A couple of weeks ago, a reader asked if I knew of any natural ways to raise progesterone levels in women. The reader had a baby about a year ago and thought her progesterone levels should have been higher by now, but she’s had a history of low levels in the past, which has caused a host of problems.
I did know a little about progesterone, but, oddly enough, because mine tends to run high and aggravates my heart arrhythmia. But, most of my knowledge was centered on the balance of progesterone and estrogen: when one goes up, the other goes down. So, I did a little research, and this is what I found.
As mentioned, estrogen and progesterone run opposite each other, so avoiding foods that increase estrogen will help keep your progesterone stable, or, theoretically, raise it if your estrogen is low enough. Don’t automatically think SOY, however. (Oh, poor soy!) There are a lot of foods with much higher levels of phytoestrogens – like flax! (Think of phytoestrogens as faux estrogen.) Flax is crazy high in phytoestrogens. Sesame is also pretty high in phytoestrogens, as are many other foods. If you have a family history of breast cancer, I definitely wouldn’t give up whole soy; I’d actually start start adding it to your diet if you haven’t already. Regardless, I’d be cautious of added soy, which is essentially in all processed foods. Whole soy is a completely different ballgame. But, I’d strongly reconsider using flax, and I’d limit intake of sesame (hummus, multigrain breads, etc.) Chia and hemp are great for Omega 3’s and 9’s, if you’re worried about being deficient. (Keep in mind, however, supplementation of EFA’s is not necessary on a whole-foods, plant-based diet.)
Keeping cortisol low will also help keep progesterone balanced. Reducing cortisol levels can be achieved by reducing/eliminating stress (ha ha) and being cautious of super high intensity workouts for extended periods of time (over 45 minutes seems to be the prevailing opinion). Short spurts of intense exercise like those in HIIT workouts are good for cardio. Yoga is great for reducing stress and doesn’t tend to increase cortisol levels. Over time, your supposedly body gets used to the intensity of your workouts, and you can increase their duration.
Since progesterone and cortisol go hand in hand, having higher levels of cortisol is often an indicator of inflammation in the body. Fruits and vegetables, in general, are anti-inflammatory, so eat up! Blood sugars could also be running high with increased cortisol; allergies can flair up, and the list goes on. Balancing progesterone can help regulate blood pressure, too. (If you have trouble with PCOS and/or adrenal fatigue, your progesterone/cortisol/estrogen balances are likely out of sync.)
Luckily, there are foods and other natural ways of naturally increase progesterone/working on that progesterone/estrogen balance (and ultimately decreasing cortisol levels).
Vitamins: B6, vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium can all contribute to increasing progesterone. While I don’t normally suggest supplements for any reason other than B12 for those on a completely plant-based diet, in this case, I suggest a B Complex vitamin supplement might be a decent idea. In general, I think supplements are a waste of money and can be dangerous. However, since all B vitamins are water soluble, you’ll pee off the excess. I would definitely go for the best brand of supplement you can afford. Money equals quality when it comes to supplements, unfortunately. Try to find a supplement that has Folate instead of Folic Acid. Folate is natural; folic acid is artificial and has been linked to a host of issues. There are natural, non-food ways to increase magnesium, too. Soaking in Epson salts can produce a slight increase. (Bonus: it’s great for sore muscles!) Magnesium oil can also give your levels a little boost, and it, too, is great for sore muscles.
Foods: Foods that increase B6, Vitamin C, zinc and magnesium include: whole grains, walnuts, beans, bananas, spinach, citrus fruits, watermelon, pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, okra, raw nuts (almonds get a gold star) and cacao. (Woohoo for the chocolate!) There are some animals products that may also increase B6, zinc and magnesium, but they all come with hormones (artificial and naturally occurring) – and animal cruelty, which is not supported here. Eat those plants!
Things to avoid/do more: Try to avoid STRESS as much as possible. Sleep more. Move your body gently every day. Be social. Do things you enjoy. Drink more water. Drink more fresh juices and smoothies. Avoid dairy and other hormone laden items. Stay away from lavender and tea tree oil. I know I use of these oils often, but that’s not a great idea for those with low progesterone levels. Check lotions and other health and beauty products for lavender and tea tree oil; they’re seemingly everywhere!
As a side note, I would be leery of progesterone creams. For the most part, they’re bad news – even the “natural” ones. One of the biggest side effects of those creams is increased blood pressure, which can already be high from the progesterone/estrogen/cortisol imbalance.
Finally, remember it can take a long, long time for hormone levels to go back to “normal” after being pregnant and/or giving birth. Supposedly, natural births helps that process along quicker, as does breast feeding, but each body is different, and it make take more time for some than others. And, as a bright note on the horizon, estrogen levels naturally decrease with age, so progesterone has a tendency to naturally increase – especially around the onset of menopause. Personally, I’m seeing this shift (at nearly 40), and it’s not exactly a pleasant experience so far. However, for those with naturally low progesterone, this time of life may be a blessing. Something to look forward to!
Of course, as with any medical concern, please consult a medical practitioner. If you’re not happy with the results you’re receiving from allopathic medicine, consider a naturopathic physician and/or chiropractor who specializes in natural healing. Acupuncture, massage and aroma therapy, herbs and essentials oils are great supplements to professional medical treatments.