Every Friday is Fertility Friday where I will share some tips, advice and some parts of my own infertility journey.
This week I thought I would kick it off talking about progesterone, a very important hormone for getting pregnant, maintaining a pregnancy and for female hormone health in general. Here is a summary of what I have learnt in my own infertility journey:
Progesterone is the important hormone after ovulation to maintain a pregnancy. It is produced in the corpus luteum of the ovaries after ovulation to support a possible pregnancy. If there is no pregnancy progesterone levels naturally decline until you get your menstrual period. If you are fortunate enough to be pregnant progesterone levels continue to rise to maintain this.
Progesterone levels decline naturally from about age 35 so if you are of this age group and older and doing your own fertility research you may be concerned that you need extra progesterone. This is not always the case. For most of my fertility journey I was put on progesterone by many specialists. I even spent a couple of years applying progesterone cream in the second half of my cycle hoping it would make a difference, it never did! When I had IVF at age 41, I was given high dose progesterone suppositories, which are horrendous by the way but I still ended up having a miscarriage at 7 weeks.
When I got pregnancy naturally at age 43, I was not taking anything to balance my hormones so I was really surprised that my body was able to maintain the pregnancy without any supplemental progesterone. From about 5 weeks I did take a safe homeopathic remedy and a nutritional supplement to help support my progesterone levels, mainly because I was paranoid and this seemed to help keep things ticking along. Please be assured that there are natural supplements you can take to help to support your progesterone levels that can be taken safely throughout pregnancy. These are very individual and there is not one product that suits everyone.
You may be sent for a progesterone blood or saliva test at some stage during your fertility journey, however just testing progesterone in isolation doesn’t always give you the whole picture. If you have estrogen dominance for example (an excess of estrogen over progesterone) then it is hard for your hormones to maintain a healthy balance. In addition if you have thyroid issues or you are under a lot of stress then this will also have an impact on your progesterone levels. As a practitioner in NZ I am very fortunate to have access to a hormone test called the DUTCH test now for my clients. It unfortunately wasn’t around when I started my fertility journey, otherwise I would have definitely made the investment. I discuss the option of the DUTCH test with all my fertility clients.
Estrogen dominance is where the liver struggles to detoxify excess estrogen and so it gets recycled back into the blood stream causing an excess of estrogen. This makes it hard for hormones to stay in balance and leads to low progesterone compared to the high amounts of estrogen.
We also have to be careful of xenoestrogens, human made chemicals from the environment. Not only can they mimic our natural hormones, but they can block other hormones from binding to receptor sites. All xenohormones are endocrine disruptors. They can alter how natural hormones are produced, metabolized and eliminated. Common sources of Xenoestrogens are: plastics (drink bottles, lunch boxes) solvents and adhesives (paint, nail polish, household cleaners) non organic meats (they contain hormones to help them grow quickly) pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, emulsifiers in soap and cosmetics, PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyl) from industrial waste, hormonal birth control. I worked in a health shop for 8 years handing receipts which have been reported to contain PCB’s. This wouldn’t have helped my hormones at all.
Stress is a huge factor. Why because in addition to the corpus luteum, progesterone is also produced by the adrenal glands. This means that if you are under a lot of stress then your adrenal glands may have shut down your production of progesterone in favour of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. I really believe this was a huge factor in my fertility journey and is likely to be a major factor with a lot of women in this day and age. When we are under stress our body tends to shut down our reproductive hormones as getting pregnant is not essential for our survival. During my fertility journey I was studying, raising a child, working part time in a health shop and starting my own clinic as a nutritionist as well as dealing with the emotional ups and downs of infertility and recurring miscarriage. It was only when I quit working in the health shop in 2018 to start working exclusively on building my clinic, that I discovered I was pregnant 3 weeks later at age 43. Maybe it was because I reduced my stress levels or maybe I had finally made space in my life to have time to look after a baby. These are all important factors that play a part in having a healthy balance of hormones.
Stress is not just being busy. If you have an infection, gut issue or food intolerance that is causing inflammation and uncomfortable symptoms, this is stressful for your body as well. These situations can weaken the immune system and can become a form of stress that impacts on your adrenal and thyroid glands.
Lastly poor nutrition and dehydration can impact on hormones. A deficiency of vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins as a result of poor nutrition can make it difficult for hormones to function properly. We also need clean filtered drinking water to sustain fluid levels and flush out toxins.
So here are my top tips for healthy progesterone levels:
1. Reduce stress and make space for a baby in your life. If you have too many projects on the go cut back. Try yoga and meditation, the Headspace app was my saviour. Deal with any health issue that you have that is causing stress to your body and mind.
2. If you are over 40 don’t waste time trying different supplements, go straight for the DUTCH hormone test through a practitioner then you know what you are dealing with.
3. Support your liver’s detoxification of estrogen by including plenty of brassica vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussel sprouts and cabbage in your diet. They contain a substance called indol 3 carbinol which helps your liver detoxify excess estrogens by converting estrogen into a water-soluble form that can be detoxified by the liver. If you have thyroid issues lightly steam them rather than having them raw as raw brassica’s contain active goitrogens which can block the thyroid glands absorption of iodine.
4. 1 tablespoon of ground linseed, add to smoothies or breakfast. Ground linseeds contains Lignan’s which help to balance estrogen and progesterone.
5. Reduce exposure to Xenohormones from the environment. These are: plastics (drink bottles, lunch boxes) solvents and adhesives (paint, nail polish, household cleaners) non organic meats (they contain hormones to help them grow quickly) pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, emulsifiers in soap and cosmetics, PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyl) from industrial waste, hormonal birth control.
6. Take a good prenatal multivitamin with activated B vitamins to make sure you are getting the essential nutrients to support your hormones and liver function. I recommend the prenatal multivitamin from NaturoBest as the ingredients are high quality and research based.
7. Avoid any foods that stress the body such as refined sugar, caffeine, alcohol, processed foods and gluten. Caffeine in particular stresses adrenals and elevates cortisol.
8. A daily cup or two of Artemis Fertility Tea is great to help balance hormones and boost fertility.
9. Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep. In bed by 10pm at least 3 times a week
10. Lots of walks in nature, moderate exercise but not high intensity as this can be another stressor to the body.