Progesterone and Menopause
Walking the Estrogen Tightrope
There's no doubt about it, menopause is one heck of a balancing act - and our hormones prove that very well. The hormone that gets all the flash and publicity is estrogen, and we don't dispute that estrogen is a major player in the lives of women. Women rely on progesterone especially when it comes to protecting a pregnancy or keeping menstrual cycles in line. Willard Myron Allen, co-discoverer of progesterone in 1933, gave the hormone the name as a derivative of Progestational Steroidal ketone. It is a steroid that is produced by the ovaries and it works as a balance to estrogen serving also as a vehicle for the utilization of estrogen in the body.
Good-bye Progesterone, Hello Hot Flashes
In the cycle of reproduction, progesterone works to prepare the uterus for possible pregnancy. It also works to prepare the breasts for lactation. As women age, less progesterone is produced in the body. The anovulatory cycles that start during perimenopause lead to such exciting phenomena as hot flashes, changes in bleeding patterns, PMS to the max and assorted other menopausal symptoms. It is during this period that progesterone levels fall to almost zero while estrogen only declines to 40 to 60 percent of pre-menopausal levels. The obvious result is estrogen dominance, which exacerbates all of those lovely symptoms we mentioned above.
When women are given progesterone supplementation, it effectively offsets the estrogen overload and brings some balance to the picture. Hot flashes decrease and the body uses hormones more efficiently. Estrogen, often prescribed for menopausal women, on its own increases the risk of cancer, but when progesterone is given with estrogen, it lowers the risk for uterine cancer. Taking estrogen without the balance of progesterone can create a situation where the endometrium (uterine lining) overpopulates, called hyperplasia. Left uncontrolled, it leads to endometrial cancer.
Progesterone comes in natural and synthetic forms, with the synthetics having more side effects than natural progesterone. Weight gain, depression, breast tenderness, fluid retention, migraines, as well as narrowing of the blood vessels that can lead to heart issues, are some of the side effects of synthetic progesterone, called progestin.
Creating Natural Progesterone Supplements
Progesterone is a naturally occurring hormone in the human body, as we have said. HRT sources of progesterone are primarily extracted from yams, and then it is chopped into microscopic particles (powder) and usually suspended in peanut oil then put into capsules. Women with peanut allergies must not use progesterone capsules in this form because of the obvious repercussions. Prometrium is the name of the progesterone used in the US and Canada and it is known as Utrogestan in Europe. The primary thing to be concerned with is ensuring that you are taking progesterone and not progestin, which is a synthetic.
Use Creams Wisely
Progesterone creams are not as potent as the oral hormone replacement therapy and should not be used as a substitute because it does not balance estrogen in the uterus. Self-medicating is never a good idea. When it comes to balancing hormones and finding the right combination of hormonal supplementation to balance your hormones, be sure you are working with someone who is skilled and certified in the field. It's bad enough that our hormones are wacky when we go through menopause. Compounding the situation with potentially dangerous imbalances can take you to places you don't want to go.
Progesterone is available in creams, gels, and oral capsules. Progesterone creams are popular and available marketed as cosmetics - it's the only way you can get progesterone without a prescription. There are a lot of companies producing "wild yam" creams that are touted as helping with menopausal symptoms and contain a concentrated extract of wild yams, Dioscorea villosa. It is possible to convert the substances in wild yams to natural progesterone in a lab; but the body is not facilitated for the conversion process. Since the creams cannot affect the levels of progesterone in the body, they are not really effective substitutes for natural progesterone supplementation.
If you are interested in learning more about progesterone's function, and the effects of natural and synthetic progesterone on the body, be sure to check out the article by Dr. Jelovsek in this section.