Despite familiarity with the progesterone hormone, many women remain uncertain as to what role it performs within the body. In order to make informed decisions about health, understanding progesterone and its different types is essential.
What Is Progesterone?
Progesterone is a major progestational steroid hormone that prepares the uterus for a fertilized ovum and maintains pregnancy.
Throughout the menstrual cycle, progesterone is principally secreted by the corpus luteum to prepare the endometrium for implantation.
If conception does not occur, the corpus luteum breaks down and triggers the beginning of the next menstrual cycle. If conception does occur, then the placenta takes control of progesterone secretion to thus prevent the rejection of the developing embryo.
Mainly, progesterone is produced in the ovaries to foster healthy menstruation and by the placenta to support embryonic development and pregnancy. The sex hormone is also largely produced in the adrenal glands.
Since progesterone is so intricately involved with a woman's reproductive life, a progesterone imbalance can evoke problems with menstruation and fertility. While different amounts will be produced depending on reproductive stage, maintaining lifelong hormonal balance is essential to overall health.
Progesterone Meaning: Word Origin
Initially, the name progesterone was a blend of progestin and luteosterone (corpus luteum + sterol).
However, now the origin of the word progesterone is claimed to be a combination of a physiological and chemical description: progestational steroidal ketone.
Types of Progesterone?
There are two main types of progesterone hormones: steroidal and non-steroidal.
Steroidal progesterone hormones are endogenous, originating from within women. Non-steroidal progesterone hormones are pharmaceutically-made and derived from natural sources, such as plants.
Steroidal Hormones - Naturally Occurring in Women
Lipid-soluble, steroid hormones can penetrate and enter target cells to directly affect their behavior. These types of hormones are created from cholesterol.
Progesterone is a steroid hormone that belongs to the progestogens, which are derived from pregnenolone. In fact, progesterone is the only naturally occurring human progestogen.
Pregnenolone is an endogenous steroid hormone that is a principal precursor to other steroid hormones synthesized by the ovaries and adrenal glands. Four major classes of steroids come from pregnenolone: estrogens, progestogens, androgens, and corticosteroids. The first three classes are considered sex steroid hormones.
Keep in mind that progesterone is not to be confused with progestins, which are synthetically produced progestogens.
Progesterone Structure (C21H30O2)
Steroid hormones, such as progesterone, have four cyclic hydrocarbons. Each hydrocarbon is an amalgamation of hydrogen and carbon and is hydrophobic, repelled by water.
Moreover, progesterone consists of ketone and oxygenated functional groups as well as two methyl branches.
Non-steroidal Hormones - Synthetic or Derived from Plants
Non-steroid hormones need a transporter – such as an enzyme – to relay information to the cell's interior, subsequently causing a reaction. Depending on how the hormones are created, some synthetic steroids can be weaker or stronger than natural steroids whose receptors they activate.
In regards to progesterone hormones, there are a couple main types of non-steroid, synthetically-produced progesterone, those for birth control and HRT.
Progesterone for Birth Control
Progestin hormones are produced in laboratories to have progestogenic activity that triggers effects similar to those of endogenous progesterone.
Progestin-only pills are used as contraceptives for women with contraindications to estrogen or for those breastfeeding. Combination oral contraceptive pills with progestin and estrogen are used to reduce androgenic symptoms.
Also, progestin acts on the uterus, especially in treatment of dysfunctional uterine bleeding and prevention of endometrial cancer, and the mammary glands before and during pregnancy.
Medications are available in various forms, including pills; topical applications, such as creams and skin patches; injections into a muscle; or insertions, such as vaginal rings or intrauterine devices.
Noted side effects of progestin contraceptive pills include breakthrough bleeding, nausea, headaches, breast tenderness, acne, mood swings, weight gain, hirsutism, and more.
Because of reported side effects, interest in replicating the progesterone hormone for clinical use from plant sources has ensued.
Progesterone for HRT
Natural progesterone is produced from plant sources, such as wild Mexican yam and soybeans.
A chemical known as diosgenin is isolated from the plant sources and converted to pregnenolone and later progesterone. This process needs to be performed in a laboratory before the plant-based progesterone can be used within the human body.
Additionally, natural progesterone is used for bioidentical hormones in progesterone replacement therapy. Since the form of progesterone produced is molecularly identical to endogenous progesterone, bioidentical hormones fill the hormonal void when possible.
Bioidentical progesterone is available in various forms, including injections; intravaginal and topical applications; and oral formulations.
Noted side effects from the use of natural progesterone include drowsiness or insomnia; appetite changes; allergic skin reactions; fevers; headaches; depression; fluid retention; fatigue; acne; and more.
However, when compared to synthetically-produced progestins, natural progesterone has improved bioavailability with reportedly fewer side effects.
Continue reading to learn all about progesterone production in glands and receptors for an improved fundamental understanding of the hormone's importance in the female body.
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