Stress Effects on Hormonal Harmony
In my previous post, I reviewed how hormones play an important part in regulating a wide array of our body’s biological and psychological processes. If even one note is off-key in this beautiful symphony, the whole ensemble can become dysregulated and unwanted mind-body symptoms can ensue.
Due to the fact that our hormones are so powerful, yet easily swayed by various triggers, being mindful of keeping these aspects balanced can do wonders for our overall vitality and health. Of all the common factors that can un-sync our hormonal harmony, stress is the most universal. Although higher levels of stress can initially support survival, and in small amounts even enhance our resiliency, in the long-term it can take over the orchestra and bump out key players.
The downstream impact of this “progesterone steal” is accomplished by the stress hormone cortisol. It can lead to lower levels of this vital sex hormone, as well as others. This results in various hormonal symptoms and brain and body havoc.
For this reason, I offered several lifestyle and integrative techniques to help counter stress and re-balance hormones. One of my favorites is essential oils. This is because they counteract stress not just by tampering down cortisol, but also in eight additional ways. These are relevant not just for hormonal balance, but for emotional and physical wellness as well.
Now with an understanding of how important each player is in our hormonal masterpiece, it’s time for an exclusive, up-close and personal biography of one of the most famous. In this post and video in my article series, I give you all the juicy details on why all genders need to be mindful of this popular hormone’s effects on overall wellness.
Specifically, I highlight the well-known media star, progesterone. Topics on this hormone include:
- Its’ major claim to fame (main function)
- Who the real progesterone is (its biological structure)
- Its top billing roles (fertility and reproduction)
- All its systematic effects and accomplishments
- How it is regulated
- What healthy levels of progesterone are
In the follow-up post, we’ll dive more into the dark side of progesterone. I’ll explore what happens when it becomes too high or too low, how to monitor it, and natural ways to optimize it.
So, let’s dive in so you can empower yourself with more information on progesterone. You can use this knowledge to help you attune to your body’s needs.
(Note: This article series is based on my original piece on progesterone published on Rupa Health.)
Progesterone’s Claim to Fame
Progesterone is often referred to as the “pregnancy hormone” because it plays a vital role in female fertility and reproductive function. In fact, progesterone levels in pregnancy can reach ten times that of a non-pregnant woman!
Yet, progesterone has many other functions in the female and male bodies that aren’t widely recognized. Therefore, understanding the impact of this hormone is essential for both sexes. This is not just to enhance fertility, but also to augment overall health.
Who is Progesterone?
Progesterone belongs to the progestogens group family (hormones with similar activity to progesterone). You may have also heard about its main competition, progestins. Though progesterone is a true, all-natural steroid hormone with 21 carbon rings, progestins belong to the synthetic gang of hormones. Progestins have comparable actions to progesterone, but they aren’t the “real thing.”
Cholesterol, like cortisol, is another demonized player in the story of progesterone. Though many want to abolish it, it is needed in the body for many essential things. This includes being the backbone to all hormones, including our beloved progesterone!
In fact, progesterone began its life from cholesterol in the corpus luteum of the ovaries and in the testes. It also has roots in the placenta and adrenal glands. From there all its many roles emerged.
Progesterone’s Top Billing Roles
Progesterone’s most recognized roles are to regulate pregnancy and menstruation in biological women.
When a woman goes through her menstrual cycle, progesterone scoots out of the ovaries and starts preparing the uterus (endometrium) for a little bundle of joy. It has many functions. These include:
(1) relaxing the uterus
(2) warding off infections and inflammation
(3) promoting immune balance
(4) preventing additional mischievous sperm from trying to captivate the egg’s attention
Once an egg is fertilized by the sperm of choice, the placenta (an organ produced by the developing embryo) begins to form and starts contributing to the release of more progesterone. This extra amount allows the mamma to produce milk for the baby.
If an egg escapes fertilization, the cozy, thick uterine environment so delicately tended to by progesterone is not needed. Therefore, progesterone levels drop off and it moves on to its next project. At this point, the uterine lining sheds, estrogen steps up, and menstruation ensues.
Progesterone’s Wide-Ranging Talents
With its’ claim to fame being pregnancy and menstruation, progesterone is often type-casted. Yet, progesterone has vast talents that span many other bodily processes.
- Increasing urination (through interacting with the renin-angiotensin system)
- Decreasing metabolic rate (catabolic)
- Relaxing smooth muscle cells
- Increasing the excretion of calcium and phosphorus
- Raising basal body temperature
- Sedative and pain-reducing (analgesic) effects
- Improving visual memory
- Supporting skeletal health (through the proliferation and differentiation of osteoblasts and influencing other bone cells)
- An immunosuppressive effect (needed to prevent an immune attack response on a mom’s “suspicious” egg implantation)
Due to these effects, progesterone has been shown to be protective against osteoporosis and neurological disorders in both men and women. It also decreases breast cancer risk and other issues that can occur when estrogen gets too high in females. In males, it inhibits prostate enlargement.
A downstream bonus to progesterone’s impact is via allopregnanolone. This metabolite has been found in some studies to have anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects. Its mood enhancement is believed to be accomplished by influencing the production of the calming neurotransmitter GABAa (Gamma-aminobutyric acid).
How Does Progesterone Regulate Itself with So Much Going on?
Like all members of the hormone family, progesterone has the option of being regulated in one of two ways. One way is directly acting on its target tissue. That’s too unglamorous for progesterone.
Rather, progesterone opted for the feedback loop mechanism. This is like a telephone chain communicating with all its “connections.” The hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and gonads (ovaries and testes) all manage this three-way signaling process and determine how much of progesterone is secreted.
This is a very complex process. I’ll do my best to summarize it.
Progesterone, Pregnancy, and Menstruation
Once puberty is reached, the ovaries signal to the hypothalamus that they have progesterone and estrogen available for various roles in the body. The hypothalamus responds by releasing gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH). GnRH then calls upon follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) from the pituitary.
FSH and LH play a very important part in the menstrual show, they stimulate ovulation (the release of the egg). After about day 14 of a woman’s cycle, when estrogen levels drop off, LH gets excited. It surges its signals and progesterone levels increase. Not to be outdone, this is followed by an increase in FSH.
At this point, if the egg becomes fertilized by sperm, the placenta forms and secretes the “pregnancy hormone,” human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). From there, a home for the baby is maintained. If the egg is not fertilized, however, estrogen levels rise again and a woman gets her period. Then, the cycle continues into the following months.
Progesterone, Testosterone, and Sperm
In males, this feedback loop is also a bit complicated, but shorter. As in the female, GnRH from the hypothalamus also stimulates LH and FSH. LH works on synthesizing testosterone and androgens. FSH influences sperm production in the testicles.
As testosterone levels rise, GnRH exits stage left and progesterone’s role comes to the main stage. As the precursor to testosterone, it acts to suppress LH and FSH to keep the testosterone from getting too high and mighty.
Healthy Progesterone Levels
As noted in my article on Rupa health, the following are normal ranges of progesterone based on certain phases of the menstrual cycle and pregnancy:
- Female (pre-ovulation): less than 1 ng/mL
- Female (mid-cycle): 5 to 20 ng/mL
- Male: less than 1 ng/mL
- Postmenopausal: less than 1 ng/mL
- Pregnancy 1st trimester: 11.2 to 90.0 ng/mL
- Pregnancy 2nd trimester: 25.6 to 89.4 ng/mL
- Pregnancy 3rd trimester: 48 to 150 to 300 or more ng/mL
The Continuing Saga of Progesterone
Now, at this point we know a lot about progesterone, but there’s so much more to learn.
I decided to break this series up so that you can take in this information in reasonable chunks and really understand the wonderous, talented aspects of this hormone. More importantly, this knowledge will also empower you to have a greater appreciation of your body and be astute to when it’s signaling is off balance.
I hope by now you can understand why progesterone shouldn’t just be attributed simply to pregnancy and fertility. Progesterone is way too talented to let itself by put in such a small corner.
Next, I will review what happens if progesterone becomes dysregulated and discuss symptoms of high and low levels. I will also review testing for progesterone, treatment with progesterone, and natural approaches to optimize it.
If you can’t wait to learn more about progesterone, you can get additional details and all the information I will be sharing later in one-mega-chunk. You can access this via my article on progesterone that is published on Rupa Health. Then, you can trigger your memory with my follow-up post on these other aspects of progesterone’s personality.
Naturopathic Medicine and Holistic Resources for Mood, Hormonal, and Digestive Support
- Free resources and more education on essential oils and mind-body wellness are available to you here.
- An Integrative Mental Health and Stress Resource Guide.
- Tools for coping with isolation and separation.
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https://www.hormonebalance.org/images/documents/Oettel 04 Progesterone MEN AM_1313008091.pdf
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Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.