Are you aware that literally dozens of factors can throw your hormones in a tizzy at any moment? From environmental toxins and chemicals found in our food, water, personal care products and air, to prolonged stress and certain prescription medications; all been shown to have a roller-coaster effect on your hormones, especially your estrogen and progesterone levels. Hormones play a vital role in our health and well being, and fluctuating levels can affect your mood, energy levels, libido, and fertility. In addition, wacky hormones have also been known to cause acne, depression, fatigue, brain fog and weight gain.
A Deeper Look
Progesterone, made from cholesterol, is produced mainly by the ovaries and adrenal glands and serves as a precursor for estrogen and testosterone production as well as the stress hormone cortisol. Women of any age can experience hormonal imbalance, but we find that these symptoms are mainly experienced in the early thirties on into the forties. Women in peri-menopause and menopause can experience a drop in progesterone levels which can prevent the thyroid from functioning properly. This situation creates an imbalance between the ratio of estrogen (many women are already estrogen dominant) and progesterone levels which can cause symptoms that include anxiety, dry eyes, insomnia, depression, mood swings, fatigue, headaches, irritability and memory loss.
Xenoestrogens and Stress. Environmental hormones that act as xenoestrogens as well as Bisphenol-A, found in products we use everyday, can create “estrogen dominance” (a term coined by the late Dr. John Lee) and an overall imbalance in the endocrine system. When stressed, the body works to produce higher levels of the hormone cortisol, which is responsible for managing stress. Because progesterone is the precursor to cortisol, when cortisol levels increase, progesterone levels decrease, causing progesterone deficiency. Since so many women live very stressful lives, it’s no wonder are seeing hormonal imbalance on the rise.
Synthetic VS. Natural Progesterone
Many doctors freely prescribe synthetic Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), while continuing to deny the negative health effects they can have on their patients. Natural hormones are derived from plant components and unlike synthetic hormones such as progestogens (progestins), have an identical structure to what the body produces. Synthetic hormones were designed by drug companies and have been structurally manipulated from natural hormones in order to be patented and sold exclusively by the Pharmaceutical Industry. Because the body wasn’t designed to assimilate synthetic hormones, the side effects (especially long term) are often far worse than the original symptoms being treated.
Studies actually show that Synthetic HRT may not treat menopause symptoms safely and that the risks may far exceed the benefits. Unlike progesterone produced by the body, the synthetic progestins are unlikely to be converted into neurosteroids and may, in some instances, actually intensify mood disorders. The Women’s Health Initiative began an 8 year study in order to determine the relationship between traditional (synthetic) HRT and serious health conditions such as blood clots, bone fractures, breast cancer, coronary heart disease, and strokes. The study was stopped abruptly at the five year mark because women involved in the study were experiencing far greater risks than benefits from the treatments. The study concluded the following:
- 100% increase in the rate of blood clots
- 41% increase in strokes
- 24% increase in breast cancer
“It looks like the longer you use synthetic HRT, the worse off you are.”
Dr. Marcia L Stefanick – Stanford University – New York Times Article
The Benefits of Bioidentical Progesterone
Years of research and conclusive studies show that Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) is effective and provides natural and safe treatment for pre-menopausal and menopause symptoms as well as other health concerns. Natural progesterone is considered a building block for other hormonal interactions and when properly balanced, ensures that all of your other hormones are working properly. BHRT has been shown to help with mood swings, headaches, bloating, fatigue, insomnia, hot flashes, and even low thyroid. And because these natural substances can not be patented, it creates product competition, something that pharmaceutical companies aren’t happy about. Bioidentical progesterone, when used properly, can have many benefits.
- Helps with libido
- Supports bone health
- Helps with insomnia
- Cancer preventative
- Supports healthy thyroid function
- Helps with moods, anxiety and panic attacks
- Is a natural diuretic
- Helps with migraine headaches
- Supports healthy fertility
- Supports healthy weight
Progesterone Levels and Recurring UTIs
We all know that women can develop a UTI at any age; however, most women don’t know that menopause seems to increase the likelihood of UTI infections. Why? Urinary and vaginal systems are interconnected in the body, and what affects the vagina often affects the urinary system as well. Postmenopause is characterized by a significant reduction in ovary estrogen secretion which may also affect the urinary system. It is very important to establish the health of vaginal tissue. Low estrogen can cause thinning of the vaginal tissues as well as affect the beneficial vaginal flora causing a change in pH and allowing other bacteria to grow. In some cases, due to hormone imbalance, the tissue atrophy causes the urethra to be exposed, that in turn makes it easier to contract a UTI. Medical researchers have found that a healthy vagina has a slightly acidic pH which actually encourages the growth of healthy bacteria called lactobacilli that help fight off infections. Did you know that your vagina has good bacteria inside of it, just like your stomach and intestines? If not, don’t feel bad because most women are never told this. The lactobacilli consume the glycogen our bodies no longer need and produce lactic acid which prevents other, harmful bacteria from invading the vagina. Researchers believe that when estrogen levels fall during menopause, this can change the pH of the vagina. Because lactobacilli require a very specific pH to survive and thrive, they may die off during this time in a woman’s life, leaving her much more vulnerable to UTI infections.
Progesterone performs several roles in the prevention of vaginal and urinary tract infections especially in perimenopausal and post-menopausal women. As progesterone is restored to normal physiological levels, hormones including estrogen come back into balance. Vaginal lubrication returns which reduces the impact of urinary tract infections.
Progesterone is also a part of your immune defense system that helps to prevent UTI infections. This happens by aiding in the formation of secretory IgA, an immune globulin that traps germs before they enter mucosal tissues such as those found in the vagina. This in turn helps to prevent urinary tract infections.
Progesterone Levels and Liver Function
One of the biggest concerns in the success of bioidentical hormone therapy is inefficient metabolism of the hormone(s). Your liver plays an important part in making sure excessive amounts of hormones are not reabsorbed into your body. Thus it becomes very important to support the health of your liver. Hormones taken orally (mouth) are absorbed through the digestive tract and in part metabolized by the liver and excreted. Estrogen is stored in fat, and when your bile is so contaminated with toxins (environmental and otherwise) that it is unable to properly emulsify fat, estrogen metabolism becomes affected and thus the estrogen to progesterone ratio can be compromised. The result is that the estrogen is then reabsorbed into the body which can cause high levels of estrogen. These high levels of estrogen can increase the growth of abnormal cells which can, in the long run, lead to cancer. Thus the solution is to make sure that you are using good a liver detoxification supplement to help clear toxins and support liver function. It is also best to use a high quality progesterone cream rather than taking progesterone orally which ends up making the liver work more.
Your Body Knows What’s Best
Natural (bioidentical) progesterone has few risks, but when your body is first adjusting or if used in excess you may experience one or more of the following side effects: sleepiness, mild depression, water retention or lowered libido. Some women can actually experience an “estrogen surge” after a month or two of use in which estrogen dominance symptoms reappear. This is actually a good indicator that the hormones are beginning to balance; however, this “surge” causes many to decide that bioidentical progesterone doesn’t work and therefore they abandon using the cream never to experience the benefits of natural progesterone cream.
When deciding whether or not to use natural progesterone, I suggest doing research, consulting a knowledgeable bioidentical hormone healthcare practitioner as well as getting your hormones tested through saliva – especially estrogen and progesterone levels. Saliva testing allows you to know if your hormones are unbalanced (rather than just guessing) and provides a baseline test in which to compare future testing. In other words, I believe it’s very important to take the time to find out if your body really needs progesterone. While bioidentical progesterone is usually safe, we must remember we are all different and there is no one supplement, drug, etc. that works for everyone, every time.
Considering how common hormone imbalance is today and the possible harmful side effects of synthetic HRT, it’s very comforting to know that safe and effective hormone balance can be achieved by adding bioidentical hormone therapy such as natural progesterone cream to one’s health protocol.
13 Benefits of Natural Progesterone Cream
What You Need To Know About Progesterone USP
The Power of Hormone Imbalances and Fluctuations
Kicovic PM, Cortes-Prieto J, Milojević S, Haspels AA, Aljinovic A. The treatment of postmenopausal vaginal atrophy with ovestin vaginal cream or suppositories: clinical, endocrinological and safety aspects. Maturitas. 1980;2:275–282. [PubMed]
Raz R, Stamm WE. A controlled trial of intravaginal estriol in postmenopausal women with recurrent urinary tract infections. N Engl J Med. 1993;329:753–756. [PubMed]
Jackson SL, Boyko EJ, Scholes D, Abraham L, Gupta K, Fihn SD. Predictors of urinary tract infection after menopause: a prospective study. Am J Med. 2004;117:903–911. [PubMed]
Progesterone therapy increases free thyroxine levels–data from a randomized placebo-controlled 12-week hot flush trial. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). 2013 Aug;79(2):282-7. doi: 10.1111/cen.12128. Epub 2013 May 6.