Low Progesterone Levels: About & Causes

Often times, having low progesterone levels will provoke symptoms wrongly attributed to other underlying causes, and as long as the hormonal imbalance goes untreated, symptoms will persist, continually worsening.

Continue reading to learn more about low progesterone and what causes unnatural fluctuations, including hormonal and lifestyle-related triggers, for an improved lifestyle.

About Low Progesterone Levels

Progesterone Levels

During the menstrual cycle, progesterone is lowest during the follicular phase. After ovulation, levels increase rapidly as the hormone is produced from the corpus luteum, the ruptured follicle. Throughout the luteal phase, progesterone levels will remain elevated, above those of estrogen, until the next cycle.

In adulthood, it is normal for monthly progesterone levels to span from 0.1 - 25 ng/mL, depending on age and stage in the menstrual cycle. However, most women will experience abnormal drops in progesterone sometime during their lifetime, and these drops can be caused by a variety of factors.

Causes of Low Progesterone Levels

The causes of low progesterone are divided into four categories: natural causes, lifestyle factors, induced causes, and other causes.

1

Natural Causes of Low Progesterone Levels

During Adulthood (20s to 40s)

Low levels of progesterone can occur during normal adulthood, often due to childbirth and breastfeeding.

Directly after parturition, blood levels of progesterone fall, allowing the new mother to produce high density milk for the newborn. Within two to three days post-partum, milk will begin to flow sufficiently enough for continual breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding also poses a time in a woman's life in which her progesterone levels will naturally be low. This is due to the causal relationship between high prolactin, the hormone that controls lactation, and the absence of ovarian activity. With no menstrual cycle, there is no possibility of ovulation, in which the majority of progesterone is produced.

In this way, as long as a woman is breastfeeding, progesterone levels are suppressed, bringing about a natural form of birth control to help space out pregnancies.

During these times, a lack of progesterone may evoke symptoms often associated with menopause, such as vaginal dryness, low libido, fatigue, night sweats, and more.

During Perimenopause and After Menopause (40s on up)

When a woman enters the menopausal transition, irregular menstrual cycles ensue, in which women may skip periods, have longer or shorter periods, or have anovulatory cycles. All of these changes may affect whether a woman ovulates, ultimately hindering progesterone production and levels.

This decline in progesterone levels with possible estrogen dominance may provoke a host of symptoms, including mental fogginess, night sweats, hot flashes, mood swings, anxiety, weight gain, and additional ones.

During this time, using conventional measures - such as HRT - or supplementing with bioidentical progesterone products - such as pills and creams - may provide a hormonal boost needed for healthy endocrinal health. Postmenopausal women may also choose more natural progesterone treatments in the form of herbal supplements that nourish endocrine glands for improved functioning.

2

Lifestyle Factors that Cause Low Progesterone Levels

There are a variety of lifestyle factors that can cause low progesterone levels. Many of them are associated with factors that inhibit ovulation. Some of them include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Diet. Fatty foods have a very strong influence on hormonal activity in the body. It has been found that with high-fat diets, estrogen levels increase. With this uneven spike, progesterone levels will be shadowed, causing a hormonal imbalance.

  • Progesterone and Stress

    Stress. Extreme chronic or emotional stress can disrupt hypothalamic function, which stimulates and regulates activities of other glands. Over a long period of time, increased production of cortisol to deal with the chronic-stress situation interferes with normal, endocrinal functions, leading to progesterone deficiency. After the stress deceases, healthy menstrual cycles usually ensue.

  • Eating disorders. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder can also cause low progesterone levels by stimulating the production of stress hormones, which include cortisol. As aforementioned, stress hormones released in higher amounts disrupt normal levels of sex hormones until the stressors pass. Furthermore, excessively low body weight can disrupt hormonal functions in the body, potentially halting ovulation and subsequent progesterone production.

  • Extreme exercise. Extreme exercising can also cause a woman to have insufficient body fat, leading to amenorrhea, which is a lack of menstruation. Exercise-induced amenorrhea causes the body to believe it is in a “starvation state,” thereby shutting down bodily operations not deemed necessary for survival, such as those of the reproductive system. Also, increased stress from excessive exercising can interfere with the continuous cycle of menstrual periods.

3

Induced Causes of Low Progesterone Levels

Various procedures and treatments can cause women to have lower progesterone levels, including hysterectomies, radiation therapies, and certain medications.

Hysterectomies involve the surgical removal of reproductive organs. Women who have their ovaries removed - as part of a total hysterectomy, or “surgical menopause” - can suffer from decreased progesterone levels as it halts ovarian hormone production.

Following a partial hysterectomy in which just the uterus is removed can also force a woman to enter surgically-induced menopause. She'll most likely experience a hormone imbalance, regardless of whether or not her ovaries remain. Research studies suggest that menopause occurs nearly four years earlier in women who have underwent a hysterectomy.

Another cause of low progesterone levels is chemotherapy or radiation therapy treatments. Loss of ovarian function can be permanent or temporary, and functions may halt as soon as two to three weeks into treatment. The performance of the ovaries depends upon the type of chemotherapy received and whether radiation was utilized on the ovaries.

Moreover, use of certain medications for various health conditions can cause menstrual periods to stop, thus halting progesterone production from ovulation. These medications include antipsychotics, antidepressants, blood pressure drugs, and even allergy medications.

4

Other Causes for Low Progesterone Levels

Furthermore, the following conditions can each prompt low progesterone levels in women:

  • Congenital conditions. Genetic predispositions, such as Turner syndrome and androgen insensitivity syndrome, can cause a woman to have lower progesterone levels, many times due to amenorrhea.
  • Abnormal gland function. Thyroid disorders and pituitary gland diseases and tumors have both been found to provoke lowered progesterone levels in women by inducing menstrual irregularities, including amenorrhea.
  • Delayed puberty. Delayed pubertal development can provoke a variety of health conditions, improper ovarian development being one of them.

 

Overall, there are a range of factors as well as natural, induced, and other causes that can provoke low progesterone levels throughout a woman's reproductive life.

Careful vigilance of hormonal imbalance is advised before conditions become severe complications with a progesterone deficiency. Continue reading to learn more about the signs and symptoms of low progesterone.

Bibliography

  • The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2011). Perimenopausal Bleeding and Bleeding After Menopause. Retrieved October 27, 2017, from https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Perimenopausal-Bleeding-and-Bleeding-After-Menopause
  • Cox, L. & Liu, J.H. (2014). Primary ovarian insufficiency: an update. International Journal of Women's Health, 6, 235-243. doi: 10.2147/IJWH.S37636
  • Davey, J.D. & Dzugan, S. (2017). The Cholesterol Puzzle: The Hormone Connection. England: Matador. Available from Google Books.
  • Deshpande, H. et al. (2012). Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology of India, 62(Suppl 1), 75-77. doi: 10.1007/s13224-013-0382-6
  • Harvard Health Publishing. (2006). What are bioidentical hormones? Retrieved November 3, 2017, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/what-are-bioidentical-hormones
  • Mayo Clinic. (2014). Amenorrhea: Causes. Retrieved October 31, 2017, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/amenorrhea/basics/causes/con-20031561
  • Moorman, P.G. et al. (2011). Effect of Hysterectomy With Ovarian Preservation on Ovarian Function. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 118(6), 1271-1279. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0b013e318236fd12
  • The Physicians Committee. (n.d.). Fat and Hormonal Effects. Retrieved November 2, 2017, from https://www.pcrm.org/health/cancer-resources/diet-cancer/nutrition/fat-and-hormonal-effects
  • Raffelock, D. et al. (2002). A Natural Guide to Pregnancy and Postpartum Health. New York: Avery. Available from Google Books.
  • Society for Endocrinology. (2014). Eating disorders and hormones | Turner syndrome. Retrieved October 31, 2017, from http://www.yourhormones.info/topical-issues/eating-disorders-and-hormones/ | http://www.yourhormones.info/endocrine-conditions/turner-syndrome/
  • University of Rochester Medical Center: Healthy Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Progesterone. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=167&ContentID=progesterone
  • University of Southern California. (2009). 5 Things You Need to Know About Exercise-Induced Amenorrhea. Retrieved October 31, 2017, from http://uscfertility.org/5-things-need-know-exercise-induced-amenorrhea/
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