This is a question I get asked a lot. Because progesterone is so crucial for both getting and staying pregnant (and is linked to miscarriages), people are often concerned about their progesterone levels.
First, let’s talk about signs of low progesterone. And then we’ll talk about what you can do to support your progesterone levels.
Signs of low progesterone
If you have a short luteal phase (less than 12 days), spotting before your period comes, or low BBT temperatures in the luteal phase, these can be signs of low progesterone.
If you have signs of estrogen dominance – such as heavy or crampy periods or intense PMS with breast tenderness and mood swings – these can also be indicators that you have low progesterone levels. And more specifically, relatively too much estrogen in relation to progesterone.
In both of the above scenarios, it would be wise to support your progesterone levels.
Why progesterone is so important for fertility
Progesterone is crucial for maintaining your uterine lining and a healthy pregnancy. It’s the drop of progesterone that triggers your period to come and your uterine lining to shed. So if you have a little embryo trying to implant, and your progesterone levels aren’t high enough to adequately maintain your uterine lining, and your period comes, it will sluff out that embryo. So low progesterone is related to difficulty conceiving and to miscarriages as well.
Testing progesterone levels
You can test your progesterone levels if you’d like, very easily with a blood test. You want to make sure you’re timing the test correctly – it should be done when your progesterone level is highest, which is 7 days after ovulation. So in the average 28 day cycle, and the average 14 day ovulation, the best day to test progesterone would by day 21 (7 days after ovulation). But if you ovulate earlier or later than day 14 – adjust your test date accordingly. Aim for 7 days after ovulation, so that you are mid-luteal phase.
Sometimes, you might have normal levels on labwork, but still have signs of low progesterone.
It’s important to understand the limitations of blood work: Remember that a blood work sample is capturing one moment in your highly fluctuating hormonal reality. Sometimes a hormone level can be considered “normal” because it falls within the standard range, however, where it falls on that range makes a big difference in how you feel. For example, if your progesterone levels are found to be low but within normal range and you’re having a lot of symptoms with your cycle and your mood, then trust what your body is telling you.
You can change your diet and lifestyle to support bringing your progesterone back to balance.
Here are keys to supporting progesterone levels naturally:
- Manage Stress – there’s something we scientific hormone experts call the pregnenolone steal – which is a fancy way of saying “when stress goes high, progesterone can go low”. Cortisol, the hormone your body produces when under stress, uses the same building blocks to be made, as progesterone does – that building block is called pregnenolone. So if you’re funneling all that pregnenolone to make cortisol, because you’re under a lot of stress, this robs it from progesterone and can cause low progesterone levels. That’s the science behind how stress leads to low progesterone.
Now we can’t just magically make your stressful job or demanding life situation disappear, can we? But, the good news is, there are often other levers we can pull to decrease the perceived stress on our bodies. Often we are causing extra stress on our bodies without realizing it. So I encourage you to take control of the things that you CAN control. Mainly:
- Don’t over-exercise – over-doing it, HIIT, or long runs or bouts of cardio can actually raise cortisol levels and cause stress on your body. Aim for moderate exercise.
- Get sleep – I’d aim for 8 hours a night of good sleep.
- Keep your blood sugar stable. We don’t realize that our bodies are cortisol-making machines and whenever we skip a meal causing or blood sugar to drop, or over-indulge in too many sugars or carbs causing our blood sugar to first spike and then drop – our body produces cortisol in an attempt to keep our blood sugar stable. So take this added stress off of your body, take that added extra cortisol production out of the picture, by keeping your blood sugar stable. Don’t skip meals, eat within an hour of waking, don’t over-do the carbs, don’t eat lonely carbs, and don’t go into starvation mode.
- Take magnesium glycinate – This is an amazing mineral needed for healthy nervous system and stress and sleep. I recommend taking it in the evening before bed. You’ll actually notice feeling calmer and getting more restful sleep.
- Vitamin C – studies show that women who supplement with progesterone have higher levels of progesterone. Make sure you’re getting a lot of fruits and veggies which are good sources of vitamin C. Red peppers are a great source.
- Vitamin B6 – is shown to support progesterone and counters estrogen. Avocados and chickpeas are my favorite sources of B6.
- Vitex/Chasteberry – this herb supports your body’s production of progesterone. Vitex is a well-studied herb shown to be safe and effective for supporting hormone balance. Take it in the morning, all month long, not just during your luteal phase. I’ll link to my favorite brand of Chasteberry that I’ve seen to be effective.
As you adopt these strategies, look for signs that your progesterone levels are improving by paying attention to symptoms – is luteal phase getting longer, are you spotting less before your period comes, are your BBT temperatures rising?
I walk you through strategies to address all of these factors in my signature course, the Becoming Mama program. So go take a look at that and see if it seems right for you.
Take a look at my recommended supplements. I’ll link to them here.
I hope this is helpful. Happy baby-making! Sending you all the love and good wishes.