Progesterone is a hormone that the female body naturally produces and releases in the ovaries. Along with estrogen, it is one of the two most important hormones for a woman’s reproductive system, her menstrual cycles, fertility and pregnancy. There are cases, however, when a woman needs additional progesterone, in addition to the one she produces on her own. Pharmaceutical companies produce synthetic progesterone created in the lab and there is also the so-called “natural” progesterone, isolated for certain plant sources such as soy. Both kinds of progesterone can be prescribed as a form of treatment for various conditions, from hormonal imbalance and irregular periods, to abnormal bleeding of the uterus to, most commonly, symptoms associated with menopause.
When a woman reaches the limit of her childbearing age, she gradually stops having her periods, which is called menopause. The lining of the uterus stops shedding (which it used to do throughout the childbearing period in form of menstrual periods) and sometimes the lining of the uterus, called endometrium, keeps thickening, potentially causing endometrial hyperplasia (abnormal thickening of the uterine walls) and increases the risk of uterine cancer. In order to prevent these diseases, doctors often prescribe hormone replacement therapy, which usually consists of a combination of estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen is rarely prescribed alone because it can have dangerous side effects so it is combined with progesterone, its complimentary hormone that balances its action.
Progesterone is also prescribed to treat unwanted symptoms of menopause, such as night sweats and hot flashes. Many women experience these symptoms and they can be quite bothersome, so naturally they want some solution for it.
It is always advised to only use the FDA-approved progesterone products and treatments. That is the only way to make sure you will not put your health in jeopardy. Of course, it is highly recommended to consult with your physician before using progesterone, just like any other medication or supplement. Progesterone, especially if FDA-approved, is deemed safe, but it is worth mentioning it can have some negative side effects. For example, it can cause stomach problems like bloating, discomfort, indigestion, pain. It can also cause increased appetite, weight gain, water retention or swelling, skin problems like acne, rashes, hives, dry and irritated skin. In some cases progesterone may cause fatigue, drowsiness, difficulty sleeping and insomnia. Some women who take progesterone supplements experience symptoms resembling those of PMS, such as enlarged and tender, even painful breasts, headache and irritability. In women who still have their periods and take progesterone, the hormone can cause irregular cycles and excessive or insufficient menstrual bleeding.
Progesterone is not recommended for everyone. In particular, it is not safe for women who have breast cancer, arterial disease, liver disease and for women suffering from depression.