Progesterone is one of the most important steroid hormones in the female body. In chemical composition, it is similar to the most familiar female hormone, estrogen, and it is also found in the form of synthetic progestins, which are artificially synthesized in the laboratory. At the same time, synthetic progestins may not always display or initiate the similar actions in the body as the natural synthesized progesterone - this is in keeping with their slight difference to the biosynthesized steroid. In the female body, the hormone progesterone is necessary to initiate the proper development of uterine structures and has an important role in breast development and functioning - it also affect lactation during pregnancy. It is normal clinical practice to include supplements of progestins during prolonged hormone replacement therapy especially if estrogens are prescribed for the patient during or after menopause, this is because long term hormone replacement therapy using estrogen without the inclusion of the progestins tends to hike the risks of uterine cancer developing in the body. Estrogen replacement therapy without the addition of progestins is sometimes prescribed for women who have undergone a hysterectomy; since the uterus has been removed in such women, the chances of uterine cancer does not arise and progesterones are not needed in such cases. Most doctors and clinical scientists are of the opinion that supplements of natural progesterone are safer and much more effective in treating different health disorders in women; however, this amount of studies carried out on supplemental natural progesterone by clinical scientists is meager when compared to the extensive research conducted on the effects of supplemental synthetic progestins. This is an anomaly that needs to be rectified.
The hormone progesterone also affects other functions in the body. There is some preliminary clinical evidence to showing that progesterone is involved in bone metabolism in the body; this factor could be of help in dealing with osteoporosis in women. Post menopausal women were studied in one uncontrolled clinical trial lasting three years that made the participants utilize topical natural progesterone cream combined with supplements of multi vitamins and calcium, as well as oral estrogen therapy. The participants in the study were also given a strict dietary and exercise regimen, the results of the study showed that the women had consistent gains in bone density over the length of the trial - the results are not clear as there is no comparison of the data which was carried out with similar programs conducted without the use of progesterone supplements. At the same time, the results from at least one trial shows that the use of natural progesterone along with estrogen therapy does not induce bone mass gain when compared to the use of estrogen therapy without the addition of progesterone. The results indicate that natural progesterone use may not necessarily protect the body from osteoporosis once menopause has been reached.
The symptoms of premenstrual syndrome are not alleviated by the use of vaginally applied natural progesterone cream. Most studies conducted in this regard under controlled laboratory conditions suggest that such creams are not effective. At the same time, the effectiveness of orally consumed or rectally applied progesterone is supported by many doctors of natural medicine.
Clinical scientists have also connected the use of synthetic progesterone like medications to elevated risk for breast cancer in studies conducted in many different laboratories. At the same time, the use of topical progesterone has been found to induce changes in breast tissue that may actually prevent the onset of cancer in the breast. This is contradicted by different clinical researchers who report exactly opposite effects induced by the topical application; this group of clinical scientists contends that natural progesterone actually increases the proliferation of cancer cells in breast tissue. A few doctors of natural medicine have concluded that natural progesterone may help protect against breast cancer. The results from this research needs to be carefully analyzed and is incomplete at this stage as there are too many inconsistencies in the results. This inconsistency is borne out from the results of one particular trial, where it is shown that a deficiency in natural progesterone was connected to an increase in the risk for breast cancer; however, this was only true in those cases where the breast cancer occurred before the menopause stage. These results indicate such a finding the protective role played by natural progesterone in the body. The problem lies in the fact that the majority of breast cancer cases begin to develop only at the post-menopause stage, a fact seen by the results of the same trial, where the deficiency in the hormone progesterone was linked to a statistically insignificant but nevertheless large lowering in the risks of developing breast cancer at the post-menopausal stage. This results whenever it is reexamined in future research, may not suggest any protective action for progesterone, and it may bring up questions of safety and an increased risk for cancer.
An increase in the risk for heart disease in women has also been attributed to the use of synthetic progesterone supplements. At the same time in one trial, the use of topical vaginally applied natural progesterone creams have been shown boost the effectiveness of estrogen replacement therapy over heart functioning in women affected by coronary artery disease that can cause heart attacks. However, the use of oral synthetic progestin in the same trial did not lead to any significant improvement in cardiac functioning in the women who were studied. Therefore, it is necessary to conduct a lot more clinical tests to see the type of effects that the use of natural progesterone brings on heart disease in women.
Supplemental progesterone may help in reducing the risk of cancer; it may also help prevent the onset of heart disease. It has been confirmed to be of great help for women dealing with the physical symptoms of menopause, as well as with the osteoporosis that often comes once menopause sets in. It is also helpful in dealing with premenstrual syndrome as well.
Sources of progesterone
The ovaries produce most of the progesterone in females, at the same time the adrenal glands also produce some progesterone in both male and females. In women, the production of the hormone progesterone is the highest when the menstrual cycle goes into the luteal phase and is the lowest in the follicular phase. The production of progesterone in the body of females is rather low both before puberty and following menopause at about age fifty years.
There are many ways in which progesterone can be supplemented. The hormone can be used in the form of lozenges, as oral supplements, in topical creams, as suppositories, or in intravenous injections. The term "natural" progesterone is a direct reference to the chemical form of the hormone identical to the compound synthesized in the human body, this can be contrasted with the synthesized form of the hormone, which is chemically related and performs similar functions but is a product of chemical processes in the laboratory.
Conventional hormone replacement therapy in older post-menopausal women is also carried out using the progestins; in fact, these compounds are included in all oral contraceptive pills sold in the market.
Phytochemicals in plant tissues such as those of the wild yam bear the chemical precursors to the hormone progesterone -example, the compound diosgenin. These plant based compounds can easily be biochemically converted in specific industrial process to form the hormone progesterone. In fact, the use of this plant based precursor compounds can give hormones that are identical to the progesterone synthesized in the human body. As the compound produced in this process is identical to the progesterone from the body, this derived product is often called "natural progesterone," when sold in the market. There are also some misconceptions regarding the wild yam and other plants. Many people believe that the root of the wild yam has chemicals that are naturally converted into the hormone progesterone in the body - this is a false claim. The use of herbs or eating the wild yam will not result in progesterone production in the body, and all women who need progesterone should ask a nutritionally oriented physician for prescriptions and not rely on the use of herbs or the consumption of specific plants.
The chemical basis for the production of progesterone in the body is from a compound called pregnenolone, which is another hormone synthesized in the human body. This chemical can be biochemically altered into progesterone by the body. Supplements of pregnenolone may not necessarily lead to an increase in the amount of progesterone production in the body -and the effect of such supplements is still not studied extensively as yet.
Deficiencies and susceptibility
Along with all other female specific hormones, progesterone production in the bodies of post-menopausal women is drastically lowered from pre-menopausal levels. The abrupt disruption in the flow of hormones is what causes the typical problems associated with progesterone. This state of hormonal "deficiency" is quite normal and a part of life. However, hormone replacement therapy including the use of supplemental progesterone is often necessary, as this relieves some of the physical menopausal symptoms. Progesterone combined with estrogen replacement therapy in particular is a valuable tool in fighting off post-menopausal symptoms in women.
All post-menopausal women should always consult a doctor of natural medicine to find out the correct dosage of progesterone for personal use during hormone replacement therapy. Dosages vary from one woman to the next, clinical research that studied the various effective doses of natural or oral forms of the hormone progesterone came up with the suggestion that 200 mg a day of the hormone is likely to be the most effective - resulting in maximum relief from post-menopausal physical discomfort. Most doctors of natural medicine suggest the use of progesterone at much lower doses - typically around 20 to 70 mg a day, especially if they prescribe natural progesterone in the form of topical applications. There is considerable debate over topical progesterone creams, as the actual ability of such progesterone skin creams or lotions to bring up the levels of the hormone in the body is questioned by many clinicians.
Side effects and cautions
The supplemental use of progesterone has been a source of some debate, as it is an active human hormone that brings specific effects in the body. Many clinical scientists have questioned the validity and safety of its unregulated use by people. In all events, self prescription is not a good idea and any person who wants to use the hormone is advised to consult with an experienced nutritionally oriented physician. This hormone is not a nutrient supplement and can bring specific changes in the body. There are very few physical side effects connected with the use of topical progesterone creams - some of these include skin reactions, probably as a result of an allergic reaction to the cream. The connection between the use of natural progesterone and a heightened risk for breast cancer is an area that still needs to be studied in future research. The research that has been carried out in this regard till date, suggests the possibility of an increased risk in some trials, while the results of other trials show a reduced risk. This matter clearly needs further investigation and it is hoped that future studies will help clear things up.
The side effects of the supplemental synthetic progestins are many and well known by now. These effects include the elevation in the amount of LDL cholesterol aka the "bad" cholesterol in the blood of the person with a corresponding reduction in the blood levels of the HDL cholesterol aka "good" cholesterol. Synthetic progestins are also known to cause soreness in the breast tissues as well as causing them to bloat; they can induce depression, and bring on mood swings in the person using them. The levels of HDL cholesterol are not changed in any manner by the use of natural progesterone. This is the main reason that most doctors of natural medicine prefer to prescribe the more harmless and natural forms of the hormone progesterone to their patients as these are relatively safer, and are really without significant physical side effects.