is a hormone that is signals the lining of the uterus to get ready for implantation. Secreted from the ovary after ovulation, progesterone is also the hormone that is responsible for staying pregnant. If pregnancy does not occur after ovulation, progesterone levels drop and you will start to menstruate. But pregnancy loss and menstruation are not the only indications for low progesterone levels. Other symptoms of low progesterone can include mood swings, irritability, anxiety, fatigue, and in severe cases depression and Polycistic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
Even for women who are not trying to conceive, low progesterone levels have been linked to a higher incidence of breast and endometrial cancers. In a 1981 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers found that women with a progesterone deficiency had a 540% greater likelihood of developing pre-menopausal breast cancer than women without low progesterone levels. 1. Other scientists believe that many other medical conditions may result from lack of progesterone including ovarian cysts and cervical erosions. In other words, if estrogen encourages cells to multiply, progesterone keeps that multiplication in check. This is why women who are on estrogen therapies are also prescribed progesterone creams to counter balance estrogen’s affects. See? A finely tuned symphony.
So you might be wondering…
What Causes Low Progesterone?
Any woman who has experienced symptoms of low progesterone will tell you that asking what causes low progesterone will yield a variety of responses. Stress, nutrition, and exercise all play a part in progesterone levels, and we will give you some practical suggestions about those in a bit. In this article we will describe how you can counteract the effects of all three of these causes. But first, there is one factor that no well meaning expert can help you with…
How Age Effects Low Progesterone
No matter how much we would like, we can’t stop our bodies aging. We can eat well, exercise and do all the healthy things but we can only slow the speed of aging, not stop it. The thing is as we get older our hormones tend to go out of sync.
Between the ages of 35 and 50 estrogen levels reduce by 35 percent, but progesterone levels plummet by as much as 75 percent. This rapid reduction in progesterone versus our estrogen can cause what is called “estrogen dominance”. It is this estrogen dominance that causes pre-menopausal symptoms like stomach pains, hot flashes, mood swings, and weight gain. 2.
While we may not be able to stop the aging process, there are 4 things you can do to naturally increase your progesterone levels. Helping to alleviate the effects of the hormonal imbalance on your body and mind.
Natural Foods to Increase Progesterone Levels
While progesterone is not present in any food, research suggests that certain natural foods can increase your progesterone levels by promoting the body’s progesterone production.
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in your body but some researchers believe that nearly 75% of Americans have a magnesium deficiency. 3.
Not only does magnesium allow the body to absorb calcium, it also regulates the pituitary gland, which in turn regulates hormone levels. The pituitary gland regulates the production of FSH (follicular stimulating) LH (luteinizing) and TSH (thyroid stimulating) that in turn regulate the production of estrogen and progesterone. When it is lacking, your body will produce less of necessary hormones that keep your reproductive system in good shape.
How Much Magnesium Do You Need?
- Recommended: 320 mg per day but during pregnancy that increases to 450mg per day.
- Usually not enough in your Prenatal Vitamin.
Foods High in Magnesium
If you are deficient, trying to conceive or get pregnant you should take a magnesium supplement along with eating foods rich in magnesium.
- Dark Leafy Greens (Raw Spinach) – 79mg per 100g of Spinach
- Nuts and Seeds (Squash and Pumpkin Seeds) – 534mg per 100g of Pumpkin Seeds
- Fish (Mackerel) – 97mg per 100g of Mackeral
- Whole Grains (Brown Rice) – 44mg per 100g of Brown Rice
- Dark Chocolate – 327mg per 100g of Dark Chocolate
Vitamin C is an ascorbic acid which functions as an antioxidant. Antioxidants work like a defence system, disarming free radicals which are unstable molecules that can damage cell structures. Researchers believe that the ovaries takes in ascorbic acid right before ovulation, which then facilitates a strong ovulation. In a 2003 study, women who took Vitamin C had a significant increase in progesterone levels and higher pregnancy rate than those who did not. Women who took 750 mg of Vitamin C increased their progesterone levels by as much as 77 percent. 4
How much Vitamin C should you take?
- Minimum: 85 mg per day.
- Recommended: 250–500 mg per day.
- Limit: Do not take more than 1000 mg per day as high dosages of Vitamin C as the body may get acidic. This can dry up your cervical fluid and make your cervical fluid overly acidic which is unfriendly to sperm.
- Unlikely to be enough in your Prenatal Vitamin.
Foods High in Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin so it is very sensitive when the food high in Vitamin C is exposed to air; processed or cooked it immediately begins to lose its Vitamin C. A Danish study showed that if you boil broccoli for only 5 minutes it still loses 36-55% of its Vitamin C 5. So it is vital that you eat raw and fresh fruits and vegetables that are high in Vitamin C.
- Yellow Peppers –3mg per large pepper (Red and Green have less)
- Dark Green Leafy Vegetables (Kale) – 120mg per 100g of Kale
- Kiwi – 64mg per Kiwi
- Broccoli – 89.2mg per 100g of Broccoli
- Oranges – 69.7mg per Orange
Another vitamin that has been definitely shown to help increase levels of progesterone in the blood naturally is Vitamin B6. Getting enough of this vitamin is vitally important when trying to conceive as it helps to regulate your hormones. On research study has shown that taking Vitamin B6 at doses of 200-800 mg/day can reduce blood estrogen levels, increase progesterone levels and result in improvements in PMS symptoms 6. Research has also shown that women with high levels of Vitamin B6 have lowered their chances of miscarriage by 50% and improved their fertility by 120% 7.
How Much Vitamin B6 Do You Need?
- Minimum: 1.9 mg per day.
- Recommended: 10 mg per day. Can increase to 50mg when short term booster is needed.
- Limit: Don’t exceed 100 mgs per day as it can lead to nerve damage.
- Unlikely to be enough in your Prenatal Vitamin
Foods High in Vitamin B6
Like Vitamin C, Vitamin B is also water soluble and is very sensitive to heat. With Vitamin B1, Vitamin B12 (or folic acid) being the most sensitive. So you should try to eat the food in its most natural state possible. It’s hard to consume high levels of Vitamin B6 from food alone so you should use a vitamin supplement. When consuming higher doses of Vitamin B6 you should also take a B complex vitamin as the high levels of B6 can hide a deficiency in some of the other B Vitamins.
- Sunflower Seeds –35mg per 100g
- Pistachio Nuts – 1.12 mg per 100g
- Fish (Tuna) – 1.04mg per 100g (cooked)
- Turkey – 0.81mg per 100g (cooked)
- Dried Fruit (Prunes) – 0.75mg per 100g
Zinc acts on multiple organs of the body that are implicated in progesterone production including the pituitary gland and your ovaries. Zinc increases your levels of follicle stimulating hormone by prompting the pituitary gland to release follicle stimulating hormones, which in turn causes ovulation and also stimulating the ovaries to produce estrogen and progesterone.
How Much Zinc Do You Need?
- Recommended: 15-25 mg per day, 30 mg for vegetarians.
- Limit: 40 mg per day, too high a dose can actually decrease immunity.
- There usually is enough in your Prenatal Vitamin (but not always).
Foods High in Zinc
- Seafood (Cooked Oysters) – 78.6mg per 100g
- Lean Beef – 12.3mg per 100g
- Wheat Germ – 16.7mg per 100g
- Pumpkin and Squash Seeds – 10.3mg per 100g
- Nuts (Cashews) – 5.6mg per 100g
To understand how L-arginine helps increase your progesterone levels you need to understand how ovulation works. Before ovulation your mature egg is wrapped in a follicle for protection. Think of it like an apple with only one seed in it. Each cycle these follicles grow because of a hormone called follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). However, only one follicle is selected for ovulation and the rest are reabsorbed by the ovaries. The selected follicle grows to be about 20 mm in diameter, or about the size of a large grape. This process takes about two weeks and culminates in ovulation.
When you ovulate the egg bursts out of the follicle and starts to makes its way down your fallopian tube to your uterus. The follicle remains in your ovary but now becomes known as the corpus luteum. It is the corpus luteum which produces the progesterone to maintain a thick endometrial lining in your uterus which is vital for a healthy pregnancy. Once the corpus luteum has decayed after about 14 days then you stop producing progesterone, causing your uterus to shed your endometrial lining causing your period.
So what does L-arginine have to do with the corpus luteum?
L-arginine is a anmino acid that creates nitric oxide, which widens and relaxes arteries and blood vessels, increasing blood flow in your body. During the corpus luteum’s short lifespan it “receives the greatest rate of blood flow per unit of tissue of any organ in the body” 8. This blood is what keeps the corpus luteum secreting progesterone during the two week period after you ovulate. Other benefits of this increased blood flow are the improved production of cervical fluid, improved egg quality and in the case of men increased sperm production.
If however, the corpus luteum isn’t getting enough blood flow it will decay early resulting in it stopping to secrete progesterone before it should. This can cause you to have a short luteal phase and estrogen dominance towards the end of your cycle as a result of your lower progesterone levels.
In the January 2009 issue of the “Journal of Ovarian Research”, a study showed that 100% of the women had improved corpus luteum blood flow and 71% had improved progesterone levels when they took 6 grams per day of L-arginine. 9
How Much L-Arginine Do You Need?
- Recommended: Dosage varies widely but you should look to consume 3-6g per day, but you shouldn’t go over 60g per day.
Foods High in L-Arginine
Typically anything high in protein is also high in L-Arginine. You can also find L-arginine supplements in most health food stores, however most prenatal vitamins don’t contain it.
- Turkey – One turkey breast contains 16 grams of L-arginine
- Chicken – One chicken breast contains 9 grams of L-arginine
- Pumpkin Seeds – One cup of pumpkin seeds contains 7 grams of arginine.
- Peanuts – A cup of peanuts contains 4.6 grams of arginine.
- Chickpeas – If you don’t eat meat chickpeas or garbanzo beans are a great option. One cup of cooked chickpeas contains 1.3 grams of arginine, 14.5 grams of protein, and 12.5 grams of dietary fiber.
Like L-Arginine, it is believed that Vitamin E works by increasing luteal blood flow which can lengthen the luteal phase and increase egg quality.
In the same Journal of Ovarian Research study, it found that women treated with 600 mg of Vitamin E per day improved corpus luteum blood flow in 83% of patients and improved progesterone in 67% of the women.
How Much Vitamin E Do You Need?
- Recommended: 100-130 mg per day.
- Limit: 1,000 mg per day.
- It is likely that your prenatal vitamin doesn’t contain enough.
Foods High in Vitamin E
- Nuts (Almonds) – 2mg per 100g of Almonds
- Sunflower Seeds – 3mg per 100g of Sunflower Seeds
- Shellfish (Shrimp) – 2mg per 100g of Shrimp
- Fish (Trout) – 8mg per 100g of Trout
- Plant Oil (Olive Oil) – 4mg per 100g of Olive Oil
Some herbs may also increase your progesterone levels quite naturally. One such herb is chaste berry, which is also known as vitex. Chasteberry, or Vitex, is a small brown berry believed anciently to calm sexual desire. It is believed to stimulate progesterone production and reduce the levels of estrogen in your blood by suppressing prolactin levels in the body, known to cause irregular menstrual cycles. Herbalists believe chasteberry to be a natural source of progesterone and can be taken as an extract, tincture, or pill 10.However, you should avoid chasteberry if you are taking any kind of hormonal birth control, if you are pregnant, or if you are currently taking medications to increase your changes of getting pregnant.
Natural Progesterone Creams
If your diet is good but you still have low progesterone levels you should try a progesterone cream. Natural progesterone creams have been shown to be highly effective in helping to increase progesterone levels. Natural progesterone cream has the same molecular structure as the substance your body produces. Many progesterone creams on the market claim to be all natural but actually contain plant estrogens – the exact hormone you are trying to counter-act. Still, a high quality, natural progesterone cream can be helpful in creating the harmonic hormonal symphony you are searching for. Since natural progesterone cream has the same molecular structure as the progesterone produced by your body, it is easily absorbed. Mexican yam cream, also known as wild yam, is a root that contains diosgenin, a substance that can easily be converted into progesterone. Look for a cream that is enriched with vitamin E for smooth skin.
Low Progesterone & Foods That Cause Estrogen Dominance
Another reason you might display signs of low progesterone is if you have a condition known as Estrogen Dominance. Like when the violins in our orchestra were out of tune, high levels of estrogen throw off the delicate estrogen/progesterone balance causing some pretty bad side effects.
With an estrogen dominance hormonal imbalance your progesterone levels don’t necessarily have to be low. They might be in the perfectly healthy range for a woman of your age but the amount of progesterone is being overwhelmed by the amount of estrogen in your body.
As we mentioned earlier, as a woman starts entering perimenopause around the age of 35-40 she can developed estrogen dominance because of her progesterone levels decreasing at a faster rate than her estrogen levels. However, you can also develop estrogen dominance because of the food you eat!
In the past few decades, there has been a huge surge in the amount of environmental xenoestrogens. 50 years ago most of the food you ate would have been organically grown and fresh. However, with the help from the big food manufactures our food is now full with added sugars, sweeteners, preservatives, artificial food colorings, and many other things. Plus it is all wrapped in plastic. All of which can contain xenoestrogens.
Xenoestrogens are a type of xenohormone that imitates the effects of estrogen within the body. Xenoestrogen literally means “foreign estrogen”. If you consume food products that contain a large amount of xenoestrogens for a sustained period of time you can overload your body with excess estrogen, which can lead to you developing estrogen dominance. The problem you run into is that xenoestrogens, or chemicals that mimic estrogen, are everywhere!
Unfortunately unless you decide to live in the wilderness you won’t be able to completely remove all the xenoestrogens from your life. From food sources to plastics, synthetic hormones to animal products, it is nearly impossible to avoid all environmental estrogens, but there are ways to avoid or combat many of them.
Reduce Your Exposure to Plastics
The shocking fact is that the biggest source of xenoestrogen exposure for most people is plastics. Particularly the soft plastics that are used to hold the foods and beverages we eat. BPA, Phthalates and a host of other chemicals used in plastics have been shown to disrupt a person’s hormonal balance.
When plastics are exposed to heat (microwave, a hot beverage, dishwasher or just sunlight), or even just sit for a sufficiently long time, they start to break down and these chemicals will leech into your foods and beverages. These chemicals are especially potent as your body can’t metabolize these chemicals interfering with your endocrine system—your body’s system of glands and hormones—which leads to higher estrogen levels and can harm fat cells. These chemicals have even been linked to the rise of early puberty in young girls. So as much as possible you should try to avoid storing foods in plastic containers and wrapping, and try to completely avoid reheating food in the microwave in plastic containers. Instead use glass or ceramic containers.
Avoid Non Organic and Processed Foods
Many non-organic foods on the market contain harmful chemicals, pesticides or added hormones that act as xenoestrogens if you consume them. Always try to avoid non organic and processed foods in general. This is especially important when purchasing meat products. If you go to any grocery store in the US and look at the meat section. If you see a pack of chicken breasts that are huge but a very cheap you can be pretty sure that they aren’t completely natural. You should always purchase meat and poultry that is “hormone free”. You should try to decrease your consumption of processed foods and look to eat more organic fruit and vegetables to reduce your risks of eating with additional hormones and pesticides.
Eat More Foods High in Fiber
The amount of time it takes for your pass through your body has a directly impact on how much estrogen your body absorbs from your food during the digestion process. It’s pretty simple once you think about. The longer it takes for your body to digest and expel your food the more estrogen that gets absorbed by your body as the food is in your system for longer. If you have a normal transit time it allows any excess estrogen to pass with the stool and out of the body. However, if the stool remains in the bowel for longer periods of time, as with constipation, the excess estrogen is re-absorbed and placed back into circulation.
One of the best ways to speed up the transit time is to simply add more fiber to your diet. Research has shown the highest rates of breast cancer occur in women who eat diets high in fat and low in fiber. Adding fiber not only decreases bowel “transit time” thereby preventing excess estrogen from being reabsorbed, it also reduces your cancer risk.
To get more fiber into your diet you should see some foods that are naturally high in fiber include celery, apples, oatmeal, nuts and beans.
Keep Your Liver in Good Shape
Your liver is a filter that removes excess chemicals from your body. This includes excessive estrogen. If your liver is forced to work too hard it will not be able to function properly, causing toxins to build up in the system. One such toxin which can build up is estrogen. If the liver becomes overburdened as a result of a hyper-caloric diet, with high volumes of sugar, with high volumes of alcohol, or with high volumes of processing chemicals, then, it becomes sluggish in its ability to process chemicals.
The result can be too estrogen in your blood and not enough progesterone. Eating foods high in sulfur keep your liver healthy can raise your progesterone levels naturally. It is sulfuric compounds of Onions, garlic and egg yolks for example that give the liver the ability to get rid of toxins such as pesticides and liver damaging medications. Other foods that aid in liver detox are lemons, limes, spinach, leafy greens and Brussels sprouts.
Cut Back on Your Drinking
Alcohol has been shown to change the way your body metabolizes estrogen, causing blood estrogen levels to rise. A study published in the 2000 edition of Alcohol and Alcoholism found that women who drank moderately had much lower levels of progesterone than non-drinkers. Alcohol also significantly reduces zinc absorption, and as you already know, zinc plays an important role in progesterone levels. (It also lowers sperm count and motility so if you are trying to conceive, tell your partner he can’t drink either.)
Ditch the Morning Coffee
Did you know that even one cup of coffee per day could increase your estrogen levels and more than four cups of coffee can raise the level 70 percent higher than just one cup? In fact, whether it is coffee or the morning Diet Coke, caffeine intake from all sources is linked with higher estrogen, and thus lower progesterone levels. Herbal tea is not much better as certain herbs, such as blue cohosh, hops, lavender and licorice can contribute to estrogen dominance and lower progesterone levels.
Reduce the Amount of Stress You are Experiencing
Stress interferes with the reproductive process, plain and simple. The “fight or flight” response we all experience triggers the adrenal glands to produce two hormones – cortisol and adrenaline. This normal biological process actually uses progesterone to create cortisol. That means, if you are stressed, and what woman isn’t, your body actually steals your precious progesterone and uses it for it for stress hormone production. Think about it this way, The body is designed to survive. When you are constantly in “fight or flight” mode, it is more important for you to run away from danger than it is to have a baby. To add insult to injury, remember that all-important magnesium? Stress actually depletes your magnesium levels causing heightened stress responses. Fortunately, physical and emotional stress are also manageable.
There are the normal ways to combat stress. Eat a healthy diet. Get adequate amounts of exercise. Sleep. Meditate, pray, or spend time in nature. Spend time with your partner, spouse, friends, or family that nourish your soul. Then there are a few interesting things to try if the old standby stress-busters aren’t cutting it. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, pioneered the psychological concept of “flow” or the idea that you can experience energized focus while performing a task. The world melts away, emotions are in check, and there is nothing but the task at hand. For some, knitting or crafting help them achieve this zen-like state. For others, it’s running or cycling. Whatever the activity, the idea is that the mind is so focused on the task, it does not have room to process stressful stimuli. So try a new hobby. You may be surprised to find you are not only good at it, you are experiencing far less stress in your life.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Fat cells help convert testosterone into estrogen. The more body fat you have, the more estrogen you tend to produce while progesterone levels do not increase with weight gain. Thus, if you are overweight, your progesterone levels cannot offset the amounts of estrogen in your body. Conversely, weight loss increases progesterone levels and may even lead to resumed ovulation in some overweight patients. One study of moderately obese women between the ages of 18 and 35, who were not ovulating, found that a 10 percent weight loss correlated with 87 percent of the women resuming ovulation. The study concluded that even a small amount of weight loss with the resulting decrease in body fat percentage can improve levels 11.
But before you start in on that crash diet, remember one thing. Nutrition plays an important role in your progesterone levels. While a simple 10 percent weight loss in obese women was able to positively impact their progesterone deficiency and thereby their fertility, it is unlikely to work for women who are near their ideal weight. Remember, focusing on high quality, hormone-free nutrition and moderate exercise are the most natural ways to increase progesterone.
Whether you are trying to conceive, are frustrated by your peri-menopausal symptoms, or are just plain sick of PMS, low progesterone may be to blame. This hormone plays a vital role in menstruation, fertility, mood, and physiological function yet it is one that we are systematically depriving our bodies of. If think your orchestra is completely out of tune, you should think about making some of the diet and lifestyle changes mentioned in this article. Take the time and energy to take care of your low progesterone levels and you will experience a happier, healthier life in the years to come.
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