Recently I confessed that there was a time in my life that if I had a knife in my hand and you were to ‘irritate’ me – I could go to prison for murder.
That may sound a bit over the top, but that’s how I felt at the time. I was very easily agitated, and felt like throwing things all the time – regardless of how much damage it could do.
Why did I feel this way? Likely it was because I had too much progesterone.
I can’t tell you exactly what was going on with me at the time, because I didn’t know what I know today and didn’t have access to my labs in a way I could interpret them. I was just going along with what my doctor prescribed; progesterone shots.
Typical Hormone Therapy Protocols
Most often when speaking about hormone imbalance, low hormones levels– especially low estrogen and estrogen dominance are the front runners.
When your estrogen is low, you can have wild mood swings.
When your estrogen is high, you can have anxiety and wild mood swings.
When you are in peri-menopause and/or menopause the focus is generally on the reduction of estrogen and its affects on you. Therefore, hormone therapy often includes estrogen.
And, progesterone is often prescribed to help maintain correct balances, or ratio between the two hormones, so you don’t find yourself with estrogen dominance. Too much estrogen in relation to progesterone.
Progesterone Can Help With:
• Healthy hair and skin
• Complements Thyroid function
• Strong bones and muscles
• Protects against breast and uterine cancer
• Supports sleep
• Relieves anxiety, depression
• Normalizes blood clotting, countering the effects of estrogen
• Supports a healthy libido
• Acts as a natural diuretic (water pill)
I was even told it would help me lose weight. It is thought to support the body’s ability to burn fat for energy.
What Can Happen When You Don’t Get Your Hormone Ratios Right
When I was prescribed progesterone the first time, I was excited and looking forward to feeling more like myself. The opposite happened. My body put on weight, and my nerves were out of control.
When I stopped progesterone, my symptoms subsided, though I was stuck with the weight gain.
Years later, I decided to try bio-identical progesterone. Same reaction.
Immediately, I got off it.
The thing is, my experience isn’t typical, so it’s not often considered. Even when I was taking courses on hormones, the discussion was always on low progesterone – never high. It was mentioned that high progesterone could also cause problems, but we didn’t cover what the possible problems were.
Rather, the concern was always to balance estrogen with progesterone, because progesterone provides an overall sense of well-being.
Common Causes For High Progesterone:
• Menstrual cycle changes that include a longer luteal phase
• A reduction in estrogen in your body
• Over supplementation with progesterone
• Over supplementation with pregnenolone or other progesterone precursors
• Overstimulated adrenal glands resulting in an overproduction of adrenal hormones or improper adrenal enzyme signaling
Stress and Progesterone
For women I see, often there is a correlation with stress and progesterone levels, and here’s why…
There is a general understanding that progesterone is produced in the ovaries, but small amounts are also produced by the adrenal glands. Besides acting as its own agent, progesterone is also a pre-hormone for cortisol and cortisone. These two hormones are critical hormones produced by your stress response system, the Hypothalamus – Pituitary – Adrenal pathway or HPA Axis.
I often refer to the HPA as a survival system and the other pathways as thrive systems. The reason is, though they are all critical to your long-term survival and well-being, your stress response system is responsible for your immediate survival. Unfortunately, your mind and body cannot tell the difference between real and immediate threats and perceived threats, which often results in chronic stress.
When you experience continuous stress, eventually resources are depleted or stretched thin and your body will need to make choices. If you do not survive the immediate threat, then there’s no reason for long-term well-being, therefore the HPA Axis will always be a higher priority than other systems.
Looking at the diagram below, you can see how resources such as nutrients required to produce hormones and pre-hormones – hormones required to make other hormones – are directed toward the stress-response pathway.
If there are less nutrients, less pregnenolone for the Hypothalamus – Pituitary – Gonad (HPG) pathway then there will be less production of the sex hormones to include progesterone. And though progesterone is also produced by the adrenals, that supply is going to be primarily directed toward producing cortisol.
How Stress Can Increase Progesterone
Lets imagine you have been living in a constant state of stress, maybe not extreme stress, but stress nevertheless. And you have not developed ways to support your stress response system or give it a break on a regular basis.
Overtime your body can be in the habit of needing to produce more progesterone for the purpose of maintaining cortisol levels.
Now you’ve reached the age where your ovaries are starting to produce less estrogen and less progesterone. You may think that this is bringing down your levels of progesterone, but since your body is in the habit of producing more of it for the purpose of making cortisol, and you’re now under a new form of stress – requiring more cortisol, you body might increase the production of progesterone.
This would rob more resources from your ovaries, but might not bring down the total level of progesterone you have available by much.
So now you’re in the doctor’s office, you have symptoms of peri-menopause or menopause and you express you’re having symptoms that appear to be low progesterone – you’re under a lot of stress and symptoms can be misleading. For instance, if you have anxiety, that may indicate a low level of progesterone in relation to estrogen.
You’re prescribed progesterone, and your body goes nuts. Physically you’re agitated, can’t settle down, you feel wired all of the time and your heart races. Your mood is out of control. Remember, I was so agitated physically, I couldn’t handle any aggravation of any kind.
Common Symptoms Of High Progesterone:
• Weight gain (5 – 10 pounds)
• Mild depression
• Dizziness or balance instability
• Restless legs or discomfort
• Feeling tense, worked up
• Not feeling refreshed when you wake up and irritable
• Decreased sex drive
Less Common Symptoms:
• Significant weight gain
• Wired but tired and unable to sleep
• Food cravings
• Hot flashes
• Overt anxiety or panic attacks, physical agitation
If your hormone therapy isn’t working and you feel like progesterone may be the reason, or it’s not helping the way it’s meant to – you need to speak up.
No hormone works in isolation. And what works for one person, or maybe the majority of people, may not be right for you.
What you can do you if you suspect high progesterone
First, have a broad-spectrum hormone test done. You want to go beyond testing estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. This should include checking your cortisol and circadian rhythms.
When testing your cortisol, you want a minimum of four saliva tests that are drawn at different times of the day. Six is better, as long as it’s addressing the Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR).
In my practice, I most often begin with a 4 or 5-point test using dried urine. Salivary cortisol testing measures free cortisol levels – meaning cortisol that is usable. Urine cortisol testing includes cortisol metabolites and well as free cortisol providing a better way of measuring overall cortisol production.
By measuring your cortisol and your circadian rhythm you can get a better picture of what’s happening with your progesterone. Additionally, it’s more data overall to help determine the root cause(s) for what’s triggering the symptoms you are experiencing.
If you suspect your hormone levels are not what they should be and you feel like you can’t get a handle on your hormone therapy, I invite you to contact me.
I have set aside time to meet with women like yourself to look deeper and determine possible root causes of your current condition and to determine a near-term and a long-term strategy for feeling like yourself again.
If you’re interested in this, click on the button below and fill out the health questionnaire. Once you click Submit, you can schedule an appointment that is convenient for you.
You can feel like yourself again and feel confident that your day(s) will not be interrupted by raging hormones, so you can get on with your life feeling like yourself.
Your partner in health,
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