Progesterone is key to brain health. Here are symptoms to determine whether your levels are low and how to increase progesterone naturally.
My heart sank. I felt my eyes burning and a tightness in my throat. Another negative pregnancy test after 11 months of trying to get pregnant.
I wanted to be a mom. Why wasn’t this happening for me?
Looking back, I’m pretty sure it took me so long to have my first baby because of low progesterone.
I don’t want to get pregnant right now. Why should I care about progesterone?
Symptoms of low progesterone include fatigue, low libido, and brain fog. We won’t feel like ourselves when we have low progesterone.
It also keeps our brain healthy. Progesterone is a neurosteroid necessary for the nervous system. When your nerves are damaged, progesterone can repair the myelin sheath that protects them. A study shows mice with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) during the luteal phase, when progesterone peaks, had less brain damage than mice with a TBI during other hormonal phases. And some studies show higher levels of progesterone are protective after an ischemic stroke.
Low progesterone levels and fertility
Progesterone makes your body ready for a baby. As progesterone increases in the second half of your cycle, your body prepares to implant a fertilized egg. Healthy progesterone levels are also necessary to maintain pregnancy.
Medical societies do not recognize low progesterone as a cause of infertility, but healthy progesterone levels are necessary to get pregnant.
Symptoms of low progesterone
Hopefully, you’re convinced progesterone is essential for all women. How do we know if we have enough of it?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a standard way to diagnose low progesterone. But here are some symptoms that may point to lower levels.
- Shortened luteal phase: The luteal phase is the time between ovulation and menstruation. Progesterone peaks during this phase, which usually lasts 12 to 14 days. A healthy length can range from 11-17 days. If you ovulate and get your period within the next nine days, there is about a 95% chance you have low progesterone. About 5% of women have a healthy luteal phase that lasts ten or fewer days.
- Spotting before your period: When progesterone levels aren’t high enough, the uterus will slowly shed the lining, which is spotting. When I was trying to get pregnant, this one got me every time. I would be at eight days past ovulation, and the spotting would start. And it would last for days! I kept convincing myself it was implantation bleeding, but it was my period starting.
- Anxiety, depression, or other mood changes: Since progesterone is neuroprotective, it makes sense that your brain won’t work optimally without enough of it. Having anxiety turns it into a never-ending circle. Low progesterone causes anxiety, anxiety causes stress, and stress causes low progesterone, as we’ll discuss below. Something needs to break the cycle!
- Migraines: Migraines have many hormonal causes. Low progesterone is one of them, and again, it’s due to the neuroprotective properties. In effect, estrogen will excite the brain, while progesterone relaxes it. Without enough progesterone, the brain over-excites, and a migraine can result.
- Hypothyroidism: Low thyroid levels aren’t a symptom of low progesterone, but low progesterone is a symptom of hypothyroidism. If you know you have low thyroid levels, it may be affecting your progesterone levels.
- Infertility or pregnancy loss: Without enough progesterone, our body can not support pregnancy. If we spot before our period each month, a fertilized egg is not going to be able to survive. If you’re trying to get pregnant, consider asking your doctor to test your progesterone.
How to increase progesterone naturally
- Stress reduction: When our body is stressed, we’re producing cortisol. The same pathway produces both cortisol and progesterone. If your body is busy pumping out cortisol, it’s unable to make the progesterone you need. Some ways to decrease the stress in your body are:
- Eliminate caffeine during the luteal phase. Caffeine stresses the body and does not help us when progesterone is low.
- Don’t over-exercise. Cycle syncing suggests lower intensity workouts during the luteal phase because of our sensitivity to stress. If you do too much high-intensity exercise during the luteal phase, you can increase cortisol and decrease progesterone.
- Get enough rest and sleep. I think we all know sleep is good for us. It’s much easier to react well in stressful situations when we’re not tired.
- Meditate. Meditation is my favorite form of stress reduction. When done regularly, meditation reduces your stress and will release pent up negative energy from your brain.
- Balance blood sugar. Eating fewer “fast” carbs, like sugar and flour, will improve your blood sugar and decrease your body’s stress. When blood sugar levels are continually fluctuating, your body will use energy to maintain healthy blood sugar levels rather than relaxing and healing your body.
- Eat healthy fats: Cholesterol is a necessary precursor to progesterone. Without enough fats to create cholesterol, our body will be unable to make the progesterone we need.
- Consider vitamins and minerals: Some vitamins and minerals may help increase your progesterone levels. Many of the foods related to cycle syncing will help you increase levels of these nutrients. You can also talk to your doctor about supplementing.
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin C
- Consider Vitex: Vitex is an herb that can help increase progesterone. I believe Vitex helped me improve my progesterone levels and eventually get pregnant.
- Try cycle syncing: Cycle syncing supports our body and gives it what it needs during each menstrual phase. When we eat, exercise, and work according to our cycle, we optimize our hormones and feel better.
One thing that does not help increase progesterone
If low progesterone causes all of these problems, can we take a progestin birth control pill to increase our progesterone levels?
The pill fools our body into thinking we’re always in the luteal phase, which is when progesterone levels are highest. However, the human-made progestins in birth control do not have the same neuroprotective effects as progesterone. When we’re on the pill, our body produces much less progesterone, so we end up with lower levels of neuro-protective progesterone.
Optimal progesterone levels
The twelfth time was the charm for me. After considering my progesterone levels, I finally got a positive pregnancy test and had my first baby.
I also had energy I never had before and felt like I could do anything. I was the happiest pregnant person you’ve met!
Progesterone keeps our brain healthy, and maintaining optimal levels will help us perform at our best. Cycle syncing is an easy way to continue to support our bodies to optimize hormones. If you’ve made it this far, I would love to share with you a guide I’ve created to summarize each phase and make cycle syncing easy!