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Progesterone 101: Uses, Side Effects, High Low Levels

Progesterone 101

Progesterone is usually first identified as a female sex hormone (although men have it, too). It works opposite of estrogen to balance its effects on the body. (1, 2)

Progesterone’s most important functions are related to the female reproductive cycle. It takes over for estrogen during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle as the dominant hormone. During the second half of the cycle, progesterone maintains the growth of the uterine lining that estrogen began during the follicular phase. (1, 2)

Progesterone is produced by the corpus luteum. This is a temporary endocrine gland that forms from the follicle that releases an egg during ovulation. Once the egg is released, the corpus luteum increases its production of progesterone. (1, 2)

If the egg released during ovulation isn’t fertilized, both it and the corpus luteum will dissolve. Then, progesterone levels drop, triggering menstruation. Another menstrual cycle starts, and the whole thing begins anew. (1, 2)

In addition to the corpus luteum, the ovaries, adrenal glands, and placenta can all produce progesterone, too. (1, 2)

Progesterone During Pregnancy

If the egg released during ovulation is fertilized, it will attach itself to the uterine lining, which progesterone helped to prepare for just this purpose. In addition to thickening the lining, progesterone also prevents muscle contractions in the uterus, which would cause it to reject the egg. (1, 2)

The corpus luteum will continue to generate progesterone alone until about 10 weeks into a pregnancy. At this time, the placenta also begins to produce progesterone, supporting the corpus luteum. (1, 2)

These elevated levels of progesterone during pregnancy prevent against miscarriage, later pregnancy loss, and preterm labor. They also help to prepare the breasts to produce milk. (1, 2)

Mood and Progesterone

Both estrogen and progesterone affect mood through their interaction with brain chemicals. One of progesterone’s metabolites is the compound allopregnanolone. Its interactions with GABA receptors in the brain tend to reduce anxiety and generate a feeling of calm. This explains the low energy and sleepiness that many women feel before their period or during the early parts of pregnancy. (1, 3)

However, for some women, progesterone can have the opposite effect. They may experience feelings of anxiety and agitation during the luteal phase of their menstrual cycle, when progesterone production increases. For some women, this effect may be so severe that it can be classified as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Research suggests that the women who experience agitation rather than the expected soothing effects of progesterone may process allopregnanolone differently. (1, 3)

Perimenopause and Progesterone

Most women don’t expect to experience the symptoms of menopause until their mid-40s or their 50s. But perimenopause, the transition to menopause, causes hormonal changes for women as early as their mid-30s and into their early 40s. (5)

In perimenopause, both estrogen and progesterone rise and fall. These vacillating hormone levels can cause changes like: (5)

  • hot flashes
  • mood changes
  • trouble sleeping
  • irregular periods
  • bone loss
  • bladder issues
  • vaginal dryness and loss of elasticity
  • changes in sexual desire and satisfaction
  • altered cholesterol levels

Signs that Progesterone is Low

Some women may have low levels of progesterone outside of perimenopause and menopause during their fertile years. For women who are not pregnant, some signs of low progesterone are: (2, 6)

  • irregular or missed periods
  • mood swings
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • headaches or migraines

When progesterone levels are too low, estrogen levels may increase too much. Signs of estrogen dominance include: (2, 6)

  • PMS
  • mood swings
  • depression
  • weight gain
  • irregular menstrual cycles
  • heavy bleeding
  • decreased sex drive
  • tender or fibrocystic breasts
  • gallbladder issues
  • uterine fibroids

Pregnant women who have low progesterone levels may experience spotting and abdominal pain. Adequate levels of progesterone are necessary to maintain the uterine lining and carry a baby to term. To avoid miscarriage or preterm labor, it may be necessary to supplement the body’s natural progesterone production. (2, 6)

High Progesterone

High progesterone levels are not associated with any negative health effects. In fact, a study from 2003 suggests that high progesterone levels are a protective factor against ovarian cancer. (7, 8)

Testing Progesterone Levels

For those concerned about their progesterone production, it may be illuminating to take a progesterone test and discuss the results with a doctor. A progesterone test can provide information about why a woman is having trouble getting pregnant, where she is in her menstrual cycle, and monitor her progesterone levels during pregnancy. (6)

Naturally Increase Progesterone

Women who want to increase their progesterone production naturally without using hormone therapy or supplementing with creams, gels, suppositories, or oral medications have a few options. (6)

The first is to decrease stress levels. When a woman is stressed, her body releases cortisol instead of progesterone. Some common methods for managing stress include: (6)

  • regular exercise
  • practicing mindfulness
  • meditation
  • decreasing caffeine intake 
  • attending counseling
  • eating a balanced diet
  • journaling
  • listening to relaxing music
  • practicing yoga or tai chi
  • maintaining supportive relationships

There are also several foods that can help stimulate progesterone production: (9)

  • whole grains
  • kale
  • spinach
  • broccoli
  • nuts
  • cauliflower
  • brussels sprouts
  • cabbage
  • pumpkin

Because low progesterone is associated with higher levels of estrogen, those wishing to balance these two hormones may want to eat foods that may help to lower estrogen production, such as: (9)

  • bananas
  • walnuts
  • shellfish
  • cabbage

The bottom line is, progesterone is an important sex hormone for women. It helps to regulate the menstrual cycle and supports a healthy pregnancy. When progesterone levels drop, women can experience a variety of health issues. Maintaining healthy progesterone levels and balancing progesterone and estrogen contribute to women’s overall health and wellbeing. (1, 2) If you’d like to learn more about how you can balance your hormones, weight, and life, click here.

FAQ About Progesterone

Where is progesterone produced?

Progesterone is produced in the corpus luteum, a temporary endocrine gland. The placenta, ovaries, and adrenal glands can also produce progesterone. (1, 2)

How does progesterone affect the body?

Progesterone helps to build up the uterine lining during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle so that a fertilized egg can attach to the lining. It also helps to prevent against miscarriage, later pregnancy loss, and preterm labor during pregnancy. (1, 2)

For many women, increased progesterone during the luteal phase and early pregnancy contribute to a sense of calm and general wellbeing. But for some, higher progesterone levels can cause increased anxiety and agitation before menstruation. (1, 3)

When are progesterone levels high?

Progesterone levels increase during the second half of the menstrual cycle (the luteal phase) and during pregnancy. (1, 2)


  1. https://www.verywellhealth.com/progesterone-understanding-the-other-female-sex-hormone-4142780
  2. https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/glands-and-hormones-a-to-z/hormones/progesterone 
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4335177/ 
  4. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11920-015-0627-4 
  5. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/perimenopause/ 
  6. https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/low-progesterone 
  7. https://www.healthline.com/health/progesterone-function/ 
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC239900/ 
  9. https://www.healthline.com/health/natural-progesterone 

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