One of the more important hormones in a woman’s body is the pro-gestation hormone, commonly known as progesterone, because it regulates the ovulation and encourages healthy pregnancies. It is also an anti-inflammatory hormone, promoting a sense of calm that may help battle depression.

Without knowing it, many women and even children, are lacking in progesterone.

This deficiency leads to health issues like breast cancer or reproductive cancer in women, as well as general problems that include tiredness, irritation, anxiety, weight gain, bloating, depression and headaches.

In women, the level of progesterone that is considered normal is approximately around the range of 0.2 ng/ml. It rises to 5 ng/ml after ovulation. To get pregnant, progesterone levels have to be around 200 ng/ml during the luteal phase, and it should remain high throughout the pregnancy to avoid miscarriages.

It is recommended that you undergo progesterone therapy if your levels are low. They can be taken orally, in the form of oil compounds or pills.

Before we go further into the remedies to low progesterone, let us take a look at the four most common symptoms of the condition:

• The luteal phase is short

This phase in your menstrual cycle is the time between the start of ovulation up to the start of your period. Lasting between 10-15 days, it ends either in pregnancy, or with degradation. A shorter duration indicates low levels of progesterone present, and this is known as luteal phase defect.

• Your body should be warmer during the luteal phase

Thyroid function is greatly enhanced with the right levels of progesterone, causing your body to see a rise in temperature. Once ovulation kicks in, your standard body temperature heats up and remains that way until the start of your period. If you do not observe this happening, it could be an indication of progesterone deficiency.

• The type and quantity of vaginal mucus present during the luteal phase

You will have seen this type of mucus before your period – clear and rather “elastic”; its production is stimulated by estrogen. Progesterone ends the production of this mucus, post ovulation, but if you have sufficient amounts of it, you will observe that your mucus is less liquid and more elastic-like. However, having a lot of this vaginal mucus in a more liquid state could mean low progesterone levels.

• Spotting before your actual period

This is a common symptom of low levels of progesterone. Usually, one will see reddish brown spots a few days before the actual period starts. But spotting is also a symptom of health issues such as infections, cysts, unusual growth in the uterus and endometriosis. It’s best to properly identify the issue with your doctor, if spotting is a common occurrence in your cycle.

Stress and headaches can be signs of low progesterone levels. ­— AFP

Reasons why you are low in progesterone:

• Stress

Another type of hormone known as cortisol is produced when you are under stress. When those hormone levels are elevated for a prolonged period, it takes a toll on the production of progesterone.

• High estrogen

Higher levels of estrogen can also cause a drop of progesterone levels. Estrogen levels can become elevated due to certain medications, hormone treatment and even naturally, but this has the effect of inhibiting your progesterone production. Both hormones are needed to balance one another, and a blood test can help you determine any imbalance.

• Resistance to insulin

Blood sugar levels that are both too high or too low will not be able to absorb progesterone, leading to deficiency in the body. Additionally, impaired blood sugar levels, which is the main symptom of diabetes, is also an indication of other health issues like polycystic ovarian syndrome and obesity.

• Sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition

We are more and more aware of the critical role that diet plays in overall health. When your body faces a double whammy of poor diet and a lack of regular health activities, your system becomes sluggish, too. Glands in the body will cease to produce the right amounts of hormones, including progesterone. It also paves the way for an environment that promotes hormone imbalance, along with related health conditions.

• Certain types of medications

Progesterone levels can be thrown off course when you are taking some types of medication and treatment. Birth control, as well as oral contraceptives are designed to lower progesterone to help you avoid pregnancies, but even too much antibiotics and painkillers can kill progesterone production in your body. Use these medications with caution, and only as prescribed by a good doctor.

Dealing with progesterone deficiency

The initial step to determining progesterone deficiency is to get a blood test. To ensure that it is accurate, get the test done one week after the start of ovulation, or one week before the start of your period. This is the time when your progesterone levels would be at its peak.

Once your doctor has determined that the progesterone levels in your body are indeed low, there are two common types of treatment.

The first treatment option is hormone therapy, which carries on for a few cycles to create balance between estrogen and progesterone levels in women. You will receive injections that mix progesterone with any of these oils: cottonseed, peanut, sesame, olive or sweet marjoram. Apart from injections, oils mixed with progesterone can be absorbed through the skin.

The second option is oral supplements. You doctor will evaluate your health condition, current medication and other parts of your health history before prescribing the correct amount of progesterone.

But, progesterone supplement is not like taking vitamin C, where taking more than the recommended daily amount will not cause serious harm. Do follow the prescribed amount and any other instructions from your doctor.

Finally, there are also natural ways to improve progesterone levels:

• Eat more foods that are high in zinc, selenium and magnesium.

• Add supplements like vitamin B and C.

• Ask your local medical hall about herbal medicines that might help with improving progesterone levels.

• Get enough sleep at the right times. Sleeping late is a bad habit even if you are a night owl, because your body isn’t reaping the full benefits of a well-rested body.

• Clean yourself well. A highly perfumed soap or feminine wash is not recommended, as this will disrupt the balance of the natural flora found in your vaginal area.

Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, and a functional medicine practitioner. For further information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.