What Does Progesterone Do?
    What Does Progesterone Do?

    Hormones certainly are complex. Contrary to what most of us belief, men need progesterone as much as women. Although we also mention oestrogen here, be aware that increases in oestrogen effects these days are due to xenooestrogens which come from pollution and interfere with hormonal balance in both men and women.

    Progesterone helps prevent osteoporosis in a manner that complements oestrogen/ testosterone. While oestrogen prevents bone breakdown, progesterone actually promotes bone rebuilding by stimulating the osteoblasts (the cells that create the bone fabric itself). Progesterone is the only known natural biological chemical that stimulates the osteoblast activity in both men and women.


    Bio-identical progesterone is bio-engineered from natural plant products and contain the exact same chemical structure as hormones occurring naturally in the body. Synthetic progesterone drugs are made of progestins and produced by altering the natural structure of the hormone (and in turn its effect on the body) in order to obtain a patent. Synthetic hormones are chemicals with a chemical structure that is different from natural progesterone and impacts the way they interact with hormone receptors in your body. Synthetic hormones should be regarded as drugs.

    Synthetic progestins must be stopped during pregnancy as they can cause birth defects in babies whereas natural progesterone should be continued to help support the healthy pregnancy.

    Natural progesterone cream contains molecules that are derived principally from diosgenin, a steroidal sapogenin, which is found in the soya-bean and the yam. Eating or applying ‘wild yam' creams cannot be converted by the body into the human progesterone molecule – it has to be done in a laboratory.

    Progesterone has a number of metabolic and nutritional effects:

    • It promotes the use of fat for energy, thus opposing the oestrogenic tendency in women (and now men too) to store fat.
    • It normalises blood sugar levels.
    • It has a thermogenic effect – it makes you warmer by increasing blood flow to the skin.
    • It counters oestrogenic binding of zinc and copper, thus normalising those levels.

    Progesterone exerts a diuretic effect, helping to get rid of the fluid bloating that oestrogen can cause. At the proper dose level, it is equal in effect to spironolactone, a diuretic used to combat certain types of high blood pressure.

    In the brain, not only are there 50% more progesterone receptor sites found than anywhere else in the body, but progesterone concentrations are up to 20 times higher than in the blood. Progesterone has a soothing effect that is so significant that it is given to treat the (rare) seizures caused by the stimulatory effect of oestrogen. Chemically, it has the same effect as Valium or Xanax or some anaesthetic agents. It also exerts a lesser neurovascular effect in decreasing migraines and epilepsy caused by oestrogen. It can promote sleep and counteract edginess, anxiety and panic. It contributes to the lessening of the memory problems seen with low hormone levels. It may prevent mood swings.

    Urinary tract effects. While it has not been demonstrated to have as significant an effect as oestrogen on vaginal and urinary tract health, many women report that the addition of progesterone does indeed help nourish these tissues. There are progesterone receptors in these areas, so there are grounds to support its action. Part of the effect too may be a result of the ‘oestrogen-sparing’ effect whereby progesterone frees up oestrogen to circulate elsewhere. High levels of progesterone can promote the increase of oestrogen when and where your body has need of it.

    Progesterone is beneficial to thyroid function. It helps keep zinc and potassium in cells, which allows thyroid hormone to enter and be converted into the active form (T3). Given that oestrogen inhibits thyroid hormone action, this makes progesterone especially important to women with thyroid dysfunction (and menopausal women are so at risk for this that thyroid testing should be a part of any menopausal workup).

    Progesterone in some recent studies is reported to provide greater cardiovascular benefits. This is new research and the mechanism is only speculated about, but the benefits do seem to be real. These benefits are not demonstrated by progestins, making the distinction very important in evaluating news articles reporting research results.

    Progesterone seems to reduce the severity of allergic reactions and allergies. As progesterone is the precursor of the corticosteroids, a group of hormones that are responsible for keeping inflammatory, and allergic and auto-immune conditions at bay, both men and women can experience relief from all these conditions. Women who suddenly seem to develop allergies to everything in sight after a hysterectomy may be demonstrating low levels of progesterone.

    Progesterone is one of the best anti-cancer remedies around. Progesterone keeps oestrogen under control. It is the antagonist to oestrogen and completes the hormonal cycle. Because oestrogen is known to ‘switch on’ the BCL2 gene which is a cancer gene, it is highly dangerous when this hormone is unopposed because it causes uncontrolled cellular proliferation and formation of cancer cells. Progesterone ‘switches off’ the BCL2 gene and ‘on’ a protective gene, the P53 which protects us from cancer.

    Editor's note: For more on menopause, read these three articles by Dr Bernard Brom: An in-depth Look at Early Menopause, Is Happiness Hormonal? and Menopause: It’s About More Than Just Hormones

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