Hormones are the chemical messengers of your body. They regulate everything from sleep cycles to menstrual periods, and they can also affect your weight. This article will explore how progesterone levels affect weight regulation for both men and women, as well as what you can do about it if you’re experiencing a hormonal imbalance.
What Is Progesterone?
Progesterone is one of the two main types of female hormones – estrogen being the other one – that regulates menstruation, pregnancy, ovulation, and fertility. It’s produced by both males and females in small quantities throughout their lifetime but is for females it’s primarily made by glands in the ovaries before her period starts each month (13).
The average cycle duration for a woman is 28 days, or around 4 weeks (12). During the first two weeks of a woman’s cycle (before ovulation), estrogen levels are at their highest and she’ll experience heightened emotions and sex drive in addition to significant changes to her anatomy such as swelling breasts and preparing the uterus for pregnancy.
Around 14 days into a woman’s reproductive cycle, progesterone levels surge right before ovulation occurs when an egg is released from one of her ovaries. If this egg isn’t fertilized by sperm cells soon after ovulation, then progesterone levels remain high throughout the second half of her menstrual cycle until her next period begins (12).
This spike in progesterone is what causes positive pregnancy test results if a female becomes pregnant during a given month because it signals the body to stop menstruating and fulfill its role as a nurturing environment for a fertilized egg (15).
When progesterone levels are balanced throughout both different parts of a woman’s cycle and throughout her entire life, they promote healthy weight regulation and the optimum function of other hormones (14). On the other hand, imbalances can lead to reproductive health problems as well as weight gain.
What Causes Progesterone Imbalances?
Progesterone can be thrown out of balance due to:
- Changes in weight or age
- Oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Smoking cigarettes
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Eating sugar-laden foods excessively
- A sedentary lifestyle
What Are The Signs Of Progesterone Imbalances?
As progesterone is the precursor to estrogen, too much or too little progesterone can cause estrogen dominance or deficiency, respectively (2). While estrogen plays a crucial role in PMS and menstruation, you don’t want your body to be flooded with it because that can lead to weight gain and other negative side effects such as:
- Abdominal cramping
- Mood swings
- Low libido
- Painful periods
- Irregular periods
- Heavy bleeding during your period
- Bleeding between cycles
- Tender breasts
Whether you’re looking to simply pep up your fitness routine, jazz up your diet with mouth-watering low-calorie recipes or want to get your act together and significantly drop that number on your scale – BetterMe app has got you covered! Improve your body and revamp your life with us!
How Does Progesterone Affect Your Weight?
Hormonal imbalances resulting from low progesterone levels can lead to weight gain, though this is contingent on other factors that impact hormone receptors (10). Here are some of the ways in which low progesterone levels affect weight:
Progesterone Increases Appetite
As a result of the insulin increase, your body will suffer from fat storage and a decrease in energy (6). In addition to this you might have decreased leptin levels which stimulates your appetite (1). That’s why hypothyroid people often have an insatiable appetite despite being underweight or malnourished.
Additionally, when you’re sleep-deprived (which tends to be another symptom of low progesterone), the hormone ghrelin increases along with cortisol and adrenaline; all three of these hormones stimulate your appetite (5).
High Levels Of Progesterone Cause Hyperinsulinemia
Both too much and too little progesterone can impair your body’s blood sugar regulation. When progesterone levels are high, it increases the amount of insulin present in the blood (9). Too much insulin causes your body to convert more sugar to fat. High insulin levels also cause you to feel hungry, which can lead to overeating (7).
Low Progesterone Levels Cause Insulin Resistance
Insulin is a hormone that carries sugar from the bloodstream to your cells so they can use it as fuel. When you have insulin resistance, your cells don’t respond to insulin properly and you end up with high blood sugar levels (6).
Normally, progesterone tells the liver to produce and secrete more SHBG (sex hormone-binding globulin), which then binds to testosterone and other hormones in the blood preventing them from becoming elevated. If we don’t have enough progesterone we end up with an excessive amount of estrogen coupled with low amounts of progesterone. This can cause an increase in body weight and estrogen dominance and insulin resistance (20).
Low Levels Of Progesterone Cause Adrenal Fatigue
Your adrenal glands work very hard when progesterone levels are low. The resulting fatigue causes your body to crave sweets and simple carbohydrates (like pizza). These foods give us quick energy that will help us power through the day, but eventually, they do more harm than good.
When this happens over an extended period of time, you can develop adrenal fatigue syndrome (8). It’s important to avoid eating sugar and refined carbs during this time because it will perpetuate the problem rather than solve it.
Low Levels Of Progesterone Cause Carb Cravings
If you’re trying to lose weight, the last thing you need is for your body to be craving more carbs. Cravings usually happen when blood sugar levels drop, which is often due to excess cortisol. When progesterone levels are low, they cause an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol then causes a decrease in blood sugar and an increase in food cravings (18).
Low Levels Of Progesterone Cause Fatigue And Low Energy
Fatigue and lack of energy can lead to overeating, especially if we think we might feel better by eating some refined carbs or sugar. This vicious cycle makes it very difficult for people with low progesterone to lose weight. They’re also more likely to get discouraged and give up on their weight loss efforts because they’re too tired (and hungry) to keep going.
Low Progesterone Levels Prevent Normal Functioning Of Thyroid Hormones
Progesterone has an effect on thyroid hormones (16). When progesterone levels are low, you might notice that you’re cold more often (despite having enough layers of clothing on) and your metabolism slows down; if thyroid hormone function decreases, so does our metabolic rate.
Read More: Weight Gain During Ovulation: Is It Normal?
How To Balance Progesterone Levels Naturally
It is vital to understand that the body needs progesterone, but too much of it can lead to symptoms such as breast tenderness, abdominal discomfort, mood swings, and sleep issues. Not enough can cause a lack of a menstrual period, infertility, and depression. So how does one balance progesterone levels naturally without disrupting the body’s delicate hormonal balance?
Here are some ways to go about it
Change Your Diet
Although no foods contain progesterone, the following foods can provide the environment needed to support your body to balance progesterone levels:
Increase Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables are vegetables in the brassica family. They include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, collards, and brussels sprouts. This is because they are high sources of nutrients that are beneficial to progesterone production.
Eat Magnesium-Rich Foods
Magnesium deficiency has been linked to low progesterone levels, so it is important to make sure you are getting enough magnesium in your daily diet. Magnesium rich foods include spinach, artichokes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods
It is vital to eat anti-inflammatory foods that help reduce inflammation of the endometrium (uterus lining) which can lead to diminished progesterone production (4). Some ideal anti-inflammatory foods to eat include green leafy vegetables, omega 3 fatty acids from cold water fish, avocados, cherries, grapefruit juice, fresh basil leaves, and ginger.
Eat More Good Cholesterol
Include foods that are high in cholesterol into your diet because progesterone is derived from cholesterol (3). Some good sources of dietary cholesterol include pastured eggs, grass fed beef, pork lard, bacon, and whole milk cheese.
Eat More Fiber
Increase your daily intake of dietary fiber. Good sources of dietary fiber include black beans, turnip greens, sweet potatoes, avocados, apples with the skin on, and whole grain products.
Take Vitamin Supplements
Progesterone can only be synthesized from the pregnenolone precursor molecule made by the body (3). Taking a vitamin supplement containing vitamins C and B6 along with magnesium helps the body to make more pregnenolone which then can be converted into progesterone. This enables women who cannot make enough progesterone due to a medical condition such as PCOS or estrogen dominance, to supplement and relieve some of the symptoms of low progesterone.
Other vitamin supplements that help boost progesterone levels in your diet include vitamin B6, zinc picolinate, magnesium citrate, vitamin D3, omega 3 fatty acids from fish oil or algae, and L-arginine.
If you struggle to even flirt with the idea of giving up your favorite foods or working out till your legs give way – BetterMe app is here to breathe a fresh perspective into the way you view the weight loss process! Check out the app and experience the fun side of fitness and dieting with BetterMe!
Get More Vitamin D
Vitamin D is produced naturally by the body when exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet light rays. A study found that vitamin D induces production of progesterone and estradiol (21).
Maintain A Healthy Body Weight
Being overweight causes an increase in estrogen levels which lowers progesterone levels. It is important for women not to exceed their healthy weight range to maintain proper hormonal balance. Excess body fat also releases inflammatory chemicals that trigger the production of extra estrogen and cortisol, which further upsets the delicate hormonal balance (19).
Stress decreases progesterone levels to the point where ovulation does not take place (11). Stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises or fun leisure activities are recommended. If stress is an ongoing issue for you, try seeing a therapist who can help you work through problems, thus reducing stress overall in your life.
Lower stress to reduce cortisol production which will also help your body produce progesterone more efficiently.
Get Better Sleep
Studies have shown that women who sleep 5 hours or less per night have lower progesterone levels than those who get 7-8 hours of rest per night (17). This can lead to experiencing more hot flashes in menopause so be sure to get a good night’s rest.
Make sure you get enough sleep by going to bed before 11 PM so that melatonin is produced properly.
Exercise More, But Not Too Much
Exercising for at least 20-30 minutes daily has been shown to boost progesterone levels but only in the absence of PMS. Exercising too much can lead to an increase in cortisol production and thus increase progesterone levels. Be sure not to overdo it when exercising or participating in sports activities as this can result in a hormonal imbalance that leads to fatigue and mood swings.
When progesterone levels drop too low, they cause estrogen dominance and weight gain can sneak in. It’s important to be aware of all the different signs and symptoms of progesterone imbalances so you can work on restoring your body to its natural state of hormonal harmony.
If you want your weight loss plan to be efficient, don’t forget to do some exercise on the regular basis. Check out this 20-min Full Body Workout at Home.
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!
- Appetite regulation and weight control: the role of gut hormones | Nutrition & Diabetes (2012, nature.com)
- Estrogen Dominance – Whole Health Library (2020, va.gov)
- Important Derivatives of Cholesterol Include Bile Salts and Steroid Hormones – Biochemistry (2002, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Inflammation in Reproductive Disorders (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity (2011, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Insulin and Insulin Resistance (2005, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Insulin controls food intake and energy balance via NPY neurons (2017, sciencedirect.com)
- Is adrenal fatigue “real”? (2018, health.harvard.edu)
- Metabolic effects of progesterone (1982, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Ovarian hormones and obesity | Human Reproduction Update | Oxford Academic (2017, academic.oup.com)
- Perceived stress, reproductive hormones, and ovulatory function: a prospective cohort study (2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Physiology, Menstrual Cycle – StatPearls (2020, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Physiology, Progesterone – StatPearls (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Progesterone in Peri- and Postmenopause: A Review (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Progesterone Test (n.d., medlineplus.gov)
- Progesterone therapy increases free thyroxine levels–data from a randomized placebo-controlled 12-week hot flush trial (2013, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Sleep and Women’s Health (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Stress, cortisol, and other appetite-related hormones: Prospective prediction of 6-month changes in food cravings and weight (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The Role of Estrogens in Control of Energy Balance and Glucose Homeostasis (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The role of oestrogens in the adaptation of islets to insulin resistance (2009, ncbi.nlm.noh.gov)
- Vitamin D and Human Reproduction (2015, intechopen.com)