Top Stress Busting Foods & Hormone Hacks to Naturally Increase Progesterone
By Laura Charelle
Bio: Laura Charelle is a high performance women’s health coach and founder of Balanced Bombshells, which teaches active and busy women to naturally balance their hormones for a happy and healthy life. Through hormone balancing recipes, cycle based living, and education on seven key sets of hormones, Laura empowers women to manage their lives better so they look, feel, and perform at their best.
After leaving numerous doctors offices in tears and without answers, Laura sought a different approach to her health. She has become an expert in women’s health after 10 years of research and testing how to use hormones to her advantage. Her mission is to teach as many women as possible about their hormones, so they can have the confidence and energy to lead their full lives.
Dealing with Hormones
There are many reasons why you might have low hormone levels, especially progesterone. But what does it actually FEEL like? There are many reasons why you’d miss the signs that your levels are low, because who really talks about this?!
Many women won’t realize they have a deficiency until they start trying to have children.
Or, you could be like me, and think you’re doing just fine: trying to eat all the veggies and manage stress, not worrying about having children yet (but want to when you’re ready), and realize all your emotional and cycle issues stemmed from a deficiency that no one ever thought was a thing. For active and busy women everywhere, let me tell you - it’s a thing.
In my case, a progesterone deficiency started showing up years before I even got married, let alone thought about children. Things like being on birth control from ages 17-26, dealing with an over-exercising problem, and managing stress from my work schedule, commute, and excelling in my career.
All of these circumstances caused my progesterone levels to be too low and made me feel extremely anxious and overwhelmed. I was constantly seeking ways to self medicate, like overdoing it with cardio workouts. What I thought was bringing more calm and ease to my mind was ultimately adding more stress to my body.
Stress & Your Progesterone
You see, progesterone can be a finicky hormone. It is on a natural rise-and-fall pattern with its sister hormone, estrogen. When these two hormones are in balance, your body flows through your monthly cycle in harmony.
(natural rise and fall of estrogen and progesterone throughout your monthly cycle)
Yet, this is not the reality our fast paced lives thrive on today. Stress gets in the way.
A woman’s body only knows stress as stress, regardless if it’s mental, emotional, or physical. Your body will respond the same way every single time.
For example, if you’re anxious about the mountain of emails you need to get through, your body will actively release more stress hormones. This is your body’s natural way to “fight or flight” so you have the energy and focus to deal with the perceived threat in front of you, even if it’s just getting through your work day!
Cortisol, one of your stress hormones, actually competes for the same receptors in your body as progesterone. And it will usually win.
This means that your stress levels will naturally lower your reserve of progesterone and attach itself where your calming hormone is supposed to go. This will lead you to feel more stressed and anxious, rather than calm and at peace.
When estrogen and progesterone are out of alignment, you’ll find you produce too little of one hormone and too much of another. This can bleed into hormone symptoms associated with PMS, digestion problems, your metabolism, skin issues, infertility, and even get in the way of your happy thoughts.
Soon enough you’ll realize stress has been running the show and you have to talk yourself up to feel happy in your life.
My Personal Story with Low Progesterone
For years I was in and out of doctor’s offices and was repeatedly sent home. As a young, active, and healthy woman in her twenties, I was told “nothing is wrong with you”. Physicians didn’t see severe PMS as a reason to test my hormones.
Frustrated and without answers, I began researching hormones and how I could use food, fitness, and my daily life to get more of the results I wanted. For me, that was to have clearer skin and less bloating. But more importantly, to fix the emotional rollercoaster I found myself on three days before my period.
I had something called premenstrual dysfunctional disorder (PMDD), which is basically a more intense version of PMS. I’d fall into this three day depression where I’d wake up and it was hard to get out of bed, let alone get myself to the office.
Then came the tension in my relationship when I couldn’t control my mood swings. It became worse when my then boyfriend and I moved in together. I didn’t know how to communicate what was happening within my body, because at the time, I had no idea.
Here are eight signs that your progesterone levels are too low:
- Short or irregular periods
- Mood swings
- Trouble sleeping
- Estrogen dominance - closely connected to symptoms associated with PMS or PCOS
- Stress and anxiety
- Hair loss
- Bloating/water retention
Cortisol Reducing Foods
There are many foods you can eat to increase progesterone, and many you can eat to lower cortisol levels. These foods can help your body more effectively metabolize cortisol, which in turn, will help you produce more progesterone.
- Vitamin C (oranges, strawberries, broccoli, red bell peppers, etc.)
- Coconut oil
- Leafy greens
Get Strategic with Your Exercise
Exercise can help too! I did need to swap my long runs for a more balanced workout routine. When you feel stressed try these exercise swaps:
- Walking instead of running or spin class
- Yoga instead of a CrossFit or boxing class
- Partner your hard workouts to the times of your cycle your body is naturally stronger like during your follicular and ovulation phases. Scale back on tough workouts during your luteal and menstrual phases so progesterone can become more stable.
Being able to use food and your lifestyle habits more to your advantage will help your body naturally produce more progesterone. You’ll watch PMS symptoms melt away, bloating subside, and your mood dramatically improve.
Use Your Hormones to Your Advantage
The life-changing outlook for your hormones is to know that every little bump along the road challenges you to learn something new about yourself. Growth is rarely comfortable, but if you stick with it and continue to show up for the lessons you need to learn, you can use your hormones to navigate your life better.
My journey with low progesterone motivated me to find alternative ways to support my body, even when doctors couldn’t help. It challenged me to dive into the dark corners of my emotions and become more vulnerable with my loved ones. Ultimately, it taught me the importance of showing up for yourself and believing your life can be better.
Today, I’ve been PMS free for the past four years and still get surprised when my period comes without symptoms. My cycle is a normal and predictable 28 days with ovulation occurring around day 14/15, with a luteal phase of 13/14 days. A far cry from the 40-43 day abnormal cycle I use to have. Discovering an imbalance with progesterone was the missing link to getting my cycle (and life) back on track.
Remember that guy I moved in with? The one where my mood swings were causing tension in our relationship? Fixing my progesterone deficiency put a halt to my mood swings and that guy is now my husband! Who knew that such a little hormone could have such a powerful impact?
Wondering what’s happening with your hormones? While it’s just one piece of the puzzle, Proov is the first and only FDA cleared test to confirm ovulation at home. It works by measuring PdG - the urine metabolite of progesterone. Confirming healthy ovulation is a helpful way to better monitor if your hormones are in balance. If they are, then great! If not, then the fix can be as simple as some of the changes discussed earlier! Regardless, having the information that Proov provides around ovulation confirmation can provide important clues to helping women both move forward in their fertility journeys and understand general health.