If you’re feeling out of whack (dull, bloated, moody, etc.), and not sure what’s to blame, it could be a progesterone imbalance. It’s surprisingly more common than you think and it’s something you can treat with the right mindset. Here, we got the scoop from Dr. Laurie Steelsmith, naturopathic physician and co-author of Natural Choices for Women’s Health, on what it is and how it affects your body, beauty and health, so you can be in the know if it’s happening to you.
Progesterone, a hormone that is naturally released by the ovaries when a woman ovulates, is important for supporting regular menstruating, fertility and sex drive. “When there is adequate progesterone in the body and it’s in balance with other hormones, a woman’s endocrine system hums along at a nice and even pace,” says Dr. Steelsmith. “A woman with balanced progesterone has very little, if any, premenstrual symptoms, she sleeps well at night, has a normal flow to her periods (its not too heavy, and not too light) and has regular menstrual cycles that aren’t too short or too long, and she looks and feels like a balanced, vibrant and healthy woman.”
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However, when the body has a progesterone imbalance and there is too little of it, Dr. Steelsmith says it can result in fluid retention, puffiness and a bloated feeling. Some signs that a progesterone imbalance is the root of your problems are irregular menstrual cycles; premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms including swollen or tender breasts, mood swings, irritability, bloating or water retention; digestive disturbances like diarrhea or constipation; and weight gain. “Women can have their progesterone levels tested in the luteal phase of their menstrual cycle (the second half, which is typically around day 21 of a 28-day cycle),” explains Dr. Steelsmith. “The test can be done via blood, urine or saliva. Lower-than-optimal levels can cause a condition known as ‘estrogen dominance’—a term that means a woman has more estrogen than progesterone in the luteal phase of her cycle. Optimally, a woman would have more progesterone than estrogen during the luteal phase for balanced hormones.”
It’s also important to note that having imbalanced progesterone can start at any time in life if the person is under excessive stress or has an endocrine imbalance like polycystic ovarian syndrome. “It can occur after childbirth, and in some women, there can be sharp declines in progesterone in their perimenopause,” says Dr. Steelsmith. “Some women begin to have decreases in progesterone in their early 30s, and the most common signs are changes in their cycles, and more PMS. It is imperative that women know the signs of lowered progesterone so that they can act on correcting the imbalance. Having adequate progesterone will increase the quality of a woman’s life. It will ultimately help her to feel her best, and in turn, support her in looking her best!”
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To help boost progesterone levels naturally, Dr. Steelsmith recommends the following, which she has seen patients experience results within one month of implementing:
1. Take chaste berry. “It’s an herb that has been found to help support the production of progesterone. My favorite product is Asensia, because research suggests it can boost progesterone production by 153 percent.”
2. Eat a balanced, healthy and densely nutritious diet. “A whole foods diet full of omega-3 fats like those found in pumpkin seeds and walnuts are beneficial for healthy hormones and skin. Sweet potatoes are great for supporting adrenal health. I’m also a big fan of juicing vegetables on a daily basis for getting a big boost of nutrition and vital energy from food.”
3. Exercise moderately with including aerobic movement, resistance training and stretching like yoga. “Exercise supports happy hormones through modulating cortisol, the stress hormone that can wreak havoc on the natural rhythm of a woman’s cycle.”
4. Get enough sleep to allow your body to heal and recharge each day. “Sleep is a powerful healer for promoting hormonal health and supporting the adrenal glands.”