Written by: Dr. Amy Beckley, PhD, Founder and Inventor of the Proov test — the first and only FDA-cleared test to confirm successful ovulation at home.
Written on 9/23/21
There are many different products that contain progesterone.
Progesterone is available in many different forms. Understanding the different types of progesterone and how to get more of the good stuff can help you make more informed decisions moving forward.
What is progesterone and why is it important?
Progesterone is the hormone produced after ovulation that helps prepare the uterine lining for implantation and pregnancy. It makes the uterine lining “sticky” enough to allow an embryo to implant.
Progesterone also prevents preterm contractions and the mother’s body from rejecting the new embryo. Without enough progesterone during the implantation window, it can be more difficult to successfully conceive.
Additionally, studies show progesterone aids in formation, cognitive function, blood flow, and neurological function. Needless to say it’s a pretty vital hormone in your body!
What are the two different types of progesterone?
Contrary to popular belief, not all progesterone is the same. There are two main types of progesterone: synthetic and bioidentical.
It’s important to note that both synthetic and bioidentical progesterone are made in labs. It’s their chemical composition and way they’re made that differs.
Bioidentical progesterone (also called natural progesterone) is chemically and structurally identical to the progesterone that your body produces. It can be derived from plant sources (such as wild yam or soy) and your body does not need to alter the hormone in order for it to function properly in your body.
Synthetic progesterone (sometimes called progestin), on the other hand, is not chemically or structurally identical to the progesterone produced by your body. Because of this, synthetic progesterone does not always act the same as the progesterone produced by your body. Sometimes your body will convert synthetic progesterone into bioidentical progesterone to make it perform the same functions.
Keep an eye out below for what type of progesterone is present in each of the following products!
1. Over-the-counter progesterone creams
Over-the-counter progesterone creams were developed as a hormone therapy method for perimenopausal women. Typically, progesterone creams contain bioidentical progesterone, most often derived from wild yams, but every brand can differ.
However, many studies show progesterone creams are ineffective, with some studies showing they don’t improve perimenopausal symptoms at all, while other studies show it can take several months to show improvement.
Additionally, creams are typically thicker and have larger molecules, meaning it is more difficult for the progesterone to be efficiently absorbed by the skin. If you are trying to conceive, progesterone creams may not offer strong enough support.
If you are trying to conceive, progesterone creams may not offer strong enough support.
2. Over-the-counter progesterone oils
Oils, similar to creams, often contain bioidentical progesterone. Progesterone oils, however, may be a better delivery option compared to creams because their molecules aren’t as big. This means it’s easier for progesterone in oils to penetrate the skin.
Often, progesterone oils also contain a higher concentration of progesterone than creams do (but this too depends on the brand). Some progesterone oils contain vitamin E, which studies have shown helps increase mid-luteal progesterone levels. If you opt for oils over creams, we recommend checking the dosage and ingredients.
3. Birth control
There are several forms of progestin-only and combination birth controls — that contain both synthetic estrogen and synthetic progesterone — including the pill, implant, injection and IUD. Most progesterone-based birth controls contain progestins (synthetic progesterone), meaning it does not contain progesterone like the type produced in your body.
Progestin-only birth controls are a great option for many women, although we always recommend consulting your doctor when it comes to choosing the best birth control option for you. Some people even find other benefits from progestin-only birth control, such as lighter or no periods and less cramping.
However, birth control pills are not a substitute for fertility treatments and, of course, are often not recommended when trying to conceive. This is because synthetic hormones don’t actually prepare your body for conception or pregnancy.
4. Intramuscular progesterone injections
Intramuscular progesterone injections are bioidentical forms of progesterone that are often used during in-vitro fertilization (IVF cycles) or for treating luteal phase defects. Intramuscular progesterone is delivered via shots in muscular parts of your body.
Dr. Karen D. Poehailos, MD, CFCMC prefers intramuscular progesterone because it is the most effective delivery method for supporting progesterone levels in blood and the uterine lining.
Even so, studies have shown intramuscular progesterone to be comparable in efficacy, and even slightly less effective in some cases, than oral progesterone. You do need a prescription for intramuscular progesterone injections and it’s always a good idea to discuss the best options with your doctor.
5. Vaginal progesterone suppositories
Vaginal progesterone suppositories are another common option for treating luteal phase defect and IVF, and many contain bioidentical progesterone. Like injections, you do need a prescription from a doctor to get vaginal suppositories.
Vaginal progesterone is delivered by inserting the suppository into your vagina. Studies show that vaginal progesterone is just as effective as intramuscular progesterone in IVF treatments. Other studies show that vaginal progesterone is even slightly more effective than intramuscular progesterone at promoting a healthy implantation.
Like injection, you do need a prescription from a doctor to get vaginal suppositories.
6. Oral progesterone supplements
Oral progesterone supplements are delivered via capsules, similar to pills. Similar to intramuscular and vaginal progesterone, you do need a prescription for oral progesterone from your doctor. Oral progesterone is typically bioidentical.
Studies show that oral progesterone is highly effective at preventing preterm labor. As we mentioned, oral progesterone may be more effective than intramuscular progesterone in some cases.
Better understanding the different products which contain progesterone can help you make more informed decisions on your journey!