Progesterone is Queen- Here’s Why
Sound appetizing? What if I told you that for shiny hair, perky breasts, and a trim waist, all you had to do was to drink a little bit of urine from a pregnant mare every day?
I see you nodding. You’re like, yo. sign me up.
I know, I’ve ingested weirder things in the name of American Beauty too. There was that time in high school where I ate ground shrimp shells because my boss said it could help me lose weight. I instead lost $32.67.
I could go on and on, but you probably have your own stories and don’t need mine.
But you should know that horse pee in a pill was the standard of care for women for many years. It was thought that the natural drop in women’s hormones as they approached menopause was a disease instead of a natural turning of the tides, and the estrogen pill, Premarin, was put into wide use in the 1960s after a doctor who was subsidized by the laboratory that made Premarin wrote a book extolling the virtues of estrogen. The book was called Feminine Forever and it was the gateway into synthetic hormone therapy for hundreds of thousands of women. Estrogen, it seemed, was the fountain of youth.
‘Cept it wasn’t. In fact, the largest study ever to look at the effects of synthetic hormone (fake estrogen plus fake progesterone) therapy on “predominantly healthy postmenopausal women”, the Women’s Health Initiative (fun fact, of which my grandmother was a participant!) showed the following results:
“and overall risks outweighed benefits, with increases in invasive breast cancer, stroke, pulmonary embolism, and the global index. Other risks included increased dementia (in women >65 years), gallbladder disease, and urinary incontinence, while benefits included decreased hip fractures, diabetes, and vasomotor symptoms” (source)
Uh oh. At the end of the day, there was just no denying that it was the fake estrogen that was most closely associated with these terrifying symptoms. Progesterone- actually progestin, the fake progesterone that’s also in the Pill- was set up to be the patsy, but there was insufficient evidence to show that any of this was progesterone’s fault. It was the synthetic estrogen that caused complete havoc in a woman’s body.
So I got to do a fun radio show with my colleague Ev this week. Just casually mentionin’ it. But I mention it for a reason- we got to talk about my favorite hormone, the queen hormone– progesterone.
I feel like talking about progesterone is like talking about my dearest friend. I want everyone to know how great she is, and how smart she is, how much she encourages me in Christ, and how she seemingly runs an entire charter school with her little finger while homeschooling 5 kids.
I feel almost as strongly about progesterone. Progesterone runs the show like a boss, and when she’s lacking in strength or availability, everything falls apart.
The whole point of progesterone is to complete a healthy menstrual cycle. Progesterone is made from the corpus luteum, which is the amazing sac that forms right after ovulation. Before ovulation, the corpus luteum is an ovarian follicle and it exhales estrogen into the body in preparation for releasing an egg. After ovulation, that follicle quickly rearranges itself into a fully vascularized 4cm structure within a single day and begins to churn out progesterone.
Progesterone makes you happy, and relaxed, and sleepy, and balanced. When progesterone is low, you will feel the complete opposite of these things. You will feel angry, irritable, sleepless, and at the end of your rope.
Progesterone also gets your body ready for a baby. Since we are shortening things today like in the case of Premarin, or pregnant mare’s urine, let’s also shorten pro-gestation hormone into progesterone.
And that is what else progesterone does. It helps your body get ready for and support a baby. So if you don’t have enough progesterone, you aren’t going to get pregnant either.
Now, progesterone and estrogen are supposed to work in tandem. Think of Kate Hudson’s ribbon-twirling panda bear character in Kung Fu Panda 3.
Those ribbons are like estrogen and progesterone, delicately dancing and twirling around each other as they orchestrate the magic of a healthy period.
But estrogen can quickly dominate the show. With plastics and personal care products and alcohol and sugar and constipation and not enough meat or green vegetables and a history or birth control, estrogen levels can rise and overpower progesterone levels.
And when you are chronically completely stressed out on top of it, or you’ve been on birth control for an extended period of time, or you are not sleeping well, or you are not getting enough calories or fat, progesterone levels decrease at the same time estrogen levels rise, and everything falls apart.
You’ll get heavy periods, swollen boobies, massive PMS, endometriosis, bloating and weight gain, clots the size of golf balls, and a mood that ain’t attractive to your mate.
Really, at the end of the day, the only way to balance these things out- to balance YOU out- is to re-establish healthy progesterone levels.
Re-read the list of things above that contribute to unhealthy progesterone levels. You are the only one who controls your schedule, believe it or not- so start scheduling in some down time. Stop eating sugar. Stop drinking away your loneliness/anxiety/anger/boredom with alcohol and coffee. Stop staying up late watching TV and Instagram Reels. Stop saying yes when you should say no even if that FOMO threatens to bite you on the ass. Stop trying to be perfect, and have perfect children, and have a perfect husband, and live in the perfect house.
Read and play and take baths and laugh and drink tea and lay on the green grass under a warm sun and stop taking yourself so seriously.
Eat real food, and plenty of it. Get over your fear of meat (read this book) and get you some animal products 2-3x a day, or you’ll never build enough progesterone to balance out that excess estrogen.
I want to give you three weird reasons why progesterone is Queen.
Reason #1: Estrogen directly lowers temperature, while progesterone raises the temperature.
On top of being moody, bloated, and bitchy, many of us also worry that our thyroid function is low. And it definitely can be. There is a strong link between high estrogen and low thyroid function. This can be one of the reasons why women who have a hard time losing weight also feel bloated and cold all of the time.
Progesterone, in effect, can speed up your metabolism.
All hail, Queen.
Unbalanced estrogen can set the brain’s temperature regulator lower. By acting on serotonin and “other mediators”, it can lower the metabolism, too (source).
So when progesterone is low, your metabolism can be, too. This is a good reason to add more fat, calories and protein to your diet. Dietary fat contributes to the creation of progesterone, and sufficient amounts of protein and calories tell your body that it is safe to make progesterone instead of using its resources to create more stress hormones. Eat, my darling. Eat.
Enough food and macronutrients = better progesterone levels = faster metabolism.
Reason #2: Extra estrogen increases the need for thyroid hormone
In a study on postmenopausal women who were undergoing estrogen replacement therapy, it was found that the extra estrogen in the body necessitated more thyroid hormone. Since thyroid hormone does so many damn good things in the body, you want plenty of it.
Now, it is not a stretch of logic to assume that women who are on/ have been on the Pill (also a synthetic estrogen) also need more thyroid hormone.
Is this one of the reasons so many women who have been on the Pill eventually have a hard time losing weight? Because all of that fake estrogen increases the need for thyroid hormone? And many of us have no idea that we are actually low in thyroid hormone?
I thinks yes.
Reason #3: Too much estrogen and not enough progesterone can make you super depressed
I think this was the main reason that I felt like I was going crazy after the birth of my third child. I had too much estrogen and not enough progesterone. After childbirth, progesterone levels bottom out. And since during pregnancy, I was liberal with my coffee and sweets and since I was pretty pregnant-fat and since I had never eaten enough meat or greens and since I was isolated from my community and since I was drinking wine after having my baby because I was so anxious-
I had too much estrogen and not enough progesterone.
I turned away an offer of antidepressants from my doctor, but now I realize that she was only offering them because she could tell I had postpartum depression.
I’m glad I didn’t take those drugs, but I wish I would have known that rebalancing progesterone and estrogen levels could have made the crazy go away instead of lasting for a year.
In small and underground studies, progesterone is being used as a therapy for postpartum depression. Progesterone works on GABA receptors in the brain, which can increase serotonin, your feel-good neurotransmitter. Basically, progesterone can work like Lexapro, but without the weight gain and the numb feeling. That’s a win in my book.
I am not saying that estrogen is all bad. Bioidentical estrogen can be very helpful in certain circumstances. But it’s imperative to know whether or not you actually have low estrogen levels before you use supplemental estrogen.
And normal blood tests can show that you have low levels of estrogen when in fact you have sky high levels of estrogen. Estrogen is bound up in fat tissue and very little of it is bioavailable and present in the blood.
That’s why I rely on the DUTCH test when I am looking at women’s estrogen and progesterone levels. I can see not only true levels of all three estrogen metabolites, but I can also see if a woman is safely excreting that estrogen or if she is at risk for hormone issues due to metabolizing estrogens down more dangerous pathways.
Each one of my packages includes the DUTCH test. In less than 90 days, you could have relief from your symptoms with a natural approach that teaches you body literacy and gives you the tools to solve your issues confidently on your own.
In every stage of your adult life, progesterone can help balance out the effects of too much toxic estrogen. In your fertile years, be wary of the Pill.
In your perimenopausal years, realize that you may not need extra estrogen after all:
According to the brilliant Dr. Jerilynn Prior in The Estrogen Errors,
“[in] perimenopause…estrogen levels are actually high, and it is progesterone that declines; it is this imbalance that causes the tumult some women experience during those years…sore breasts, new or increased migraines, shorter cycles, heavy flow, cyclic flow-related night sweats, sudden wakening in the middle of the night, and weight gain without any change in estrogen habits”.
And in your postmenopausal years, you just don’t need estrogen. Your body is supposed to have declining levels of estrogen and progesterone. That’s the cycle. Embrace it. Seed cycle if you want to, use Vitamin E and black cohosh for vaginal dryness or hot flashes, stop drinking lots of wine, eat plenty of protein, and reduce stress in your life. This is the recipe for a happy postmenopausal hormone life.
Final thought: an interesting, if slightly dated fact from Ray Peat–
“Although, as the 21st century begins, the US government hasn’t decided whether to classify estrogen as a carcinogen, it was identified as a carcinogen in the first half of the 20th century–and a variety of carcinogens were found to be estrogenic.”
Let’s make a pact not to put potentially carcinogenic horse urine or lab-created fake estrogen (birth control) in our bodies if at all possible.
You can live a healthy and happy and sexy life without all of that estrogen if you have balanced levels of progesterone.
And that, dears, is why she is Queen.
Thoughts? Questions? Reach out here.