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Building Blocks of Progesterone

The hormone we don't hear enough about!

By Emily the Period RDPublished 2 years ago 3 min read
Building Blocks of Progesterone
Photo by Tim Chow on Unsplash

In a healthy menstrual cycle, we have a certain pattern to the way hormone interact with each other and the health impacts they have on the body. We talk a lot about estrogen in the menstrual health space, but we often forget to talk about progesterone.

Progesterone, like all other sex hormones, is a steroid hormone – its basic structure is that of a cholesterol molecule. We make cholesterol from the fats that we eat in our typical dietary patterns, and this compound goes on to provide both a fast source of energy for our tissues and a foundation for progesterone.

Progesterone is primarily produced by the corpus luteum, the small tissue left behind after ovulation occurs. It’s primary function is to support the uterine lining in the event that fertilization occurs, and implantation is needed – it helps create a cozy little cushion that an embryo can snuggle in to as part of the initial stages of pregnancy. The corpus luteum stays intact for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, until the placenta can take over and produce its own. If fertilization doesn’t occur, the corpus luteum dissolves after a period of time and a period begins – the drop in hormones causes the uterine lining to detach and leave the vagina in menstruation.

In some bodies, progesterone is not produced in enough quantities to sustain early pregnancy and miscarriage can occur. In others, progesterone is not produced appropriately because of poor or irregular ovulation, such as PCOS or hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA). Not only does progesterone support the uterine lining, but it promotes relaxation, modulates blood pressure and can impact sleep quality. Outside of pregnancy preparation, progesterone is still a very important hormone to have. Thankfully, some nutrients can help to support production and contribute to overall health menstrual cycles.

As we mentioned before, fats provide the tools to make cholesterol, the backbone of progesterone. Consuming unsaturated fats, particularly those rich in omega-3s, can help the body turn cholesterol in our hormones with an extra side of anti-inflammatory love. Omega-3s can also be supportive to the healthy of an egg, which might impact the quality of ovulation and therefore progesterone levels.

In individuals with a luteal phase defect (in other words, inadequate or inappropriate progesterone production resulting in too short of luteal phases and cycles), increasing vitamin C intake has been shown to improve progesterone levels. Now supplements are often used in studies, but because I love promoting food first, incorporating fruits and vegetables of all colours can be a wonderful way to boost this nutrient. Supplements can be tricky because the human kidney has an absorption threshold, and anything over and above this is removed through urine. If you smoke, a vitamin C supplement might be worthwhile as your body uses it in large quantities due to oxidative damage from smoking – talk to a dietitian about the right one for you!

B vitamins, particularly B6, are also important for progesterone building. Vitamin B6 helps to promote the development of the corpus luteum, and because we know that’s where our progesterone is coming from it would make sense to pump it up. Whole grains, leafy greens and nuts and seeds contain B6, and can be a convenient way to add nutrient density to your diet.

Magnesium is thought to help regulate production of FSH and LH in the pituitary gland, both of which are needed to stimulate the body to ovulate and produce progesterone. Magnesium is also relaxing, promoting muscle and mental wellness; large doses can cause diarrhea and heart palpitations so caution with supplements is required. Chocolate covered almonds are my favourite recommendation to make for magnesium!

Zinc also works within the pituitary gland to produce FSH for ovulation. Lean meats, nuts and seeds and seafood are awesome ways to increase your consumption.

It’s also critical to reduce our stress levels when we’re prioritizing progesterone – high levels of cortisol can delay ovulation, therefore preventing production of progesterone, and often increasing stress level further due to reduced “relaxing hormone”! Getting plenty of sleep, engaging in regular and enjoyable movement, and taking breaks during the day are helpful ways to prioritize your mental wellness too.

If you’re TTC, or are struggling with irregular and uncomfortable cycles, I’d love to help! I help folks in Ontario and across the East Coast of Canada to promote healthy periods and boost their fertility through non-diet nutrition care. Not sure if I work in your area? Send me an email at [email protected].

advicebodydiethealthlifestylelongevity magazinescienceself caresexual wellnesswellness

About the Creator

Emily the Period RD

I help people with periods navigate menstrual health education & wellness with a healthy serving of sass (and not an ounce of nutrition pseudoscience).

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