Progesterone is a powerful hormone that, in women, has primary impacts on the menstrual cycle, fertility, and pregnancy. Progesterone levels naturally rise and fall during a woman’s monthly cycle and are closely associated with the ovulation process. But the concept of “progesterone deficiency” is not so straightforward.
Usually, your progesterone levels would only be tested if you have abnormal periods, fertility problems, or issues in pregnancy. Women who miscarry often have abnormally low levels of progesterone in their bodies, so progesterone deficiency was first suspected by those investigating pregnancy loss. But whether low progesterone causes miscarriage (or miscarriage causes low progesterone) remains unknown.
It’s also unclear whether low levels of progesterone can cause the PMS symptoms and mood disturbances that non-pregnant women so often report experiencing—or whether supplementing with progesterone would do anything to help. In fact, the symptoms that some associate with a progesterone deficiency could be explained by many other causes. As such, it’s important to seek guidance from a health practitioner with the expertise necessary to identify the root of your symptoms. They can help ensure you receive the treatment you need to feel well again.
Identifying Progesterone Deficiency Symptoms
For most women, progesterone levels are naturally low during the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle. Ovulation occurs and the luteal phase begins, during which time progesterone levels peak to prepare the body for potential pregnancy. Due to a wide variety of potential causes, some individuals may not experience this rise in progesterone—and that’s when symptoms are most likely to occur.
The most common symptoms associated with low progesterone include:
- PMS symptoms (cramping, bloating, mood swings)
- Heavy bleeding, spotting, or irregular periods
- Anxiety and depression
- Infertility and/or miscarriage
If you’re suddenly experiencing any of these symptoms or if they’ve grown to have a significant impact on your daily life, seek help from your doctor immediately. Many women self-diagnose progesterone deficiency due to the vast amount of misinformation that’s available online. Do not rely solely on the home remedies (diets, herbal supplements, or lifestyle changes) that are shared on wellness blogs claiming to “heal progesterone deficiency naturally.” Problems with your menstrual cycle and emotional health could reflect serious medical concerns that require medical attention.
What Causes Progesterone Deficiency or Low Progesterone?
Because progesterone is produced by the body during the ovulation process, the most obvious cause of low progesterone is anovulation or some other serious issue with the reproductive organs. Lack of ovulation, along with the other symptoms described above, can result from a wide variety of causes, including:
- PCOS. Polycystic ovary syndrome causes the body to produce excess androgen hormones, which can result in irregular periods, ovarian cysts, and hirsutism. PCOS has been found to be the most common cause of anovulation.
- Thyroid issues. The thyroid gland produces T3 and T4 (not progesterone), and these critical hormones help regulate the entire endocrine system. Hypothyroidism can impact progesterone levels by impairing ovarian function directly or by raising levels of prolactin in the body.
- Chronic stress. Chronically high levels of cortisol in the body can result in functional hypothalamic amenorrhea—a stress-induced lack of menstruation and ovulation. The causes of chronic stress vary for each individual. Significantly, excessive exercise can be a source of chronic stress and may cause you to no longer menstruate.
- Low body fat. The female body needs at least 12% body fat to perform necessary functions. Women who fall below this number due to excess exercise, disordered eating, or other medical problems are likely to cease menstruation and ovulation entirely.
- Obesity. Women who are severely overweight can experience inhibited progesterone production. Obesity-associated low progesterone is also strongly connected with endometrial cancer, one of the most common malignancies in women.
These are the most common conditions associated with low progesterone in women, but they’re not the only ones. Inflammation, auto-immune disorders, inadequate nutrition, and certain cancers could also influence the menstrual abnormalities or infertility that some women experience.
Treating the Symptoms Associated With Progesterone Deficiency
Imbalanced hormones are a warning sign that things may be going wrong within an otherwise healthy body. If you experience troubling symptoms relating to your menstrual cycle, your fertility, or your emotional health, you should pay careful attention. The symptoms commonly attributed to progesterone deficiency could indicate the presence of a serious medical condition and it’s essential that you seek help.
Because low progesterone may be the effect of a bigger problem, there’s no single recommended treatment. However, bioidentical progesterone medications are often used to supplement a patient’s natural hormone levels. These medications can be prescribed and monitored by a hormone replacement specialist if they are found to be necessary. Of course, if your symptoms are being caused by another issue, it’s always best to treat the root cause rather than the symptoms.
Regardless of what is causing your imbalance, we recommend seeking guidance from a certified expert in hormone health before starting any prescription or over-the-counter treatments. Hormone experts, like those in the BodyLogicMD network, can conduct comprehensive testing to determine the true cause of your symptoms and create a personalized treatment plan designed to address your unique needs. With an accurate diagnosis and the right therapies, you can protect your health and restore quality of life.
BodyLogicMD is an extensive network of certified hormone health specialists. These practitioners are passionate about helping women who believe they may have progesterone deficiency symptoms find healing and balance. When you make an appointment with a BodyLogicMD-affiliated practitioner, you’ll receive the individual attention and customized treatment plan you need to feel healthy once again. Contact a local practitioner to start finding answers. Or take the BodyLogicMD Hormone Balance Quiz to learn more about how hormones like progesterone may impact your daily life.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. All content on this website is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent diseases.
Charlotte is a patient care coordinator specializing in bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. She is committed to helping patients who struggle with the symptoms of hormonal change and imbalance explore their treatment options and develop effective strategies to optimize wellness.