We all have those moments where we’re feeling a little hungry and want to indulge in some junk food. For women those moments seem all too predictable which may make you wonder; does progesterone make you hungry? Progesterone is the hormone that helps regulate women’s menstrual cycle. During the latter half of the cycle when levels are higher it can cause hunger cravings or overeating.
In fact, studies have found that many women experience fluctuations in their appetites due to hormone levels throughout their menstrual cycle. These changes can happen as often as every day. Some days you may feel hungrier than usual while others you might find it hard to eat anything at all. You may also notice yourself craving certain foods or drinks for no apparent reason.
This article explores the relationship between progesterone and hunger in detail, as well as ways to cope with these types of hunger pangs if you’re having trouble keeping your diet in check.
Progesterone Side Effects That Can Make You Eat More
The link between progesterone and a woman’s appetite isn’t fully understood yet. But there are several different theories about how it causes changes in food cravings.
Progesterone affects the part of your brain that makes you feel hungry by increasing levels of neuropeptide Y (NPY) (9). As your body produces more NPY, you feel like eating more. During the latter half of the menstrual cycle when progesterone levels are higher, there is an increase in hypothalamic NPY levels, which stimulates hunger.
In addition, progesterone increases appetite at this time as it stimulates the activity of another hormone called ghrelin (1). Ghrelin is the ‘hunger’ hormone that plays a role in increasing appetite and fat storage. It’s produced by cells in your stomach and makes you feel hungry so you’ll eat more and use less energy than usual (3).
When your body produces more NPY than usual, it can make you hungrier for carbs or fat-rich foods. It’s believed that women are more likely to crave carbs at this time because it will boost serotonin levels (2).
Serotonin is the feel-good neurotransmitter in your brain that makes you happy, which can reduce anxiety and depression (11). Carbs trigger the production of serotonin. A high carb diet can actually help battle mild cases of depression, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself craving pastries or doughnuts while taking progesterone supplements or going through menopause.
Insulin resistance appears to be one of the factors linked with increased hunger when using progesterone supplements.
Progesterone can lead to insulin resistance in fat cells, which over time makes you put on more weight (7). This means that any food or drink containing sugar doesn’t help control your hunger pangs since it further boosts the level of glucose in your body. The excess glucose is stored as fat so instead of feeling satisfied after eating, you tend to feel hungrier than usual and eat more, which only increases the number of calories entering your bloodstream.
High Cortisol Levels
Finally, high cortisol levels have been shown to affect appetite regulation through a similar mechanism as those explained above. High levels of cortisol also stimulates NPY production and increases appetite as well resulting in increased insulin resistance and fat storage (8).
Cortisol is a hormone that’s released when you’re stressed (10). When cortisol levels are high, it reduces insulin sensitivity, which in turn causes your body to hold on to fat and increase one’s appetite for sugary foods.
Progesterone supplements are known to cause an increase in cortisol levels in some women, which can lead to weight gain if you eat more due to an increased appetite (14).
How To Deal With High Appetite And Cravings Caused By Progesterone
If you’re struggling with your weight while taking progesterone supplements, there are some steps you can take to reduce the impact of high appetite and carb cravings.
Eat More Fiber
Eat a well-balanced diet that is rich in fibre and low in processed carbs. This will help keep levels of glucose under control so you don’t feel the need to snack on sugary foods frequently throughout the day . Eating more fiber can also restore healthy bowel movements since fiber stimulates bulk laxative action which helps improve digestive health (5).
Some good high fiber foods to eat at this stage in your cycle include:
- Brussels sprouts
- Green beans
Eat More Healthy Fats
Increase your portions of healthy fats by eating foods such as avocados, olives or organic eggs from free-range chickens. Healthy fats affect metabolism and hormone function in a positive way. They also help you feel full and satisfied as they take longer to digest (15). Some ideal sources of healthy fats include:
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Dark chocolate
Eat Plenty Of Protein At Every Meal
Protein controls blood sugar levels and boosts metabolism through thermogenesis, which means that your body burns more calories while digesting protein than other nutrients such as carbs or fat (12). Include high protein food sources such as red meat, free range eggs or organic poultry to help decrease carb cravings and improve weight loss efforts without the need to count calories.
Eat Whole Carbohydrates
When choosing carbs, opt for those that release energy slowly and do not lead to a spike in glucose levels. These include whole grains such as brown rice and quinoa and fruits such as strawberries and apples. Avoid processed foods including white bread, pasta and sugar-filled snacks if you want to cut cravings for sugary foodstuffs (16).
Eat Magnesium-Rich Foods
Magnesium is an essential mineral that can help regulate blood pressure, reduce cravings and manage blood sugar to help you lose weight (6). Natural sources of magnesium include leafy greens, nuts, seeds and fruit.
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Push Yourself To Do Some Light Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise helps control cortisol levels, lowers insulin resistance and boosts appetite regulation at the same time (4). If you are obese, diabetic or pre-diabetic, incorporate more aerobic exercise into your fitness routine to help restore insulin production and improve blood sugar levels. Start with low impact activities such as brisk walking, stair climbing or cycling if you’re just beginning a new workout regimen.
If exercising is not an option for you, even simpler activities like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or standing up while talking on the phone can contribute towards improving health.
Improve Your Sleep Hygiene
Progesterone supplements can interfere with your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night. If you feel exhausted because of poor sleep, try practicing good sleep hygiene by shutting down all gadgets at least one hour before bedtime. Also, make sure your bedroom is dark and well ventilated, avoid taking naps during the day and reduce stress as much as possible (17).
Sufficient amounts of quality rest are also important for maintaining healthy cortisol levels so try to get 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night in order to keep high appetite and carb cravings in check (13).
Practice Stress Relief Techniques
Find ways to relax and lower your stress levels in order to balance out hormone production. Meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises or even a massage can help you feel more serene and relaxed while simultaneously regulating cortisol levels to better manage appetite and cravings.
The Bottom Line
Progesterone is a vital hormone for both men and women that can be beneficial or problematic depending on the circumstances. However, if you notice an increase in cravings during this time of the month, try eating more high fiber food, healthy fats and whole grains to help improve your health.
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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!
- Assessment of ghrelin and leptin receptor levels in postmenopausal women who received oral or transdermal menopausal hormonal therapy (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Brain Serotonin, Carbohydrate‐Craving, Obesity and Depression – Wurtman – 1995 – Obesity Research (1995, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- Ghrelin: much more than a hunger hormone – (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Health benefits of aerobic exercise (1991, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Health benefits of dietary fiber | Nutrition Reviews | Oxford Academic (2009, academic.oup.com)
- Magnesium in Prevention and Therapy (2015, mdpi.com)
- Metabolic effects of progesterone (1982, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Neurohormonal Regulation of Appetite and its Relationship with Stress: A Mini Literature Review (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Neuropeptide Y (NPY) delays the oestrogen-induced luteinizing hormone (LH) surge in the ovariectomized ewe: further evidence that NPY has a predominant negative effect on LH secretion in the ewe (2003, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Physiology, Cortisol – StatPearls (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Physiology, Serotonin – StatPearls (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Protein choices targeting thermogenesis and metabolism (2011, academic.oup.com)
- Stress and Eating Behaviors (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Stress-induced increases in progesterone and cortisol in naturally cycling women (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Functions of Fats (n.d., openoregon.pressbooks.pub)
- Ultra-Processed Foods and Health Outcomes: A Narrative Review (2020, mdpi.com)
- What Is Sleep Hygiene? (2020, sleepfoundation.org)