Progesterone, estrogen and testosterone are the main human reproductive hormones and play specific roles in both males and females.
In females, these hormones are produced in the ovaries and are responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle, fertility, pregnancy and many other biological processes such as puberty and sex drive. In males, these hormones are generally produced in the testes and are instrumental in sex drive, puberty and sperm production.
In this article, we explore the role Progesterone plays in the human body, how to identify potential signs of high or low levels and what people can do to manage Progesterone throughout their lives.
The best-understood functions of Progesterone are linked to fertility by regulating the menstrual cycle and enabling and maintaining pregnancy. While Progesterone is vital in enabling and continuing pregnancy, it affects various other biological processes in women and men.
‘Although the name progesterone itself means “promoting gestation”, this steroid hormone is far more than a gestational agent.’ Nagy, Bernadett, et al. 2021
Across genders, Progesterone may have a positive effect on brain health, and it can support the regulation of the body’s stress response. It also enables numerous physiological functions by acting as a precursor to several hormones, such as Cortisol, Estradiol, and Testosterone. Progesterone impacts Testosterone and Estrogen levels in men, and plays a crucial role in sperm production.
In women, Progesterone levels naturally rise and fall during the menstrual cycle and are generally elevated during pregnancy. Interestingly, during the initial phase of the menstrual cycle and after menopause, Progesterone levels in women tend to be similar to the low levels generally found in men.
It is important to note that progesterone levels start to decline in both men and women with ageing. There are also multiple lifestyle factors that can influence progesterone levels - stress, caffeine or smoking may cause elevated progesterone levels whilst obesity has been suggested as a potential cause of low Progesterone levels.
When Progesterone levels are high in women, effects such as anxiety, fatigue, increased appetite and decreased sex drive may occur. During the fertile stage of life, Progesterone levels fluctuate naturally in women, and elevated levels may not necessarily indicate a bad health trajectory.
When Progesterone levels are lower than desired, females can experience a range of effects, including headaches, bloating, mood swings, poor sleep, issues with the menstrual cycle, depression, infertility or complications during pregnancy.
In men, lower than-normal Progesterone levels may be linked to issues with weight management, hair loss or, by extension (as Progesterone acts as a precursor for Testosterone) erectile dysfunction. In men, high levels of Progesterone may be linked to higher estrogen levels or depression.
Progesterone levels begin progressively declining as women age and by the time they reach menopause, the body is producing only small amounts of this hormone. This may cause several uncomfortable symptoms such as hot flashes, weight gain, anxiety, depression, irritability, insomnia, low libido, sagging skin, brain fog and even changes in bone density.
Hormone Therapy is one of the options women use to decrease menopause symptoms. In addition, lifestyle adjustments such as exercising regularly, being more mindful about what you eat and, proactively managing stress may also help manage symptoms.
When Progesterone levels are outside expected ranges, a health professional can provide personalised guidance on the best course of action. However, studies have shown that certain lifestyle changes may support achieving desired Progesterone levels.
If Progesterone is too high, it could be lowered by:
If Progesterone is too low, it could be lowered by:
Progesterone plays a crucial role in fertility and pregnancy. However, Progesterone is also involved in various other body functions for both women and men, ranging from enabling the production of hormones to positive effects on brain health.
Understanding your Progesterone levels can supply valuable insights into your health and wellbeing. Our WellBeing Test identifies your Progesterone levels and 24 other biomarkers and contextualises them into six key health categories. To learn more about the biomarkers we measure, click here.
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