Understanding Pregnancy and Progesterone Function

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM


Are you frustrated with fertility issues or plagued by problems maintaining a pregnancy? Have you struggled through multiple pregnancies that resulted in miscarriage? Progesterone function may be root cause of these problems. Finding out how to maintain your hormonal imbalance may help you in your quest to have a full term pregnancy.

Introduction to Estrogen and Progesterone Function

Pregnancy and the progesterone FunctionThere are two main hormones that are vital for a viable pregnancy to be carried to full term: estrogen and progesterone. Both of these hormones are primarily produced in the ovaries and used throughout a woman’s life.

These crucial hormones are there to help regulate the many changes that are going on throughout a woman’s body before and during pregnancy. Estrogen plays a vital role in the fetus’s growth and development, such as helping the uterus grow and maintaining the uterine lining. However, this article’s focus is primarily on progesterone function and how it affects pregnancy.

Keep in mind that it is important to have both these hormones at proper levels for fetal development and to aid in carrying a healthy baby to full term. If the hormonal levels are not balanced properly it will cause a hormonal imbalance such as estrogen dominance, where there is more estrogen than needed and lower amounts of progesterone.

Progesterone is an important ovarian hormone in the female reproductive system for several reasons. This hormone is produced in the ovaries and aids in menstruation, menopause, egg implantation and fetal development. Insufficient amounts of this much needed hormone can have big effects, especially during pregnancy. The main function of progesterone is really progestational or the process of keeping the fetus healthy within the womb, and keeping it in the womb until it is full term. The fetus cannot survive without these proper levels of the hormone progesterone.

Repeated miscarriages or babies being stillborn may be caused by inadequate levels or lower than normal levels of progesterone, especially during the first trimester. This is often why some mothers may miscarry a defective or stillborn fetus. This happens because progesterone function plays a significant role in fetal development and implantation of the embryo.

In the first 12 weeks of pregnancy the function of progesterone is quite important and a woman needs high levels in order to prevent miscarriage. If your body is producing lower levels of this key hormone, there may be problems with implantation that would result in a miscarriage.

This is why some women may have to have progesterone therapy before or during pregnancy. There are various forms of progesterone therapy including:

  • Oral Pills
  • Injections
  • Vaginal Inserts or Suppositories

Just like any type of hormonal replacement therapy or other conventional types of medicine there are potential risks to undergoing progesterone replacement therapy that may include: blood clots, gallbladder problems, skin irritations and even cancer. Progesterone Function and miscarriagesBefore undergoing any type of hormonal replacement therapy, you should discuss all the pros and the cons with your doctor or specialist in order to have a better understanding of the entire process, know the risks, and understand the possible side effects. It is also important to understand the function of progesterone in your body before undergoing this type of therapy. It is always important to have a clear understanding of any procedure or medicine that you would subject yourself to.

Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome And Progesterone Function

Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) is a tiring and weary condition that is caused by stressors put on the body, both physical and mental. One of the most important roles of your adrenals is to regulate stress. The adrenal glands do this by producing the most important anti-stress hormone called cortisol. When they cannot keep up with what is going on within your body or can not produce sufficient amounts of cortisol due to stress overload, the adrenals can become exhausted. This can cause the body to face a slew of symptoms such as: lack of energy, weight gain, hypoglycemia, insomnia and various others. Too much stress can also cause an increase in cortisol production which can actually weaken the adrenal glands and not be effective in managing stress. This can lead to many other health issues or even adrenal exhaustion.

Oftentimes, a progesterone deficiency or the failure of progesterone function to reach high levels during pregnancy can be associated with adrenal fatigue syndrome without any other symptoms being shown. There may be many reasons for this, such as estrogen dominance or other problems within your thyroid or adrenals. Estrogen dominance is often quite prevalent in adrenal fatigue. Without the needed high levels of progesterone, the pregnancy may unexpectedly terminate itself – typically in the first trimester. Repeated miscarriage during this period is a warning sign of underlying adrenal fatigue and progesterone deficiency.

A person who may be suffering from AFS does not have to show all the signs of this condition in order to have it. Sometimes the biggest signs and symptoms of AFS are from problems with fertility, environmental estrogen, or the reproductive system itself. In other words, adrenal fatigue syndrome does not have to mean fatigue. It very well could be caused by reproductive disruption. This may mislead many people looking into fertility problems and fertility treatments without being fully aware that something entirely different may be causing the problem.

This is exactly why a person could have multiple miscarriages within the first trimester and not fully understand the reasoning behind this ongoing issue. The good news is that this can be remedied by a physician or specialist who is knowledgeable in adrenal fatigue syndrome and can determine why you have functional problems with natural progesterone. A specialist like this can devise a plan to help you have adequate progesterone levels which may reduce the probability of reproductive disruption and help you to have a full, healthy pregnancy. Because excessive progesterone can lead to toxicity over time, it is imperative that proper guidance is needed.

Progesterone Function and applicationsAlso keep in mind that adrenal fatigue is associated with estrogen dominance. Estrogen and progesterone function have to be in a working balance to achieve harmony within the body. When there are large quantities of estrogen (which can also be from diet or environment), then progesterone levels are lower on a relative basis – even though the absolute level may be sufficient. This causes estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance can also be seen in women who are pre-menopausal or in menopause. In other words, if there is an imbalance there will be problems with fertility or pregnancy.

There are several ways you can reduce estrogen dominance, such as natural progesterone replacement therapy. However, when trying to normalize your body from the effects of adrenal fatigue syndrome you should be cautious with hormone therapies. Oftentimes, natural progesterone therapy can cause side effects, especially in those who may have AFS in advanced stages. Those whose liver is congested are particularly vulnerable. Even small doses of progesterone therapy can have harsh side effects. Some people may have sensitivities for it or even intolerance.

Some of the common side effects from progesterone therapies can include:

  • Lowered libido in men
  • Increase in estrogen dominance in women and men
  • Anxiety
  • Bloating
  • Water retention
  • Excessive sleepiness

If you are thinking of having hormonal therapy you should really talk to a specialist – especially if you have any signs of AFS.

An easier way to normalize progesterone function and estrogen dominance when you may suffer from AFS is to make dietary changes in your life, such as eating less processed foods, thinking about nutritional supplementation, and limiting your caffeine intake. By eating more wholesome foods and eating proper amounts of food, you can also lower some of the effects of estrogen dominance caused by AFS. If you are unsure of what type of diet you should have or what nutritional supplements you should be using, it’s important to talk to a nutritional therapist or specialist. Nutritional coaching is a great way to help promote better health overall. Keep in mind that regular exercise along with proper diet can really impact your health. It’s important to try to maintain a healthy body overall.

NEM Stress Response and Progesterone Function

The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response shows how stress affects our bodies; much of this process starts in the neuroendocrine system. The neuroendocrine highway is made up of axises like the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) hormonal axis, which sends stress messages to the brain and tells the body how to respond. Often times cortisol plays a role in reducing some of these stressors. In times of stress the different organs and systems of the body can react differently and one issue can cause another and so forth. The body’s systems and organs all correlate together.

There is another axis in the neuroendocrine system called the ovarian-adrenal-thyroid (OAT axis). This axis is primarily what takes care of the hormones produced in the ovaries. What happens to one of these organs essentially affects the others. This further shows how the NEM stress response system works and how adrenal fatigue may occur.

Progesterone Function and weight lossYou can see how the NEM stress response works when there are not adequate levels of progesterone. Low progesterone levels or estrogen dominance puts unwanted stress on the body. Estrogen dominance is typically caused by poor dieting habits, unhealthy obesity, the lack of proper exercise, excessive estrogen in food and environmental estrogen, as well as having an underactive thyroid and adrenal dysfunction. When the body is producing too much estrogen (or excessive estrogen) and is low on progesterone it will affect the thyroid and adrenal glands as well. It is the same as if the thyroid is not functioning properly, that will ultimately create estrogen dominance and adrenal fatigue. This is a vicious cycle that will repeat – if not balanced out – and eventually will cause major problems within your body. If the root cause of these problems is not figured out, it will lead a person to try to alleviate these symptoms with pills or other conventional medicine options until they find an answer. When one thing doesn’t work, they try another and so forth. That is why it is so important to have your symptoms properly assessed. Also, if a person’s AFS is thought to be something completely different (and not handled properly) it could lead to adrenal exhaustion. This could be debilitating or even fatal.

It is also very important to keep in mind that good weight loss and maintenance, proper dieting plans and regular exercise routines can alleviate some of the estrogen dominance and regulate your progesterone levels, as well as normalize the adrenals. Also, by avoiding environmental estrogen and progesterone replacement therapies you can help promote a proper balance of estrogen and progesterone within your body. Conventional medicine may not work in this situation and could quite possibly worsen your symptoms altogether.

Final Thoughts

Miscarriage and infertility are scary concepts to women everywhere. That’s why it’s important to understand your body and to understand the roles hormones play. By knowing how the ovarian system produces the hormones progesterone and estrogen and how these hormones function in your body will give you a better idea of what is going on before, during, and after pregnancy.

Knowing how progesterone function in your body will aid in helping you from menstruation to menopauseNot only that, it will aid in helping you with any cycle – from menstruation to menopause – that you will go through in you life. The hormone progesterone is a crucial key element during pregnancy. It’s important to understand that; if you do not have the high levels of progesterone during pregnancy that are needed, you may be at risk for losing the baby – especially in the first three months of the pregnancy. There are several ways to help regulate your progesterone levels and avoid estrogen dominance.

However, keep in mind that progesterone replacement therapies could be harmful to you if you suffer from adrenal fatigue. For further questions, please talk to a doctor who is familiar with AFS and knowledgeable about the necessary solutions that could help you.

 
© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


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