It is now time to talk about a woman’s hormones and the effect on her body as she gets older. Having a period is nature’s way of keeping you young. The optimum amount of estrogen and progesterone during the various phases of the monthly cycle have definite effects on a woman’s health and longevity.
The first half of a woman’s cycle is dominated by estrogen and the second half by progesterone. In this blog we will concentrate on progesterone.
A woman really begins to show her age when her periods become irregular and eventually stop. Why is this? In the middle of her cycle when the egg is released, the part that is left, the corpus luteum, becomes a progesterone factory. Progesterone gets the uterus ready for a possible implantation if fertilization occurs. When a woman ceases to have her period the most immediate change is progesterone deficiency. Even though some progesterone continues to be produced by the adrenal glands after menopause, in many ways you could think of it as “no period, no progesterone”.
What about estrogen? It has been shown that a woman’s estrogen does decrease at menopause to about 50% of that she would have produced at age 30. Estrogen is also of major importance, of course, but the big change to my mind is the initial progesterone drop – which immediately changes the optimal progesterone to estrogen ratio and often produces symptoms like hot flashes and other deficiency symptoms. In fact, it is known that a woman has a higher risk for breast cancer if she has a low progesterone to estrogen ratio. In addition, a low P/E ratio can create abnormal bleeding during peri- and post-menopause and an increased risk of uterine cancer.
So let’s talk about natural progesterone (progesterone with the same biochemical structure that your body produces) versus “progestins” which are synthetic progesterones (and do NOT have the same biochemical structure that your body produces). Natural Progesterone works on many tissues other than the uterus. There are receptors for progesterone in the bone, brain and blood vessel walls, for example. Natural Progesterone balances estrogen, has a natural calming effect, helps sleep, increases metabolic rate, increases scalp hair, lowers cholesterol, lowers high blood pressure, is a natural diuretic, normalizes and improves libido, is a natural anti-depressant and anti-inflammatory.
Therefore, symptoms of progesterone deficiency include: anxiety, decreased HDL levels, decreased libido, depression, insomnia, pain and inflammation, insomnia and osteoporosis.
To be fair, synthetic progesterone or “progestins” do have some positive effects that they share with Natural progesterone. Both build bone, help thyroid function, protects against endometrial cancer and normalize zinc and copper levels. This is where the similarity ends, however. Here is partial list of the side-effects of progestins that natural progesterone does NOT have: increased appetite, increased LDL (bad cholesterol), decreased HDL (good cholesterol), insomnia, irritability, weight gain, breast tenderness, decreased energy, decreased sexual interest, fluid retention and hair loss. In addition, progestins stop the protective effects estrogen has on the heart. Dr. Stephen Sinatra, a cardiologist, states in his book “Heart Sense for Women” states “I have found that synthetic progestins can lead to serious side effects in my patients, including shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and high blood pressure.
Progesterone is extremely important to a peri and post-menopausal woman. Her life may depend on maintaining optimal levels of progesterone as well as estrogen. In the next blog we will talk about how we may accomplish this. Until next time…..