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 progestogens are unlikely to be converted into neurosteroids and may, in some instances, actually intensify mood disorders.(1) 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 acts in the following ways:
- Natural antidepressant
- Helps with libido
- Helps fight against osteoporosis
- Helps with insomnia
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.
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 will allow you to truly know if your hormones are unbalnced (rather than just guessing) and will also provide a baseline test in which to compare future testing.
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.