- Progesterone: Uses and Risks
- Natural progesterone: Best sources, benefits, and side effects
- Side effects
- Progesterone: Uses, Dosage & Side Effects – Drugs.com
- What is progesterone?
- Important information
- Before taking this medicine
- How should I use progesterone?
- What happens if I miss a dose?
- What happens if I overdose?
- What should I avoid while using progesterone?
- What other drugs will affect progesterone?
- Further information
- A Warning About Natural Progesterone
- Progesterone and the Nervous System/Brain
- What to Know About Progesterone Cream
Progesterone: Uses and Risks
Progesterone is a hormone that's produced mainly by a woman's ovaries. It's one of the hormones that fluctuate with a woman's menstrual period. There is less progesterone after menopause.
Men's adrenal glands and testes also make progesterone.
Different forms of progesterone are available by prescription. Progesterone is often used in:
Many plants contain compounds related to progesterone. It's possible to buy products made from plant progesterone without a prescription.
A form of progesterone made from plants is also available as a skin cream without a prescription.
This article focuses on progesterone that's available without a prescription — not the drug form of progesterone that requires a prescription.
Over-the-counter progesterone cream has been marketed as a treatment for menopausal symptoms, including:
- Hot flashes
- Memory loss
- Tender breasts
It's also sometimes used by people to try to treat:
- Thyroid problems
- Weight gain
The progesterone in these creams can effectively travel through the skin and into the bloodstream, according to research. In one study, menopausal women used 40 milligrams of cream twice daily, placing it on their arm, thigh, breast, or abdomen. Their blood levels of progesterone were as high as when they took progesterone capsules by mouth.
Many plants make compounds similar to progesterone which may or may not function the purified progesterone chemical. The progesterone in creams bought without a prescription is made by processing ingredients from plants, such as yams.
Side effects. Progesterone may cause side effects such as:
- Changes in heart rate
- Menstrual changes
- Difficulty breathing
- Vision changes
- Low blood pressure
It may also cause symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as:
- Skin rash or itchy skin
- Tightness in the chest
- Tingling in the mouth or throat
- Trouble breathing
- Swelling in the hands or face
Other possible side effects include:
- Digestive upset
Risks. Progesterone may raise your risk of:
- Breast cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Heart problems
- Blood clotting problems
- Uterine fibroids
Avoid using this product if you are pregnant unless prescribed by your doctor. Also avoid if you have:
- Allergy or sensitivity to progesterone
- Liver problems
- History of cancer of the breast or genitals
- Bleeding or clotting problems
- Vaginal bleeding that your doctor has not checked
Use this product with caution if you have:
- Heart problems
- Kidney problems
- Migraine headaches
Interactions. Check with your doctor before using if you are on any hormone medicines or are being treated for cancer.
Progesterone may add to the drowsiness caused by certain drugs or herbs, which can make driving or using heavy machinery unsafe. It may also interact with many other medicines and supplements.
Tell your doctor about any supplements you're taking, even if they're natural. That way, your doctor can check on any potential side effects or interactions with any medications.
Supplements are not regulated by the FDA in the same way that food and drugs are. The FDA does not review these supplements for safety or efficacy before they hit the market.
Rakel, D. Integrative Medicine, 3rd edition, 2012, Saunders.
Hermann, A. Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, June 2005.
Elshafie, M. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, October 2007.
Natural Standard Bottom Line Monograph: “Progesterone.”
AltCareDex: “Natural Progesterone.”
© 2017 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Natural progesterone: Best sources, benefits, and side effects
Progesterone is a hormone that the body produces naturally. It plays an essential role in pregnancy and fertility.
Many people take a combination of progesterone and estrogen around the time of menopause to reduce their symptoms, such as hot flashes. Others will need to take progesterone supplementation while trying to conceive or in early pregnancy.
However, the use of natural progesterone products has been rising in popularity among those who have concerns about the side effects or risks that come with synthetic hormones.
In this article, we examine what can happen when progesterone levels become low, and whether natural progesterone products can help. We also take a look and see if there are any ways to boost progesterone naturally.
Share on PinterestNatural progesterone products may be prescribed or can be purchased over the counter.
When progesterone levels are too low, the body might be unable to support the complex processes that occur during menstruation and pregnancy.
Signs of low progesterone levels include:
- abnormal menstrual periods
- missed or late periods
- spotting or cramping during pregnancy
Aging also causes the levels of hormones, including progesterone, to decline. This can lead to irregular ovulation and periods.
Doctors can prescribe natural progesterone for people with low levels, such as Crinone and Prometrium. The manufacturer produces these in a lab from a natural compound called diosgenin. Crinone and Prometrium are available in gel and capsule form.
However, many products are also available that claim to serve as natural sources of progesterone. These products are made from soybeans or a wild and inedible Mexican yam called Diascorea villosa.
The wild yam products are available over the counter as a topical or vaginal cream or as capsules.
Even though some people consider wild yam products to be a natural form of progesterone they contain diosgenin, not progesterone. Unfortunately, the diosgenin in wild yams cannot be converted into hormones by the human body, synthetic chemical laboratory reactions are required. Therefore, taking a product that contains only wild yam will not provide any progesterone activity.
People using progesterone supplements should also note that wild yam products are not sources of progesterone and the United States Food and Drug and Administration (FDA) do not approve them for treating low progesterone levels.
In contrast, products that do contain progesterone, such as Crinone and Prometrium, will help to boost progesterone levels in the body. Women who have a history of pregnancy loss often use these products to help maintain a pregnancy.
Be sure to choose a good quality and reputable brand if trying natural progesterone products.
Food products do not usually contain progesterone. However, some people believe that certain foods may help the body increase its production of progesterone or balance estrogen levels.
Little research supports these claims, and many studies look at the effects on animals or cells in a laboratory setting. More studies are necessary to confirm them.
Some foods claimed to help low progesterone include:
Vitamin B-6 has a role in liver function, which helps to keep hormone levels balanced.
Foods that are rich in vitamin B-6 include:
- lean red meat
Zinc has a role in fertility and the development of the body during pregnancy and is an important nutrient for progesterone.
The following foods contain high levels of zinc:
- cashew nuts and almonds
- kidney beans
Some people may find that eating a diet rich in these foods could help reduce any symptoms related to low progesterone and better regulate their menstrual cycle. However, few studies support this.
Other options are available for raising progesterone levels naturally.
Having low progesterone levels will not always affect health, and most people with low progesterone levels will not require treatment.
However, some individuals may choose to use natural remedies to supplement infertility treatment or reduce menopause symptoms.
Natural remedies and lifestyle changes to try include:
Excessive stress can raise the body’s stress hormones, which can also affect the ovaries and sex hormones. This is why a person may miss a period when they are experiencing high levels of stress.
Finding a way to manage stress is important. Meditating, exercising, and journaling can all be very useful, but what works can vary from person to person.
Taking herbs and supplements
People claim that some herbs and supplements can help raise progesterone levels. These include:
- evening primrose oil
Remember that the FDA do not test herbs and supplements in the same way as prescription medications. Also, not much evidence is available supporting their use for these purposes.
Choose a good quality and reputable brand if trying herbal supplements.
Getting regular sleep
Not getting enough sleep can raise stress hormone levels and cause other hormonal imbalances.
Adults should get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night, but many people get far less than that.
Prioritizing sleep and focusing on good sleep hygiene is essential for everyone, but especially for those people dealing with hormonal imbalances.
Maintaining a healthy weight
Individuals who are overweight tend to produce higher levels of estrogen, which can cause a progesterone imbalance.
Maintaining a healthy weight will not necessarily raise progesterone levels, but it can help to keep estrogen levels within the normal range, and the two hormones in balance.
Share on PinterestProgesterone triggers the thickening of the endometrial lining to make it ready for pregnancy.
Progesterone has many important functions, including:
- triggering the endometrial lining to thicken in preparation for implantation and pregnancy
- preventing the smooth muscles in the uterus from contracting
- preventing ovulation of another egg
If pregnancy occurs, progesterone produced by the empty egg follicle will help sustain the pregnancy until the placenta takes over progesterone production. Later on in pregnancy, progesterone will help the breasts get ready to secrete milk.
If pregnancy does not occur, the empty egg follicle will begin to break down. This decreases the level of progesterone. Once the progesterone level is low enough, the next menstrual period will begin.
In addition to natural progesterone, synthetic forms of progesterone are also available. Doctors often prescribe these as a form of contraception.
Progestin-only contraception thickens the cervical mucus, making it more difficult for sperm to get through. It also makes the endometrial lining thinner to prevent implantation from occurring.
A person can also combine progestin with different forms of estrogen alongside birth control pills and hormonal therapy for those transitioning to menopause.
Natural progesterone products have some benefits.
However, these products must contain progesterone and a doctor must prescribe them.
- a possible protective effect against endometrial cancer
- reduced side effects in comparison with synthetic progesterone
- decreased perimenopausal symptoms
Natural hormone products, such as progesterone cream, also carry potential risks.
Not many studies support the use and effectiveness of products that do not contain progesterone itself. Also, the FDA does not oversee natural hormone products, which can create additional risks concerning their safety.
Natural progesterone products do not provide contraception.
Research has shown that there are some increased risks for individuals who take hormone replacement or supplement therapy. These risks can include dangerous medical conditions, such as:
- blood clots
- deep vein thrombosis
- gallbladder disease
- uterine cancer
Older people who use some types of natural hormones for a long time may also be at a higher risk for heart disease and breast cancer.
More research is necessary to determine the difference in effect between natural progesterone products and synthetic products since they have similar hormonal activity.
As such, any products containing natural or synthetic progesterone can cause the following side effects:
- weight gain
- blurry vision
- breast tenderness
- mood swings
- irritation at the application site
Many people report that their side effects are not as severe with natural products as they are with synthetic products. In most cases, they experience side effects when first starting the hormone and find that they lessen over time.
Anyone who experiences severe side effects or side effects that do not go away should contact their doctor.
Some people use natural progesterone products to reduce menopause or infertility symptoms. However, scant research supports their use or safety.
Due to the lack of evidence supporting their use, speak with a doctor before beginning any hormone products, including natural supplements.
Your doctor may recommend approved products that are safer and more effective.
What can I do to safely improve progesterone levels?
Eating a diet full of nutrients and omega 3 fatty acids, such as cold water fish or flax, improves the ability of the body to produce progesterone.
Take in Vitamin B and C rich foods every day, as the body does not store them, and they are essential to reducing estrogen to balance progesterone. Work with your doctor to understand what your hormone levels are and decide a plan of action.
As you age, hormone levels will change. If you have low functioning thyroid or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), these may need treatment before progesterone levels can be changed.
Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
Progesterone: Uses, Dosage & Side Effects – Drugs.com
Generic Name: progesterone (proe JESS te rone)
Brand Names:First Progesterone MC10, Menopause Formula Progesterone, Prometrium
Medically reviewed by Sanjai Sinha, MD Last updated on Jan 21, 2019.
What is progesterone?
Progesterone is a female hormone important for the regulation of ovulation and menstruation.
Progesterone is used to cause menstrual periods in women who have not yet reached menopause but are not having periods due to a lack of progesterone in the body. It is also used to prevent overgrowth in the lining of the uterus in postmenopausal women who are receiving estrogen hormone replacement therapy.
Progesterone should not be used to prevent heart disease or dementia, because this medicine may actually increase your risk of developing these conditions.
Do not use progesterone without telling your doctor if you are pregnant. It could cause harm to the unborn baby. Use an effective form of birth control, and tell your doctor if you become pregnant during treatment.
You should not use progesterone if you have: abnormal vaginal bleeding, a history of breast cancer, liver disease, or if you have recently had a heart attack, stroke, or blood clot.
Progesterone should not be used to prevent heart disease or dementia, because this medicine may actually increase your risk of developing these conditions.
Using progesterone can increase your risk of blood clots, stroke, heart attack, or breast cancer.
Some forms of this medication may contain peanut oil. Do not use this medicine without telling your doctor if you have a peanut allergy.
Before taking this medicine
You should not use progesterone if you are allergic to it, or if you have:
- abnormal vaginal bleeding that a doctor has not checked;
- a history of breast cancer;
- liver disease;
- a peanut allergy;
- if you are pregnant;
- if you have had a stroke, heart attack, or blood clot within the past year; or
- if you have recently had an incomplete miscarriage or “missed” abortion.
Using progesterone can increase your risk of blood clots, stroke, heart attack, or breast cancer.
To make sure this medicine is safe for you, tell your doctor if you have:
- heart disease, circulation problems;
- kidney disease;
- seizures or epilepsy;
- a history of depression; or
- risk factors for coronary artery disease (such as high blood pressure, diabetes, lupus, high cholesterol, family history of coronary artery disease, smoking, being overweight).
Do not use progesterone if you are pregnant. It could harm the unborn baby. Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.
Progesterone can pass into breast milk and may harm a nursing baby. Tell your doctor if you are breast-feeding a baby.
How should I use progesterone?
Use progesterone exactly as it was prescribed for you. Follow all directions on your prescription label. Do not use this medicine in larger or smaller amounts or for longer than recommended.
Read all patient information, medication guides, and instruction sheets provided to you. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions.
Take the capsule with a full glass of water. It is best to take the medicine at night because this medicine can make you dizzy or drowsy.
Apply progesterone cream to the skin as directed by your doctor.
Progesterone is sometimes used for only a short time, such as 10 to 12 days during each menstrual cycle. Follow your doctor's dosing instructions very carefully.
Have regular physical exams and self-examine your breasts for lumps on a monthly basis while using progesterone.
If you need surgery or medical tests or if you will be on bed rest, you may need to stop using this medicine for a short time. Any doctor or surgeon who treats you should know that you are using this medicine.
Store at room temperature away from moisture, heat, and light.
What happens if I miss a dose?
Use the missed dose as soon as you remember. Skip the missed dose if it is almost time for your next scheduled dose. Do not use extra medicine to make up the missed dose.
Call your doctor if you miss more than one dose of this medication.
What happens if I overdose?
Seek emergency medical attention or call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222.
What should I avoid while using progesterone?
Progesterone may impair your thinking or reactions. Be careful if you drive or do anything that requires you to be alert.
Get emergency medical help if you have signs of an allergic reaction to progesterone: hives; difficulty breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.
Call your doctor at once if you have:
- unusual vaginal bleeding;
- pain or burning when you urinate;
- a breast lump;
- sudden vision problems, severe headache or pain behind your eyes;
- symptoms of depression (sleep problems, weakness, mood changes);
- severe dizziness or drowsiness, spinning sensation, confusion, shortness of breath;
- heart attack symptoms – chest pain or pressure, pain spreading to your jaw or shoulder, nausea, sweating;
- liver problems – nausea, upper stomach pain, itching, tired feeling, loss of appetite, dark urine, clay-colored stools, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes);
- signs of a stroke – sudden numbness or weakness (especially on one side of the body), sudden severe headache, slurred speech, problems with speech or balance;
- signs of a blood clot in the lung – chest pain, sudden cough, wheezing, rapid breathing, coughing up blood; or
- signs of a blood clot in your leg – pain, swelling, warmth, or redness in one or both legs.
Common progesterone side effects may include:
- drowsiness, dizziness;
- breast pain;
- mood changes;
- constipation, diarrhea, heartburn;
- bloating, swelling in your hands or feet;
- joint pain;
- hot flashes; or
- vaginal discharge.
This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.
What other drugs will affect progesterone?
There may be other drugs that can interact with progesterone. Tell your doctor about all medications you use. This includes prescription, over-the-counter, vitamin, and herbal products. Do not start a new medication without telling your doctor.
Remember, keep this and all other medicines the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use progesterone only for the indication prescribed.
Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.
Copyright 1996-2020 Cerner Multum, Inc. Version: 9.01.
A Warning About Natural Progesterone
My initial suffering from fatigue, weight gain, and depression were
brought on by the Pill, which I took during the first year I was married.
Oral contraceptives also caused my thyroid to malfunction, and I
What I didn't know until much later was that often the ill-effects ofthePill on brain chemistry and metabolism ~ not to mention a myriad ofother bodily systems ~ can be chronic even after ceasing usage. I knewsomething dramatic had changed, because I had not had health
problems earlier in life.
I had been constantly researching, trying to find ways of returningtoreal wellness. Unfortunately, I ran across the wrong book…Dr. JohnLee’s 'What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Pre-Menopause.' The
consequences of his advice were devastating.
On his recommendations, I used natural progesterone cream. Dr. Leeclaimed that it is impossible to overdose on the transdermal cream, and
that there are no significant side effects. At first, I believed him.
Following the manufacturer's information and instructions, the amount
of progesterone I used per day was between 20-30mg, split betweenmorning and evening doses. When I first took the cream, beginning inMay 2003, I felt great. In fact, I had more energy and ability to loseweight than I had in about five years. I didn't need near as much sleep,
and found that I no longer struggled with depression.
Within about two months of starting the cream, I developed sharp pain
in my legs, and then a lump of swelling, bruising, and localized sorenessin my calf which just got worse. That ended up being the first of twoepisodes with venous blood clots in the six months I was on the cream.Little did I know that progesterone is heavily implicated in clottingdisorders, much as the Pill is. Not one of my doctors ever made the
connection between my blood clots and the progesterone.
We also noticed that my “resting” heart rate was going through theroof.One day when I had been on the cream about two months, we stoppedat a blood pressure machine, and my heart rate (while wanderingaimlessly around a store) was over 120! There were several times whenmy heart felt it was pounding my chest. I kept putting thisdown to thyroid trouble. As a doctor in LA told me later, “Yes, no
wonder you were losing weight…at the expense of your heart!”
Something else that got my attention was that I started to become
emotional in a way that I had never been in my life. Even though I wasn't
feeling overtly depressed (that I was aware of), I would burst out cryingat the strangest times, and a lot more frequently than ever before. Istarted feeling overwhelmed and annoyed by things that used to be nobig deal.
My temper got shorter with the kids and with my husband.This feeling crept up on me a little at a time, but it began to get worseand worse.
I now realize, from extensive reading about the actions ofprogesterone, that this is typical for a large segment of those using
By August 2003, I knew something was really “wrong,” but I couldn'tputmy finger on it. I had this feeling of unease that was growing andgrowing. A pattern started where, during the week before my periodand often the week of, I would become extremely nauseous. For several
months, we were sure I was pregnant. I never was.
At the beginning of October 2003, something in my body “snapped” andthe nausea took hold in a frightening way. If I had known then that it
would last ~ without relief, for months straight ~ I don't know if I could
have borne it.
When I couldn't stop throwing up and couldn't eat and it had beenthreeweeks – that was when I ran across the first doctor who said, “Well, ifthere's one thing I know that makes pregnant women sick as dogs, it'sprogesterone. I'd look there first, if you want to know why you can't
stop vomiting.” I quit the cream on October 26, 2003.
The bad news, which I got soon after, was that progesterone creambuilds up in the tissues and takes anywhere from three to six months tobe cleared by the body. This timeline ended up being almost exactly
true for me. I was sick, sick, sick until about two weeks ago.
The symptoms during those six months of illness as I rebounded fromthe cream are almost too many to list, but they include: severe nauseaand vomiting, gastro-intestinal problems (marked heartburn, bouts ofdiarrhea, and bouts of constipation), uncontrollable shaking, acne andextremely oily skin, hirtuism, depression, anxiety, tingling/burningsensations on the back of my arms, neck, and head, insomnia, hyper-sensitivity to medications and foods, hot flashes, and serious withdrawalsymptoms. To my great relief, most all of these issues have finally,
completely resolved. Today, only the insomnia remains.
It turns out that *lots* of people are having trouble with naturalprogesterone cream. A hormone researcher confirmed that my
symptoms were quite consistent with excess progesterone.
On his web site, Dr. Mark Rhodes writes:
“Many people overdose from prolonged use of progesterone cream. It is
promoted so heavily, so easily available, so inexpensive, and so readilyabsorbed. The real problem is several-fold in my opinion. It is difficulttoget an exact individual dose.
Because it does relieve a number ofsymptoms of estrogen dominance, I am sure that some use more thanthey should. But the most insidious problem comes from long-term use.Many women who use a topical progesterone product end up having itaccumulate in their tissues.
It then can release into the blood stream atvery high levels . And we see this high-level release occur for months
after the patient quits application…”
Information about other doctors experiencing problems in
patients taking progesterone cream available at:
Neither blood serum nor saliva tests are accurately revealing thehighlevels of progesterone that the creams can cause. Many women – andI'm one of them – show up in these tests as having LOW progesteronelevels even when their bodies have become toxic due to overdose! Thisreally threw my doctors off the trail. They wanted to put me back
ON progesterone, but thankfully I was never willing.
Lots of researchers seem to be catching on to the fact that naturalprogesterone can be anything but harmless. The following informationwas released last week by the American Society of Clinical
I realize this letter is long, but if one woman is spared the miseryIendured, it will be worth sharing what happened. I hope that more andmore people will seriously reconsider their advocacy and use of
hormones, whether “natural” or not.
Competing interests:”Natural” ProgesteroneCream nearly killed
Competing interests: No competing interests
A researcher of hormone issues
Progesterone and the Nervous System/Brain
In this emerging area of progesterone research, several research studies attest to the neuroprotective effects of progesterone, an absence of neurological side effects, and a benefit for cognitive function.
Progesterone and the brain
By Margaret N. Groves Scientific Writer, ZRT Laboratory, Beaverton, Oregon
Many women are familiar with progesterone as a hormone that is essential for fertility and for sustaining a pregnancy. In fact, the name itself means “promoting gestation.
” Once a woman’s reproductive life begins to wane and she enters perimenopause, progesterone production in the ovaries starts to decline.
By the time she reaches menopause, circulating progesterone levels are so low, they are similar to those normally seen in men.
However, progesterone is far more than a gestational agent. Research is now surfacing which shoes that the benefits of progesterone reach to breast health, cardiovascular health, and nervous system health, most importantly brain function. The rest of this article will take a closer look at just how essential progesterone is for your brain.
Progesterone as a “neurosteroid”
As a result of its critical functions in the nervous system, progesterone has been classified as a “neurosteroid”.
It is so essential that it comes from two different places to reach the brain: first, cells in the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nervous system all synthesize progesterone from cholesterol.
Secondly, progesterone that is circulating in the bloodstream also has direct access to the brain and nerves.
Normal brain function is not the only thing progesterone is required for in the nervous system. An important role of progesterone is to protect the brain from damage and promote repair after injury. It actually does this by promoting the growth and repair of the myelin sheath that protects the nerve fibers.
Progesterone protects the brain from damage after traumatic brain injury
Around 20 years ago, researchers who were studying rats after brain injury made a significant observation.
Female rats which, at the time of the brain injury, were at the stage of their reproductive cycles when progesterone levels were the highest, had significantly less brain damage than male rats or females with lower progesterone levels.
Such research led ultimately to human clinical studies, which have found that high doses of natural progesterone have significantly improved patients’ survival from traumatic brain injury.
One trial, given the name “ProTECT”, randomized intensive care patients with acute traumatic brain injury to either high dose progesterone injections for 3 days or placebo injections. While all the patients were at a very high risk of death, only 13% of the progesterone-treated patients died of their brain injuries compared with 30% of the placebo-treated patients.
A review published this year suggests that not only should progesterone be used to treat traumatic brain injuries, but that it may also have a role in treating stroke, because of its powerful protective effects on brain tissue.
This is a very exciting area of progesterone research, as researchers and clinicians acknowledge the fact that natural progesterone has an excellent safety profile without long term side effects, making it a good candidate for high dose therapy that can also be carried out in a home environment as patients recover.
Progesterone and brain development – smarter kids?
There is published evidence that the children of women who were treated with progesterone during pregnancy showed enhanced development during infancy, achieved better academic results at ages 9-10, and were significantly more ly to attend universities.
While researchers acknowledge that progesterone treatment could not be claimed to promote a new generation of “brainiacs”, the observed benefits can be explained by the fact that it is essential for optimal development of a normal brain in the fetus.
If progesterone levels are too low, normal brain development may be affected, putting an infant at a developmental disadvantage.
Progesterone eases anxiety and facilitates memory
Progesterone naturally metabolizes in brain tissues to the metabolite allopregnanolone, which is known to produce calming, anti-anxiety and possibly enhanced memory effects. There is some speculation that it could be important in preserving cognitive function in women experiencing the decline in progesterone levels with age.
However, it’s important to note that progesterone is produced by brain tissue itself, and so the reduction in blood progesterone levels as ovarian production decreases may not be as important as other aging processes that have direct effects on the brain’s function.
It will be interesting to see further research on this as aging women increasingly use progesterone in hormone replacement.
Progesterone as a sleeping aid?
Women using an oral progesterone may notice a sedative effect, and doctors usually recommend that the oral form is taken at bedtime (actually, it is often a welcome “side effect” that helps counteract the sleeplessness of perimenopause!) Basically, there is a large quantity of metabolites produced in the liver after oral progesterone is absorbed by the intestines. These metabolites have known sedative and hypnotic effects.
On the other hand, women using progesterone cream do not produce metabolites in such large quantities because the progesterone is absorbed through the skin and bypasses the liver metabolism. However, as stated before, some women may experience progesterone’s calming effect after using it in cream form.
Progestins vs. Progesterone: Same effects?
Synthetic progestins are molecularly different from natural progesterone and therefore do not metabolize to the same compounds as natural progesterone. They do not show benefits for cognitive or anti-anxiety function.
In fact, they have not been found to have any of progesterone’s neuroprotective properties.
The progestin that has been the most extensively studied and which is commonly used in synthetic hormone replacement therapy, MPA (medroxyprogesterone acetate), has been found to have negative effects on the nervous system and even reduces the beneficial effects of estrogen.
Note: To find all references on this subject, search for the categories “progesterone” AND “brain” using our search tool at the top right of the page.
What to Know About Progesterone Cream
Progesterone cream is a form of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) designed to help relieve menopausal symptoms, reduce signs of skin aging, and prevent bone loss that could lead to osteoporosis.
Progesterone cream is available over the counter and made with natural plant-based progesterone derived from either soybeans or wild yam (Dioscorea villosa). It may be a viable alternative to the progesterone pills, suppositories, vaginal gels, and transdermal patches commonly used for HRT, especially among women who want to avoid synthetic progesterone.
Progesterone is a type of hormone produced mainly in the ovaries whose role it is to help regulate menstruation and pregnancy. During menopause, progesterone levels will drop precipitously, triggering a cascade of physical and emotional symptoms. The depletion can also lead to bone loss and the deterioration of skin elasticity, firmness, and strength.
Progesterone cream may help improve the lives of women with menopause by:
- Reducing hot flashes and vaginal dryness
- Fighting fatigue
- Improving mood and sleep
- Alleviating skin dryness, wrinkling, and thinning
- Preventing the loss of bone density (osteopenia)
- Increasing libido
- Fighting weight gain
Despite the health claims, research into the use of progesterone cream has yielded mixed and often contradictory results.
In a review of studies published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2007, the researchers concluded that progesterone cream remains an “unsubstantiated treatment option” for women undergoing menopause. Their conclusions were based largely on the lack of quality evidence rather than an outright failure of the products themselves.
Another study published in 2009 in Menopause International concluded that progesterone was ineffective in treating menopausal symptoms. The study involved 223 postmenopausal women with severe menopausal symptoms, half of whom were given an oil-based product known as Progestelle (in either a 60-, 40-, 20-, or 5-milligram concentration) and half of whom were provided a placebo.
After 24 weeks, the progesterone group experienced no fewer menopausal symptoms (such as hot flashes and night sweats) than the placebo group. Despite the shortcomings, the conclusions may have been limited by product used.
By contrast, another progesterone cream known as Pro-gest has shown promising results in recent studies. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that Pro-gest, applied twice daily for 12 days, delivered the same level of progesterone to the bloodstream as a once-daily, 200-milligram dose of oral progesterone.
The impact of Pro-gest cream on serum progesterone levels was so robust that researchers have questioned whether it is even appropriate as an over-the-counter product.
The use of progesterone cream for skin care has rendered slightly more positive results. A 2005 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology reported that 2% progesterone cream was superior to a non-progesterone cream in improving skin firmness and elasticity in 40 peri-menopausal and post-menopausal women.
The four-month study concluded that progesterone cream improved four key measures compared when compared to regular skin cream:
- Greater reduction in wrinkle counts (29.10% vs. 16.50%)
- Greater increase in skin firmness (23.61% vs. 13.24%)
- Greater reduction in eye wrinkle depth (9.72% vs. 7.35%)
- Greater reduction in “laugh lines” wrinkle depth (9.72% vs. 6.62%)
Neither skin hydration nor surface lipids differed between the two groups, bringing into question how much the emollients in the progesterone cream triggered the changes and how much hormonal activity was actually exerted.
There is little in the way of evidence of how much progesterone cream can prevent or slow osteopenia compared to oral progesterone. With that being said, the role of progesterone in preventing bone loss has even been questioned in recent years.
In fact, a 2010 review of studies published in the Journal of Osteoporosis concluded that progesterone on its own did little to improve bone mineral density in postmenopausal women. While it did appear to offer improvement for pre- or peri-menopausal women, it was generally more effective when used in combination with estrogen than on its own.
The same study suggested there was no difference in bone mineral density in women who used progesterone cream when compared to women provided a placebo.
The side effects you can experience while using progesterone cream may differ by the product used. Some women will be very sensitive to the active ingredient; others will not. In some cases, progesterone cream may promote moderate weight gain and trigger a number of low-grade side effects, including drowsiness, nausea, headaches, and breast pain.
However, it would be unwise to presume that progesterone cream is “weaker” than oral progesterone, particularly with long-term use. Some women have been known to develop PMS- symptoms or experience oily skin, acne, excessive body hair growth (hirsutism), depression, anxiety, and abnormal blood clotting after using the cream for several months.
Since repeatedly applying progesterone cream to the same area of skin can lead to irritation, rub the cream into different areas with each use.
As an over-the-counter remedy, progesterone cream is not strictly regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and does not need to undergo the testing required of pharmaceutical drugs. As such, the quality of the various preparations can differ, including the types of inactive ingredients and plant-based progesterone used.
Be especially careful if you have a soy allergy. While the soy proteins will be largely denatured in the processing, it may still be wise to choose a wild yam-based product instead.
Be advised that the safety of progesterone cream has not been established in pregnant or breastfeeding women. As with all medications, advise your doctor if you are using or planning to use progesterone cream. Progesterone cream should never be used on children.
Progesterone cream is sold in various strengths, ranging from 25 milligrams per microliter (mg/mL) to 250 mg/mL.
While recommendations can vary brand and who you speak to, many doctors will tell you that a daily application of 25 mg/mL is enough to manage hot flash symptoms. By the time you reach 75 mg/mL, you will be approaching progesterone levels equivalent to a 150-mg or 200-mg oral dose.
If using progesterone cream to prevent hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms, some doctors will advise you to apply the cream once daily for six days and to skip every seventh day. You can apply the cream to your neck area, inner thigh, forearm, lower abdomen, or vaginal/labial area.
If you are using another topical hormone, such as intravaginal testosterone for vaginal dryness, you will not want to apply the progesterone cream to the same part of the body.
Use the progesterone cream only as prescribed, and never exceed the recommended dosage. As is the case with any form of hormone replacement therapy, more is generally not better.
Progesterone cream is readily found online and at many retail drugstores. When selecting a progesterone cream, only purchase those with “progesterone USP” on the label.
It is important to remember that products progesterone cream are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the same way that pharmaceutical drugs are. The FDA does not review them for safety or efficacy before they reach drugstore shelves.
Despite their increasing popularity, it is too soon to recommend progesterone creams or ointments for health purposes. If you're still considering using progesterone cream, speak with your doctor to fully understand the benefits, risks, and limitations of treatment.
The progesterone used in topical products is derived from a plant-based estrogen known as diosgenin found in wild yam and soy. The diosgenin must then be chemically converted to progesterone in a lab.
Some manufacturers have tried to promote wild yam products as natural progesterone “boosters.” Despite claims to the contrary, the body cannot convert diosgenin into hormonally active progesterone. Avoid these products.