Progesterone is a female steroid sex hormone, often viewed as the ‘good cop’ female hormone that supports and balances out the effects of estrogen.
High levels of estrogen and lower levels of progesterone may lead to a negative set of symptoms. For that reason, it's easy to surmise that we all want healthy and high progesterone levels but the question remains, is there a way that we can naturally increase our progesterone levels, without the need for pills or supplements?
There are four ways to naturally increase progesterone levels, these include:
- Eat foods that support your body’s production of hormones
- Avoid foods and external substances that can knock your hormones out of sync
- Reduce the amount of stress in your life
- Reduce your level of body fat
What foods raise progesterone?
It’s incredible how much we individually benefit when we improve what we put in our bodies. Although no food actually contains progesterone, by eating a diet rich in certain minerals and nutrients, you can help your body produce a sufficient and optimal amount of progesterone for better physiological function.
In developed countries, it is reported that 25-30% of women are living with a magnesium deficiency. Women over the age of 19 should be getting at least 320mg of magnesium per day, with those amounts increasing as you age. Magnesium helps your body absorb and metabolize calcium and vitamin D.
A poorly functioning pituitary gland won’t produce enough follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing (LH), or thyroid-stimulating (TSH) hormones to ensure healthy ovulation, without ovulation, your body will likely produce less progesterone than is normal.
You can have chocolate and improve your magnesium levels! You can get 64 milligrams within a single 1oz serving. Make sure it’s real dark chocolate and not something with needlessly added sugar or other sweeteners. It also provides you with a nice dose of antioxidants to help you fight off disease.
Almonds, brazil nuts, and cashews are particularly good sources of magnesium at around 82mg per ounce. Eat them as a snack or add them to your smoothies or salads for a healthy boost. Nuts are also a great source of fiber.
The idea of eating tofu may not be that appealing if you’re into a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Try focusing on the 53mg of magnesium you gain from consuming in 3.5 ounces of it. You also get 10 grams of protein in this serving size along with 10% of the iron, calcium, selenium, and manganese needed by your body each day.
You don’t need to serve it on a slice of toast to benefit from the 58 mg of magnesium gained from one medium avocado. They’re also a good way of getting a nice dose of B vitamins, potassium, and monounsaturated fats helpful to the heart.
This covers a variety of plant-based foods, from lentils to peas to your favourite beans. Serve them in soup or include them as a side with your lunch or dinner. It’s possible to get 120mg of magnesium from one serving of steamed black beans.
Vitamin B6 Foods
Vitamin B6 also plays a role in keeping your body’s hormones regulated. One research study showed that increasing the amount of B6 vitamins taken each day to around 200-800 mg per day can raise progesterone levels and reduce estrogen enough to improve symptoms of PMS. Other research shows the potential to increase fertility by up to 120% and reduce miscarriage rates by around 50%.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends women from 19 to 50 take in at least 1.3 mg per day if they’re not pregnant. That minimum increases to 1.5 mg for women 51 and older.
Six ounces of salmon provides you with 1.6 mg of Vitamin B6, 94% of the amount recommended each day. Other fish high in concentrations of B6 include tuna, snapper, and mahi-mahi.
It doesn’t matter if you boil them, scramble them, or have them over easy. You can take in 10% of the Vitamin B6 needed each day when you have two of them at any meal.
Substitute one of these for the white variety and provide yourself with 15% of the B6 you need.
Drinking milk is an easy way of keeping progesterone levels up by giving you 5mg of Vitamin B6 per glass. You can put it in your tea, coffee, or mix it in a smoothie if you’re not keen on drinking it straight out of a glass.
Try crunching on these as a snack instead of something high in sugar and calories. You get as much as you would from drinking a glass of milk no matter how you prepare them.
Research carried out by the World Health Organization has shown that nearly 75% of Americans suffer from a zinc deficiency. Count zinc as another mineral essential in helping your pituitary gland regulates hormones in your body. It helps the gland boost the current levels of FSH hormones. That helps your ovaries create more progesterone and estrogen needed by your reproductive system.
It’s recommended that women over 19 get at least 8mg per day, with those amounts increasing if you’re pregnant or currently lactating. You need to eat foods containing zinc each day since your body doesn’t store it for later use.
Oysters are one of the best sources of zinc. Six oysters of medium size provide you with 32mg, which amounts to a whopping 290% of the amount needed by the body each day. Shrimp, crab, and muscles are also good sources, giving you around 14% of what you need per 100 grams consumed.
Eating a handful of your favorite pumpkin, squash, or sesame seeds is an excellent way to get a daily zinc boost. They also provide you with a good dose of fiber and healthy fats.
The presence of the antinutrient phytate can prevent you from absorbing as much zinc as you could from whole grains. But it’s worth adding them to your diet since they contain other vital nutrients like magnesium which also boost progesterone levels.
Try combining the B6 boost received from eggs into a morning omelet containing zinc-rich mushrooms to get the benefit of both minerals. Other vegetables you can add to your diet include peas, potatoes, and green beans.
This is another great food option to incorporate into your diet. You keep yourself from consuming unhealthier possibilities while getting the zinc needed to help your progesterone levels.
How do lifestyle habits increase progesterone?
There are certain habits and foods that can contribute to throwing your hormones out of sync by increasing the amount of estrogen in your body.
Over the last 20-30 years, there has been a huge surge in the number of environmental xenoestrogens entering the food system. Xenoestrogens, meaning “foreign estrogen, are a type of xenohormone that imitates the effects of estrogen within the body. Consuming foods with xenoestrogens for a sustained period of time you can overload your body with excess estrogen, which can lead to you developing estrogen dominance.
See also: Estrogen Dominance: Signs and Symptoms
Here are a few easy steps to avoid xenoestrogens:
The methods used in processed foods found in most supermarkets can leave harmful byproducts such as xenoestrogens. This group includes meats and any non-organic fruits and vegetables. Avoid any chicken, turkey, or other meats not labeled as “Hormone-free.” Consuming processed foods with harmful chemicals, pesticides, or added hormones can disrupt the natural hormonal balance and lead to lower levels of progesterone in your body.
Consuming large amounts of alcohol on a frequent basis changes the way your body produces estrogen. Excess drinking can raise the levels of estrogen produced while lowering your progesterone levels.
Switch from coffee to tea
Try getting your morning boost from a herbal tea instead of your sweetened takeaway coffees. The high levels of caffeine in four cups of coffee can raise estrogen levels by up to 70%.
Maybe you drink from plastic water bottles or put your food in plastic containers to heat up in the microwave - any exposure to heat can cause the chemicals from these containers to leach into your food or beverage. That is why the biggest source of xenoestrogen exposure for most people is plastics.
How important are lifestyle changes for progesterone levels?
Making these changes can give you the natural progesterone boost you’re pursuing. Stress and weight management largely impact your ability to maintain a hormonal balance.
When you are stressed your body triggers your adrenal glands to produce two hormones known as cortisol and adrenaline. The problem is that this biological process uses raw materials to produce progesterone to create cortisol instead. This means, that if you are stressed your body actually releases your progesterone and uses it for stress hormone production.
That is why one of the best ways to restore your hormonal balance is to reduce the amount of stress in your life. For some people, they have to eliminate the source of the stress, whereas others can reduce their stress levels by balancing parts of their lives with activities they enjoy, be it hiking, meditating, exercise.
Maintain a healthy weight
As you may have noticed there is a very strong link between a woman’s weight and their hormonal balance, which is normally noticeable with changes in your menstrual cycle. It is very common for women to stop menstruating if their weight drops below their ideal level, or for you to notice your periods becoming more irregular and painful over time if you are carrying excess weight.
The human body is very smart. Abnormally low-fat levels signal to the body that you are in the equivalent of famine, so instead of allocating nutrients to the reproductive hormones it focuses instead on using those nutrients to keep the body alive.
In the case of excess fat, the way it affects hormone levels is a bit different. Our fat cells actually produce estrogen. So the more body fat you have, the more estrogen you tend to produce while progesterone levels do not increase with weight gain. Causing your estrogen/progesterone balance to go out of sync. The big problem with this source of estrogen production is that is it can spiral out of control.
What are the symptoms of low progesterone?
Abnormally low progesterone levels can lead to a condition known as estrogen dominance. A condition that occurs when your delicate estrogen and progesterone balance is out of sync. This imbalance leads to concentrations of estrogen in your body overwhelming your progesterone levels. This hormonal imbalance can cause all kinds of problems in the body.
Common symptoms of low progesterone and estrogen dominance include:
- Decreased sex drive
- Increased PMS
- Irregular periods
- Mood swings
- Hot flashes
- Tenderness in the breasts
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
If left untreated for a significant period of time, hormonal imbalances may lead to serious health conditions:
- A complete lack of ovulation (and periods)
- Heavy bleeding
- Uterine cancer
- Low-grade dementia
- Breast cancer
- Heart disease
As a result, it is very important that you stay in tune with your hormones and get them tested if you think something isn’t right.
Why do women need progesterone?
Progesterone is secreted by the ovaries after you have ovulated. It helps prepare the body for a possible pregnancy by maintaining the uterine lining for the 14 days post ovulation, allowing the implantation of the embryo to occur. Making progesterone one of the most significant hormones in healthy conception.
These elevated progesterone levels also play a significant part in keeping your menstrual cycle regular and healthy. Research has shown that progesterone plays a big role in protecting you from developing breast and other uterine cancers as elevated estrogen levels in your body can promote the growth of cancer cells.
The biggest cause of low progesterone is age
Low progesterone can happen for any number of reasons at any age. However, a women’s estrogen and progesterone levels start dropping at differing rates around the age of 35. Estrogen goes down around 35%, while progesterone drops by up to 75%. This imbalance leads to many common symptoms of menopause including hot flashes, changes in mood, and decreasing menstrual cycles.
Scientists have yet to make a breakthrough that stops the aging process. Until that happens, we have no choice but to find other ways of dealing with the hormonal imbalances that occur as a woman ages.
The effects of low progesterone levels extend well beyond your menstrual cycle and can affect the quality of your life. Here’s what you can do to get yours up naturally and get yourself back on track.
See also: What Causes Low Progesterone in Women?
The biggest thing you should take from this article is the importance of self-care! Whether you know you have low progesterone levels or merely suspect you are, remember that this can be mitigated with a few simple changes in lifestyle. Low progesterone is not a life-sentence, merely a bump in the road on your way to a long, healthy reproductive life. Doing what you can to keep your mind and body healthy should go a long way towards helping you achieve the results you desire.
Written by Hannah Kingston | Approved by Medical Director Dr. Dominic Rowley