By Gloria Rangelova, ND
Why support Progesterone production?
In today’s society, we live an extraordinarily stressed out life. There is so much expected of us at all times. The stress tends to start earlier and earlier in life. Whereas in the past children were allowed to be children, play all day and have no things to worry about; now the concerns about performing well at sports and getting good grades so that you can have a career start a lot earlier on. Then we get to college and spend another 4-8 years studying and working, trying to get that degree we have been working our whole life for. Now we enter into adult life- the stress of finding a job, competing with your coworkers for that promotion, finding a life partner and building a family, buying a house, paying for your car etc set in. You get the point. The stress continues to build and build. This puts a strain on our adrenal glands.
When a stress signal occurs, whether it is running from a bear or a life stressor, the nervous system fires and tells the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Cortisol is your life hormone, it is the most important. When we are chronically stressed, the body has to start stealing from other hormones in order to make cortisol. Since the conversion of progesterone to cortisol is easiest, it is the first one to become depleted. Progesterone deficiency is now a plague affecting both men and women worldwide. Deficiencies used to begin in menopause but have been occurring earlier and earlier in life, now it is common to see deficiencies when people reach their 30s and even in some teenagers.
The function of progesterone
Progesterone’s main function is to maintain a healthy uterine lining. It controls cell turnover and differentiation, causing the lining to thicken after ovulation. The next main function of progesterone is anxiolytic and relaxant to the nervous system. The main symptoms and conditions related to progesterone deficiency are anxiety, insomnia, abnormal menses (heavy, irregular, light), painful menses, PMS, hot flashes, inability to conceive, frequent miscarriages, vaginal dryness, endometriosis, and PCOS to name a few.
Herbal progesterone support vs bioidentical hormone supplementation
With herbal medicine, the body’s own production of progesterone is enhanced. This means that it can take longer to experience results when using herbs and lab levels may change very slowly. When using bioidentical hormones, the body’s own production of progesterone is not enhanced, rather we are supplying the body with what it is missing; much like taking a vitamin to replenish the body’s needs. Effects are usually experienced very quickly with this approach and lab values improve rapidly. Herbal medicine and hormones can absolutely be used concurrently to simultaneously improve the body’s own gland function while also experiencing the quick relief of symptoms from supplementation. They can also be used individually depending on each person’s specific need.
It is important to note that herbal support will not be very effective unless lifestyle changes are also implemented. Nutrition becomes very important in order to have the minerals and cofactors necessary for activating the hormones. Even if you are supporting and enhancing the glandular production of hormones, if the stress is not decreased the body will still not be able to catch up with the drain. It is like trying to fill a bucket that has continuous leaks at the bottom. The leaks have to be plugged up in order to fill the bucket. Lifestyle changes to simplify life, decrease stress, improve stress resilience, and increase joy must be implemented.
The herbal approach
The first and most obvious choice in herbs is to use progesterogenic herbs, plants that have been studied and found to increase progesterone production. Next, we have to optimize the function of the adrenal glands which are responsible for responding to the stressor and producing cortisol as well as some of our progesterone. Nervines, herbs that relax the nervous system, should also be used in order to decrease the sympathetic response, therefore helping “plug” the stress leak. Finally, we must also support the liver which is responsible for processing our hormones, breaking them down and re-circulating them. The best thing about using the herbal approach is that all of these functions can be addressed with one, single herbal formula composed of several plants. Additional herbs may be added depending on other health issues that may be present.
The main herbal players
Vitex or chaste tree is a small tree/shrub that grows in the Mediterranean and produces peppercorn-like berries which have a long history of use for all different types of menstrual conditions. Its use goes back to the times of Hippocrates, Dioscorides and Theophrastus.1 It has diuretic, anxiolytic, hormone balancing, antispasmodic, and galactagogue effects. It is used for a wide variety of menstrual disorders such as amenorrhea, oligomenorrhea, menorrhagia, PMS.2 It has been found to regulate LH levels and decrease prolactin1, as well as directly increasing progesterone 3,4 and upregulating progesterone receptor expression 5,6.
Dioscorea or wild yam is a plant common to the midwestern/eastern United States, Latin America, and Asia. The root is used due to its high content of diosgenin, a precursor to progesterone. Although this conversion of diosgenin to progesterone is used to create bioidentical progesterone in a lab, studies have not proven that the same conversion occurs in humans.1 It does however have strong anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and anti-proliferative effects; therefore, it can be used for conditions of the pelvic region such as PID, endometriosis, PCOS, and PMS.2,7
Lepidium or Maca is a tuberous plant common to the Andes. It increases libido, enhances erectile function, improves oxygenation, improves mood and supports the cardiovascular system. Studies have shown that Maca can increase progesterone levels and can be used to aid the menopausal transition period. 7,8,9,10
Trigonella or Fenugreek is a space originating from southeastern Europe and western Asia. The seed has been traditionally used for thousands of years to support the GI tract and promote lactation. Like Dioscorea, this plant has been found to contain diosgenin which may have hormone balancing effects in the body; however, studies have not confirmed these effects.1,2 This is an extremely safe and tasty plant to add to any herbal formula.
- Panax ginseng
- Arctium lappa
- Lininger S, Gaby A, Austin S, Brown D, Wright J, Duncan A. The Natural Pharmacy. 2nd ed. Rocklin, CA: Prima; 1999.
- Marciano M, Vizniak NA. Evidence Informed Botanical Medicine. Canada: Professional Health Systems Inc.; 2015.
- Milewicz A, Sworen H, Sienkiewicz K, Jedrzejak J, Teucher T, Schmitz H. Vitex agnus castus extract in the treatment of luteal phase defects due to latent hyperprolactinemia. Results of a randomized placebo-controlled double-blind study. Arzneimittel-forschung. 1993;43(7):752-756.
- Thompson ME, Wilson ML, Gobbo G, Muller MN, Pusey AE. Hyperprogesteronemia in response to Vitex fischeri consumption in wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii). American Journal of Primatology. 2008;70(11):1064-1071. doi:10.1002/ajp.20600
- Liu J, Burdette JE, Xu H, et al. Evaluation of Estrogenic Activity of Plant Extracts for the Potential Treatment of Menopausal Symptoms. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2001;49(5):2472-2479. doi:10.1021/jf0014157
- Liu J, Burdette J, Sun Y, et al. Isolation of linoleic acid as an estrogenic compound from the fruits of Vitex agnus-castus L. (chaste-berry). Phytomedicine. 2004;11(1):18-23. doi:10.1078/0944-7113-00331
- Stansbury J. Herbal Formularies for Health Professionals. Vol 3. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing; 2018.
- Oshima M, Gu Y, Tsukada S. Effects of Lepidium meyenii Walp and Jatropha macrantha on Blood Levels of Estradiol-17 β, Progesterone, Testosterone and the Rate of Embryo Implantation in Mice. Journal of Veterinary Medical Science. 2003;65(10):1145-1146. doi:10.1292/jvms.65.1145
- Meissner H, Kapczynski W, Mscisz A, Lutomski J. Use of Gelatinized Maca (Lepidium Peruvianum) in Early Postmenopausal Women. International Journal of Biomedical Science. 2005;1(1):33-45.
- Meissner H, Reich-Bilinska H, Mscisz A, Kedzia B. Therapeutic Effects of Pre-Gelatinized Maca (Lepidium Peruvianum Chacon) used as a Non-Hormonal Alternative to HRT in Perimenopausal Women – Clinical Pilot Study. International Journal of Biomedicine. 2006;2(2):143-159.
Optimize your hormone replacement therapy by supporting your glands naturally by scheduling an appointment with Gloria Rangelova, ND.