Estrogen dominance gets most of the attention when we talk about hormones, we focus on detoxing the harmful versions of estrogen and supplementing with bioidentical progesterone but we don’t hear much talk about how to INCREASE our progesterone. First let’s talk about what progesterone is and why we need it.
Progesterone is a neurosteroid
Progesterone VERY important, so much so that it comes from two different places:
- first, cells in the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nervous system all synthesize progesterone from cholesterol, yes cholesterol.
- Secondly, progesterone that is circulating in the bloodstream also has direct access to the brain and nerves. We need progesterone to reach the brain in order to have a healthy nervous system. It protects the brain from damage and helps to repair after injury (think concussion and neurohormones – those are the hormones we produce in the brain). We have something known as the myelin sheath, this protects the nerve fibers, progesterone promotes the growth and repair of this… kind of a big deal.
Studies done on mice showed that those who suffered traumatic brain injuries at the time when their progesterone was the highest in their cycle suffered less damage than those who were low in progesterone. Another trial done referred to as proTECT looked at ICU patients with acute brain trauma. They were either given high dose progesterone injections for 3 days or placebo injections, all the patients were at a very high risk of death yet only 13% of the progesterone-treated patients died of their brain injuries compared with 30% with the placebo.
A recent review published that not only should progesterone be used to treat traumatic brain injuries, but that it may also have a role in treating stroke, because of its powerful protective effects on brain tissue. This is a very exciting area of progesterone research, as researchers and clinicians acknowledge the fact that natural progesterone has an excellent safety profile without long term side effects, making it a good candidate for high dose therapy that can also be carried out in a home environment as patients recover. It needs to be bioidentical in format though to ensure you receive the benefits and not harm of synthetic versions.
Here is the issue, progesterone is converted into cortisol when our body is running low on cortisol due to high stress, this means for those who are suffering chronic stress or have had a trauma and are at risk of being low in progesterone. Aside from topping up with bioidentical hormone replacement what can we do? You will need to manage that stress first and foremost, meditation, removing the stress where possible and breathing exercises. You can even look into adding adaptogenic herbs to support the adrenals. You also want to support your nervous system, you can do this by supplementing with B vitamins, magnesium, sunflower lecithin, L- theanine and others depending on your medical profile. Last but not least you want to support your liver, it is a major detox pathway for excess estrogens in the body which can throw that delicate balance off even more. See more of my top picks for here.
High anxiety and memory
Progesterone naturally metabolizes in brain tissues to the metabolite allopregnanolone, which is known to produce calming, anti-anxiety and possibly enhanced memory effects. There is talk that this helps aging women protect their memory, more research needs to be done but if this is the key to memory as we age sign me up. Women with low progesterone have shown to have higher instance of anxiety and panic attacks which seem to disappear or were drastically reduced with the introduction of bioidentical progesterone.
Progesterone and sleep
With the exception of maybe the first few days while your body adjust, you will notice an almost sedative response when taking oral progesterone. Why does this happen? There is a large quantity of metabolites produced in the liver (another reason to support the liver) after oral progesterone is absorbed by the intestines, these metabolites have known sedative and hypnotic effects. Who needs a sleeping pill when you have progesterone! Unfortunately the cream versions do not have the same effect as they do not produce those metabolites in quantities high enough since they are absorbed through the skin and bypass the liver to induce sleep, it will still induce a calming effect.
Progestins vs. Progesterone
Synthetic progestins are different on a molecular level than bioidentical progesterone (bioidentical progesterone comes from yams) and therefore do not metabolize to the same compounds as natural (bioidentical) progesterone. There are no benefits on cognitive function and do not show anti-anxiety effects. What is worse is progestins have not been shown to have any of bioidentical progesterones neuroprotective properties, they do however carry many negative effects on the nervous system and reduce any of the benefits you would receive from estrogen produced in the body. While oe protects the body from certain cancers the other can actually promote them.
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