Progesterone & Anxiety: Is There a Link?
What is Progesterone?
The female sex hormone progesterone is produced mainly in the ovaries. It usually surges in the luteal phase just after ovulation to counterbalance the rise of oestrogens in the previous phase of our menstrual cycle. Progesterone is such an amazing hormone that it’s actually classified as our calming, soothing, and relaxation hormone.
Health benefits of progesterone
- Boosts energy and improves sleep
- Enhances mood
- Promotes healthy hair and skin
- Assists in building bone and muscle
- Prevents autoimmune disease
- Reduces inflammation
- Modulates immunity
- May lighten menstrual flow
The luteal phase explained
The luteal phase is often referred to as our autumn season, a period in our cycle characterised by with earthy, wise and reflective connotations. This is the time between ovulation and the bleed which typically lasts from 10-16 days (actual length is determined by the lifespan of the corpus luteum).
At the end of the luteal phase, the corpus luteum shrinks and progesterone levels drop. This will stimulate the onset of your period as the uterus contracts and sheds its lining. One of progesterone’s biggest jobs is to nourish pregnancy. If the egg has not been fertilized during ovulation, it will begin to thin the uterine lining in preparation for menstruation.
For most women, the body’s own progesterone is soothing because it converts to allopregnanolone, a neurosteroid which calms the GABA receptors in the brain. Not only does progesterone have actions on our mood and sleep patterns; it also slows down our bowel movements! For this reason, progesterone can be naturally a bit constipating at higher levels. Think of the luteal phase as our 'slow time' time in every aspect as we hold onto things more during this period, both physically and emotionally. So a little bit of constipation and tied-up emotions are quite common.
4 potential reasons why progesterone creates symptoms:
- You don't have enough progesterone (most common)
- You have too much progesterone
- You don't have the right ratio of progesterone in specific times of your cycle
- You’re part of a rare phenomenon... (Continue reading!)
The more common occurrence is not having enough progesterone, which means we don't feel the superpowers it gives our body. Low progesterone can leave you feeling anxious and irritable. Furthermore, you’ll have a lower tolerance for stress and sleep poorly at night.
For the more common symptoms to expect during the luteal phase, have a read of our comprehensive article on premenstrual syndrome (PMS). There is also this phenomenon among a small number of women wherein their allopregnanolone actually heightens anxiety and aggravates mood swings when it hits the receptors. If you suffer from PMDD, this could be a part of your health picture.
What to expect during the luteal phase
Women usually experience an increase in appetite with the rise of progesterone and will usually crave for carbohydrates and sweet or salty foods. Becoming 'hangry' will be more common during this phase due to the surge or imbalance of progesterone.
Hangry is defined as “bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger.”
The luteal phase is a time in the cycle when it’s more important to watch your alcohol and sugar intake. Eating small portions of protein a few times a day will also be beneficial. Increase your fibre intake as well since progesterone can slow down digestion and often cause constipation, bloating and fluid retention. Exercising is also important during this phase as it can assist with any premenstrual symptoms. Your biggest critic (yourself) is often out to play at this time.
During the luteal phase, I encourage you to work towards reflecting, journaling and letting go of any negative energy. Research shows this same hormone (progesterone) makes you feel emotionally closer to your partner, so you may desire more affection. Great practices to incorporate are warm baths, movies and massages.
Can I take synthetic progesterone to improve my levels?
The answer is NO. Our hormone receptor cites have been depicted similarly to keyholes. Progestin is the synthetic version of progesterone and although it may look similar to our natural progesterone, it’s not the same in the molecular sense. Without the correct ‘lock and key’, you’ll miss out on all those positive benefits progesterone possesses.
So how can we improve our progesterone levels?
Well, there’s actually a healthier and more natural option – HAPPY HORMONES!
Happy Hormones works on the hypothalamic-pituitary- adrenal-axis (HPA-axis) to assist in naturally modulating our hormones. Regardless of whether there’s an excess or a deficiency, Happy Hormones has the ability to regenerate hormonal balance due to its action on the HPA-axis and its capacity to create homeostasis.
Happy Hormones does NOT contain progesterone. It simply assists and enhances the body’s natural ability to produce its own progesterone so there’s no need to worry about the dangers associated with synthetic hormone use!