Everyone has experienced weight gain at some point in their life. It’s just one of those things that happen to everyone. But, what about when you’re not overeating or exercising less? What could be the cause then? Some people may find themselves wondering if it is possible for progesterone levels to affect your weight. This article will discuss the relationship between progesterone and weight gain as well as provide information on how best to combat hormonal-related weight fluctuations. Does progesterone cause weight gain? Read on to find out!
What Is Progesterone?
Progesterone is an endogenous hormone that’s responsible for the regulation of your menstrual cycle and reproduction. However, it also has other important functions. It helps to: balance out estrogen (female sex hormone); maintain uterine lining; and prevent the over-secretion of prolactin (hormone released by pituitary) (18).
Women produce progesterone in their ovaries and adrenal glands during their reproductive years, but after menopause, they rely on their adrenal glands to produce it. The ability of your body to produce this hormone declines with age, which may be one reason why women experience changes when going through menopause (20).
What Is The Relationship Between Hormones And Weight?
A healthy balance between all of the hormones in your body is the key to maintaining a healthy weight. The two main female reproductive hormones – estrogen and progesterone – have a symbiotic relationship that directly impacts your weight.
Your estrogen levels increase as you progress through puberty, during pregnancy, and around menstrual cycles. While this hormone can be very beneficial for women, it also has some negative effects on weight gain when not regulated properly.
Studies indicate that abnormally high estrogen levels can lead to significant fat accumulation in women by stimulating appetite and slowing down metabolism. However, this isn’t to say that all estrogen is bad. In proper amounts, it actually helps maintain a woman’s lean mass.
On the other hand, progesterone has the opposite effect. It helps to combat estrogen-related weight gain when the two hormones are appropriately balanced (15).
When You Have Healthy Progesterone Levels
Has Anti-Inflammatory Effect
Progesterone can decrease inflammation by preventing the production of pro-inflammatory signaling molecules called cytokines and can promote the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines. Chronic inflammation is associated with obesity, insulin resistance, and other metabolic conditions (4).
Acts As A Natural Diuretic
High levels of progesterone can cause diuresis, which is the body’s natural loss of fluids through urination. Since you’re losing water weight in addition to fat, it speeds up your perception of progress (1).
Prevents Estrogen Dominance
Estrogen dominance is when your body’s estrogen levels are too high in relation to progesterone. Estrogen levels that are either too high or too low can lead to fat accumulation and weight gain. Progesterone balances out estrogen by binding to the same receptor sites that estrogen does, displacing it and stopping its effects (7).
How Does Progesterone Cause Weight Gain?
When your progesterone levels are too high or too low, you can gain weight. Here are some of the ways an imbalance in this hormone results in weight gain:
High Progesterone Can Cause HyperInsulinemia
One of progesterone’s main jobs is to induce mild insulin resistance during pregnancy, so that glucose is diverted away from the mother’s own fat and muscle cells and directed toward the developing fetus. If you aren’t pregnant and your progesterone levels are too high, this could cause hyperinsulinemia – too much insulin (11).
This constant overabundance of insulin stimulates fat storage by increasing lipogenesis, or “fat production.” It also results in increased hunger because constantly elevated insulin blocks a hormone called leptin from being released. Leptin tells your body when you’re full so you don’t eat more than necessary. When this signal is blocked, it triggers cravings for high-carbohydrate foods. This phenomenon is known as leptin resistance, which is the result of elevated insulin levels (16).
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High Progesterone Can Stimulate Appetite
When progesterone levels are too high and estrogen levels are low, it can cause disruptions in your appetite hormones, leading to weight gain. This situation causes a woman’s cortisol and ghrelin (the “hunger hormone”) levels to rise excessively while her PYY 3-36 (a hormone that suppresses appetite) levels drop. The combination of these imbalances creates intense food cravings and causes overeating even when your body doesn’t need the excess calories (19).
Low Progesterone Can Prevent Normal Functioning Of Thyroid Hormones
If progesterone levels are too low, it can prevent the proper function of thyroid hormones. These two hormones work together: your thyroid provides the body with the raw materials for progesterone production while progesterone triggers specific proteins within thyroid cells that allow them to burn through these materials at a more efficient rate. This relationship serves as a critical gatekeeper for your metabolic rate. If progesterone levels are too low, thyroid function will slow down and your metabolism is likely to follow suit (9).
How Can You Balance Hormones Naturally To Lose Weight?
Weight loss can be very challenging for some people. Some women have a difficult time dropping extra pounds no matter what they do or how hard they try. We’ve determined that one of progesterone’s most interesting roles, when balanced with estrogen, is ensuring that our bodies are primed to maintain a healthy weight.
If you believe you have a serious hormone imbalance, speak to your doctor about it. There are a few lifestyle changes that may also help. Here are several steps you can take to naturally balance progesterone levels and get rid of stubborn fat for good:
Avoid SugarAnd Refined Carbs
If you want to boost progesterone levels, eliminating added sugar is one of the most important things you can do. Sugar intake may affect estrogen and progesterone production via insulin. It also encourages fat storage, thanks to its ability to increase insulin levels, which prevents fat from being used as energy on a cellular level (13).
Cutting out sugar doesn’t mean that you have to cut out fruit or sweet vegetables like carrots or beets—just ditch the processed sugars. Some of my favorite alternatives are stevia, coconut nectar, pure maple syrup, raw honey, and blackstrap molasses, although these are still considered added sugars and should be incorporated in moderation. If you need something for your morning coffee or afternoon tea, try any of those options instead of artificial sweeteners.
Avoid Overeating Or Undereating
When it comes to progesterone production, the same principle applies as with estrogen—too much or too little can cause problems. Eating too few calories causes your body to enter starvation mode, which initiates the breakdown of muscle tissue for energy. This not only interrupts hormonal balance but also slows down your metabolism. On the other hand, if you eat more food than you need, fat storage increases because insulin levels will be higher.
Another major factor that determines whether or not weight loss will occur is thyroid function. The thyroid gland creates hormones that are integral for getting rid of extra pounds. Thyroid hormone inhibits fat accumulation and promotes fat burning. If your thyroid is sluggish, that’s going to create a lot of difficulty in getting rid of fat and maintaining optimal weight (12).
Up Your Protein Consumption
Protein is one of the building blocks for hormone production, so eat plenty of it. Aim for 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight. This will help you maintain healthy levels of estrogen, progesterone, thyroid hormones, and growth hormone—all important for proper metabolic function. Eating protein also keeps blood sugar stable because it provides an ongoing release of energy instead of requiring a sudden spike or drop (6).
Eat More Fatty Fish
Omega-3 fatty acids in the fish oil help to enhance metabolism and also support a healthy thyroid gland. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is another component of fish oil that enables our cells to be receptive to insulin, which increases the efficiency of glucose transport—this makes it easier for your body to convert carbs into energy, rather than storing them as excess fat (17).
Drink Green Tea
Green tea has been shown to increase thermogenesis (energy-burning). A compound called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is locked inside the leaves of green tea, may speed up your metabolism while the polyphenols and flavonoids in green tea have other beneficial effects on your overall health (5).
Eat Healthy Fats
Mono- and polyunsaturated fats from fish and plant sources are vital for hormone production and proper metabolic function. Consuming healthy fats supports the release of fat from fat cells so they can be used as energy—plus it helps reduce sugar cravings (21).
Follow A Low-Carb Eating Plan
In order to balance hormones naturally, eating fewer refined carbs is key. When you eat a lot of sugar and refined grains, you’re constantly releasing insulin in response to blood sugar spikes. This causes your body to store more fat and makes it very difficult for your body to release stored fat from the cells for energy. These types of foods also don’t make you feel very full because they lack fiber. Focus on getting your carbs from whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables instead (14).
Alcohol may interfere with appetite hormones like leptin and GLP-1, leading you to feel hungrier and consume more energy than you really need (3). Alcohol may also inhibit fat-burning because it interferes with metabolism by depleting essential nutrients like magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, vitamin A, and selenium.
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If you want to increase your ability to burn fat—especially around the abdominal area, where it can be especially stubborn—then exercise is a must. Strength training (like weight lifting) builds lean muscle tissue and increases basal metabolic rate (BMR), which means more calories burned even when not exercising.
It also helps offset postmenopausal weight gain by combating stress and reducing cortisol, which can contribute to excess belly fat. It may also help improve insulin sensitivity. Exercise also enhances muscle mass as we age, so our bodies burn more glucose as energy throughout the day rather than storing it as excess fat.
Stress, cortisol, and insulin all work together to make you gain weight. When your body is under stress, you release cortisol; this sets off a cascade of events that causes insulin to spike—which tells your body to store fat rather than burn it (10).
Exercise helps with stress relief by releasing endorphins into the bloodstream, which lift your moods and reduce pain-inducing inflammation throughout the body. Other ways to relieve stress include meditation, yoga, and simply taking some time out of your day to do something that makes you happy.
The Bottom Line
When you have healthy balanced levels of progesterone and other hormones, your natural tendency is to maintain a healthy weight. However, an imbalance of this essential hormone could be the root cause of your weight loss resistance and figure struggles. Try eating a healthy diet, exercising, and managing stress. If those things aren’t helping, talk to your doctor.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
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- A cross-sectional study on the associations of insulin resistance with sex hormone, abnormal lipid metabolism in T2DM and IGT patients (2017, nih.gov)
- Alcohol Consumption and Obesity: An Update (2015, nih.gov)
- Anti-inflammatory Effects of Progesterone in Lipopolysaccharide Stimulated BV-2 Microglia (2014, nih.gov)
- Beneficial effects of green tea: A literature review (2010, nih.gov)
- Effect of a high-protein diet vs standard-protein diet on weight loss biomarkers of metabolic syndrome: a randomized controlled trial (2017, nih.gov)
- Estrogen Dominance and Progesterone Deficiency (2021, thehollandclinic.com)
- Hormones That Take Off The Pounds (2021, imcwc.com)
- HOW ESTROGEN AND PROGESTERONE IMPACT YOUR THYROID HORMONES (n.d., bioadaptivemedicine.com)
- How Too Much Stress Can Cause Weight Gain (And What To Do About It) (2020, orlandohealth.com)
- Hyperinsulinemia (2019, diabetes.co.uk)
- Hypothyroidism (2020, clevelandclinic.org)
- Increased consumption of refined carbohydrates and the epidemic of type 2 diabetes in the United States: an Ecological Assessment (2004, oup.com)
- Low Carb, High Carb, Bad Carb: How Much is Best? (2018, webmd.com)
- Metabolic effects of progesterone (1982, nih.gov)
- Obesity and Leptin Resistance: Distinguishing Cause from Effect (2010, nih.gov)
- Oily Fish and Omega-3s Across The Life Stages: A Focus on Intakes And Future Directions (2019, nih.gov)
- Physiology, Progesterone (2021, nih.gov)
- Sex hormones, appetite and eating behavior in women (2012, pubmed.gov)
- The physiology of endocrine systems with ageing (2018, nih.gov)
- The truth about fats: the good, the bad and the in between (2019, harvard.edu)