Low progesterone levels can cause issues during menstruation, conception, and pregnancy. Progesterone cream is a popular, over-the-counter treatment that helps restore that hormonal balance. But are these creams really effective? What are the benefits and side effects? Read on to find out.
Balanced progesterone levels are important for a woman’s reproductive health. It prepares the uterus for pregnancy by triggering its inner lining (or endometrium) to thicken and helps to implant the fertilized egg. It also prevents the muscles of the uterus from contracting and rejecting an implanted egg.
When progesterone is low, there are a variety of ways to boost progesterone levels – one of which is using progesterone cream. Its most common benefits include:
- Treating infertility: since progesterone plays a key role in preparing the uterus for pregnancy, the uterine lining may not become thick enough for successful implantation when levels are low. Even after the fertilized egg attaches, muscular contractions can still lead to rejection. Progesterone creams may be a good treatment option.
- Maintaining pregnancy: low progesterone levels during pregnancy can potentially lead to a miscarriage, and your doctor may recommend using progesterone creams in this case.
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS): in women with PCOS, the ovaries are unable to release an egg every month, which may cause hyperestrogenemia, endometrial hyperplasia, and heavy bleeding from the uterus. Since the body produces progesterone in response to the release of the egg, women with PCOS often have low progesterone levels and could benefit from the use of progesterone creams.
- Alleviating menopausal symptoms: progesterone creams are often marketed as a treatment for hot flashes, sleeplessness, sagging and wrinkled skin, and low bone density. But multiple studies have shown that progesterone is not effective at improving all of these symptoms. The cream can be used in combination with estrogen in women who still have their uterus to lower their chances of endometrial cancer.
Low progesterone symptoms
If your body is producing less than the required amount of this hormone, you may notice the following symptoms of low progesterone:
- Irregular periods
- Headaches and migraines
- Mood swings, anxiety and/or depression
Since a lack of progesterone in the body causes the estrogen hormone to become dominant, you may notice the following symptoms:
- Weight gain
- PMS and heavy bleeding
- Breast tenderness
- Gallbladder problems
Progesterone cream for menopause
The drastic drop in a woman’s sex hormones during menopause can lead to symptoms such as hot flashes, anxiety, depression, loss of bone density, and sagging skin. Although progesterone therapy may help alleviate these symptoms, medical research has not found any clear evidence of its effectiveness.
However, studies have shown that progesterone creams improve the elasticity and firmness of the skin in menopausal women, and could be used as a remedy before and after menopause.
Although progesterone creams are widely known and marketed as a viable treatment, research has offered mixed results about their effectiveness and benefits. Furthermore, progesterone creams are not regulated by the FDA, so there are no set standards for its formulation and concentration levels. But do the advantages of using progesterone cream outweigh the disadvantages? Let’s find out.
What is progesterone cream?
Also known as topical or transdermal progesterone, it allows you to apply the progesterone hormone directly to the skin in the form of a cream or gel, which can then be quickly absorbed. It has not been approved by the FDA, but is still available without a prescription.
Progesterone creams are made by extracting a chemical called diosgenin from foods such as soy and wild yams. When produced in this way, they are known as bioidentical progesterone cream and natural progesterone cream. They have the same chemical makeup as the progesterone produced by humans. It may be applied twice a day anywhere on the skin (usually behind the knees and elbows), but be sure to consult a doctor about the right dosage for you.
Progesterone cream benefits
The effectiveness of progesterone creams has not been adequately tested in a clinical setting. Current research sends mixed messages about the benefits of progesterone creams. In many cases, its application does not create a significant increase in progesterone levels.
As a result, the symptoms of low progesterone may not improve. However, some studies have shown alcohol-based progesterone creams to have higher rates of absorption than water or gel-based creams. There is also evidence of a link between improved skin health and firmness in postmenopausal women and the usage of progesterone cream.
Progesterone cream side effects
Since progesterone creams are fat soluble, long-term use can cause too much progesterone to be deposited in the body’s fatty tissues. It can remain in the system for a long time, potentially causing numerous problems. The possible side effects of progesterone cream include:
- Weight gain
- Changes in heart rate
- Headaches and migraines
- Severe nausea
- Breast tenderness
- Sleepiness and fatigue
There are other ways to potentially increase your body’s progesterone levels:
- Maintain a healthy weight: being overweight can cause your body to produce more estrogen, leading to estrogen dominance and hormonal imbalance. Maintaining a healthy weight for your age and height is therefore ideal.
- Exercise in moderation: excessive exercise encourages your body to produce higher levels of cortisol or the stress hormone, which actually discourages the production of progesterone. Moderate exercise is recommended in such cases.
- Reduce stress: as explained above, it is crucial to de-stress from time to time in order to keep progesterone levels healthy. Indulging in hobbies you enjoy, soothing activities like reading or meditating, and spending time with friends and loved ones can be helpful.
- Eat zinc-rich foods: zinc is a mineral responsible for controlling the pituitary gland, which produces a series of crucial reproductive hormones. A zinc deficiency can slow the production of these hormones including progesterone.
- Eat vitamin B6-rich foods: studies have shown that increased consumption of B6 can boost the body’s progesterone levels while also reducing estrogen levels, restoring hormonal balance. Add whole grains, poultry, and fish to your diet to up your B6 intake.
- Don’t eat estrogen-stimulating foods: if you have low levels of progesterone, foods containing soy and flax seeds (which stimulate the production of estrogen) may worsen the hormonal imbalance.
Progesterone is a key hormone for ensuring a woman’s reproductive well-being. While progesterone creams are widely marketed as a treatment for menopausal symptoms and low progesterone levels, there is little medical research to prove their effectiveness.
In fact, their long-term use can cause potential side effects such as bloating, severe nausea, changes in heartbeat, and more. Further research is needed to better understand the advantages and disadvantages of progesterone creams. If you have low progesterone levels, maintaining a diet rich in vitamin B6 and zinc, and a low-stress lifestyle may be beneficial. If you are experiencing low progesterone levels during pregnancy, be sure to consult your doctor about the best treatment for you.