Progesterone and Stress

We all know that constant stress can play havoc with our health and well being. In this post I will focus on the effects of excessive stress on progesterone levels.

Progesterone is produced in the ovaries, the adrenal glands, and in the placentas of pregnant women. It has a calming effect, is a natural diuretic, regulates menstrual cycles, and prepares the body for conception and pregnancy. Some women can experience excessive levels of progesterone, which usually produces symptoms of PMS, but in general, progesterone is a vital and beneficial hormone.

Let’s examine what happens to progesterone if you are a woman under constant and chronic stress. When the body is pummeled with endless stress, the adrenal glands simply cannot keep up with the demand for more cortisol, so they convert more pregnenolone into cortisol to make up for the deficit. However, this has devastating effects on progesterone levels, since progesterone is also synthesized from pregnenolone. Basically, a woman who deals with excessive amounts of stress not only overtaxes her adrenal glands, but progesterone concentration also drops to a precipitously low level. So that calming, diuretic effect of progesterone falls away, and menstrual cycles become erratic or periods cease altogether. Sounds like fun, huh?

I cam tell you that running on an empty tank of progesterone is no fun at all. You retain water, you get irritable and cranky, and you lose your ability to navigate calmly through stressful situations. If you depend on a regular menstrual cycle as a reassurance that all is right with the world, then living with the mystery of whether or when you might have a period can be maddening. I found out during perimenopause that I actually WANTED a period, and I thought I would never feel that way.

I began retaining water like crazy after attaining IFBB Pro Status last July, and I knew something just wasn’t right. I didn’t feel like I was in my own body, as strange as it sounds. I began flailing, and went through a rebound which was disturbing and unexpected. My emotional barometer was all over the place, and I couldn’t get out of the funk that I was in. Gaining eight pounds (which is considerable for me), most of which was water weight, made me even more depressed.

Another completely irritating set of symptoms which suddenly popped up at the end of January 2015, and which persisted every single night is that I would wake up at around 4 a.m., completely drenched in sweat and with a sensation which could best be described as being lit on fire from the inside. I would throw the covers off and quickly disrobe, then rather quickly fall asleep, only to awaken about 30 minutes later, shivering and pulling the covers over me.

The nightmare finally subsided to a great extent once I began replenishing my body with bioidentical progesterone in late February 2015. Though I still retained a bit of water for several months, my weight returned to a reasonable 120 pounds, versus the 125 I had been at in the Fall of 2014, my hot and cold episodes subsided, I felt much calmer, and more like myself. Now that I have been on bioidentical progesterone for two years, I have maintained balance and feel infinitely better.

Had I removed the stressors that I had some control over, I am firmly convinced I would not have bottomed out with my progesterone levels like I did. Even if I had engaged in meditation more regularly a couple of years ago, I think I could have saved my progesterone levels from bottoming out. Trust me when I say that progesterone depletion can be incredibly disruptive and upsetting. And don’t think for a second that this is only a problem which women past the age of 45 deal with. I have come across female patients as young as 32 who had almost no progesterone in their lab tests.

If you do one thing to improve your health, please reduce your stress! You can do this by removing the stressors that you have some control over, performing breathing exercises, tai chi, yoga, and meditation, enjoy time with friends, loved ones and pets more often, and letting go of anxiety and worry.

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