It’s time to talk about progesterone, the most splendiferous, stupendous hormone around. Ok, I’ve been watching the Tigger Movie with my 2 year old, but progesterone is great. And, it is also probably the most ignored of the bioidentical hormones even though it may be the most important.
What is progesterone? It is the hormone that a woman’s ovaries produce in the second half of her menstrual cycle. Look at the diagram below. In the first 14 days of the cycle, estrogens dominate. Estrogens (like estradiol) grow the cells of the uterus to prepare it for implementation of a fertilized egg. At day 14, presumably when ovulation occurs, estrogens wane and progesterone kicks in. Progesterone’s job is to slow down the growth of the endometrial cells and to develop their function. If a fertilized egg does implant itself, progesterone levels will continue to rise. If not, progesterone drops signaling the start of menstruation and the whole process starts over again.
So, basically progesterone slows the growth of cells stimulated by estrogen and develops their function. But progesterone does a whole lot more. Progesterone receptors have been discovered in the blood vessels , the liver, breast tissue, the bone, and the brain, and has an important influence in the functioning of all those parts of the body.
Now, here’s the key point with regard to menopause. Progesterone is only produced by the ovaries. That means, when your ovaries slowly wind down their functioning through the menopausal years, progesterone production slows down right with it. Estrogens, however can be produced by other cells in the body besides the ovaries, namely adipose cells (or fat cells) that convert testosterone into estrogens. So, during menopause, progesterone is dropping but estrogens may not be, leading to a condition called estrogen dominance. This basically means that you don’t have enough progesterone to balance out the activity of the estrogens still floating around in the blood stream, not to mention the fact that you don’t have as much progesterone to have all of its beneficial effects on the blood vessels, bone, brain, etc.
This can lead to lots of symptoms like hot flashes, sleep disturbances, mood swings, and breast tenderness. Sound familiar? Yeah, these are menopausal symptoms. And, for the past 30 years, what has the medical establishment been giving to women who have these symptoms? Estrogens! Does this make sense – no! We should be giving them progesterone.
I have worked with hundreds of women with menopausal symptoms and I have never seen one who didn’t have some level of estrogen dominance on their hormone tests. So progesterone is the key. And the best part is that bioidentical progesterone is safe, easy to use and often resolves symptoms without the need for much estrogen, if any.
I hope this information is helpful. As always, I welcome your comments and questions.