The Sex Hormones
Women have three main sex hormones--progesterone, estrogen and testosterone. Each of these hormones plays numerous roles in the body, and a healthy balance of the three is important for the body systems to function properly. Progesterone, for instance, builds bone, protects against fibrocystic breasts and fights depression. These functions, as well as many others, can become compromised when progesterone levels are low.
How Hormones Are Made
Progesterone is made in the ovaries and the adrenal glands, as well as in the placenta when a woman is pregnant. Its precursor, pregnenolone, is made from cholesterol. Pregnenolone then becomes progesterone, which in turn can be turned into other hormones such as estrogen, testosterone and cortisone. When a woman begins menopause or has irregular menstrual cycles, the ovaries are no longer producing as much progesterone, leaving this job to the adrenal glands. This can result in not only low progesterone levels, but also low levels of all of the hormones that can be produced from it.
When progesterone levels are low, doctors can prescribe two types of progesterone pills--synthetic or natural. The synthetic form of progesterone, called progestin, is found in menopause, PMS and birth control pharmaceuticals. Because progestin is not made from natural sources, the progesterone in these pills is not identical to the progesterone in the human body. This can cause side effects in some women, including water retention, weight gain, irritability and headaches. To avoid these side effects, some doctors are now prescribing natural progesterone pills, which contain progesterone that is identical to the progesterone produced in the body. Both types of progesterone pills can not only improve the side effects of PMS and menopause by simply balancing hormone levels, but also fight osteoporosis and endometrial hyperplasia.
Bone density is improved with the help of two types of cells--osteoclasts and osteoblasts. Osteoclasts assist in the break down of old bone, while osteoblasts assist in the production of new bone to fill the gaps left when the old bone breaks down. Osteoclasts are influenced by estrogen while osteoblasts are influenced by progesterone. When progesterone is too low, enough osteoblasts are not made to fill in the gaps left by breakdown, resulting in osteoporosis. According to Life Extension, this can be avoided by the use of progesterone pills.
Endometrial hyperplasia when the wall of a woman’s uterus becomes too thick. During a woman’s menstrual cycle, this wall thickens to prepare her body for pregnancy. When she does not become pregnant, a menstrual cycle occurs in which the cells creating this thick lining are shed. When hormone levels drop, or if estrogen is much higher than progesterone (which can be the case if a woman takes only estrogen pills during menopause), there is nothing to stimulate the shedding of these cells and the risk of hyperplasia becomes high. When progesterone is supplemented, it can restore the hormonal balance needed to shed this thick wall.
If you suspect that you may need to take progesterone supplements, always consult a physician to have hormone levels tested before starting any supplementation.
- The Natural Physician's Healing Therapies; Mark Stengler, N.D.; 2001
- Disease Prevention and Treatment, Life Extension, 2003
Lisa Thompson has been writing since 2008, when she began writing for the Prevention website. She is a holistic health practitioner, nationally certified massage therapist and National Council on Strength and Fitness-certified personal trainer. Thompson also holds certificates in nutrition and herbology from the Natural Healing Institute, as well as a Master of Education from California State University.