Written by: Dr. Amy Beckley, PhD, Founder and Inventor of the Proov test — the first and only FDA-cleared test to check for successful ovulation at home.
Written on: 3/13/22
Progesterone is a key hormone in our bodies that helps to regulate our cycles.
In the female body there are so many hormones that have multiple effects. One of those hormones is called progesterone (proh-jes-tuh-rohn). Progesterone has a huge effect on our bodies, yet is often forgotten about and pushed aside. You can think of progesterone as the “Cinderella” hormone – once it is at an adequate level, it allows women to carry life!
Progesterone is released by the ovaries and has a very important role in the menstrual cycle as well as supporting pregnancy. It’s important for pregnancy since it prepares the uterus to thicken and allow a fertilized egg to properly implant.
Progesterone also has many other benefits – it can improve your mood, lower anxiety, reduce hot flashes, fight fatigue, and improve sleep.
Now that we know what progesterone is, we need to understand when in your cycle it’s important. Prior to ovulation, progesterone levels are low. After ovulation, progesterone levels start to rise and should remain elevated during the entire implantation window — when the uterus will be receptive to a new embryo. If the egg is not fertilized, then progesterone levels will fall back down before your period starts.
Different hormones peak and wane at different times throughout your cycle.
How do I know if I have low progesterone?
Let’s discuss the different levels of progesterone. You can have low or adequate levels of progesterone.
You might be wondering, “Can my progesterone levels be too high?” The short answer is no. There are no medical consequences of the hormone being elevated. In fact, progesterone levels rise significantly during pregnancy.
The ideal progesterone level depends on where you are in your cycle. While progesterone levels should be low during the first half of your cycle, lower than ideal levels after ovulation can cause unwanted symptoms. Some common symptoms of low progesterone are:
- Irregular periods
- Short cycles
- Mood swings
- Sleep disturbances
- Spotting before your period
Why should I care about my progesterone levels?
At least 3 in 4 women have experienced some form of PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, at one point or another in their lives. The symptoms of PMS can be caused by changes in hormones and can be worsened by a sudden drop in progesterone levels before your period begins.
There are also many other reasons to care about your progesterone levels – especially if you are trying to conceive. When you are TTC (trying to conceive) progesterone gets the uterus ready to support implantation of a fertilized egg. Without enough progesterone during the implantation window, it can be more difficult to get pregnant.
Additionally, low levels of progesterone after ovulation can be a cause of early miscarriage. This is because low progesterone can prevent the uterine lining from becoming “sticky” enough to sustain a healthy pregnancy.
Testing for low progesterone
There are two different ways to test your progesterone – through urine or blood. These are two very different tests and can tell you different things; let’s dive in.
Progesterone blood test
A common misconception is that all blood tests provide the most accurate results. While progesterone blood draws do provide a very precise measure of the hormone, there are flaws.
A blood test measures progesterone through a one-time test from your doctor or in a mail away kit. A progesterone blood draw can provide you with a very specific numeric value of your hormone through your blood.
This blood test is usually a one time test taken on cycle day 21 – this is because it’s exactly 7 days after ovulation (in a woman with a 28 day cycle) – when progesterone levels should be elevated. The numeric value of your blood test result will show whether your progesterone is ideal or low.
Although these tests are precise, they only show you your progesterone levels at one point in time. This would be fine if this hormone didn’t fluctuate, but it does – a lot.
Studies have shown that progesterone levels can change by the hour. Here’s an example: you get your blood tested in the morning and it was high, but you could theoretically go back again later that day and your levels could be low! Because of this, you may get a false sense of what your progesterone levels are.
Another drawback for progesterone blood tests is that in order for conception to happen, your levels need to be elevated and remain high for several days during your luteal phase — i.e. the implantation window. This means that this one blood test cannot show you your levels over time and it could miss if your levels were dropping sooner than they should.
PdG, also called Pregnanediol Glucuronide, is what’s created after progesterone gets broken down by the liver. PdG is the urine marker of progesterone, therefore tested in urine. While progesterone and PdG don’t always match exactly, studies show that PdG levels in first morning urine correlate to an average of all progesterone levels from the day before (since you’ll remember that progesterone can fluctuate a lot).
Testing PdG is really simple and very easy – Proov PdG tests are hormone test strips which use first morning urine samples. All you have to do is collect a first morning urine sample, dip the PdG test in the sample,and then lay the test strip flat for processing. After that you can use our app to read your test and get the results about your PdG levels over time.
PdG tests are non-invasive and can be done completely at home. Additionally, these tests provide you with a pattern of your levels since you test them during the most important days for your progesterone – days 7-10 past peak fertility.
Since PdG tests show a complete picture of your levels over time, it can give insight into the quality of your ovulation. A high quality ovulation – meaning PdG remains elevated for the entire implantation window – is super important especially if trying to conceive is your goal.
Proov PdG tests will not provide you with a specific numeric value just by reading the test by eye. However, when used alongside the free Proov Insight app, you can receive immediate numeric results!
There are many ways to increase progesterone levels, but make sure to consult your doctor before trying anything new!
How can I improve my progesterone levels?
There are many different ways to help improve your progesterone levels – anywhere from supplementing to working on breathing methods! Keep reading to get some tips.
Herbal supplements are a very easy and popular way to support your body’s natural progesterone production. Many of the popular supplements to increase this hormone include vitex, ashwagandha, and maca (all found in our Luteal Love herbal blend!).
- Vitex: This is one of the most common herbal supplements. It’s used by many women who want to regulate their cycles. Using vitex stimulates LH production; this then stimulates progesterone production. The supplement has been shown to lengthen a short luteal phase, improve PMS, increase mid-luteal progesterone levels, and lower Prolactin levels. Using vitex should not be done during pregnancy, and the supplement has not been shown to correlate to miscarriage.
- Ashwagandha: This herb is a plant which can be found traditionally in Indian Ayurvedic medicine to help relieve stress as well as overall wellbeing. It can also help regulate thyroid and adrenal glands. Ashwagandha also helps to enhance important systems in our body therefore regulating the thyroid and adrenal glands.These are the glands that are responsible for maintaining hormonal balance along with hormones.
- Maca: This is a supplement that has proven effects on both female and male fertility. Maca promotes optimal function of the hypothalamus as well as the pituitary gland, and improves the functioning of endocrine glands. Maca has been shown to balance FSH, estradiol and progesterone levels.
Progesterone supplements can be prescribed by your doctor and are by far the most effective way to increase your levels. Studies have shown that taking progesterone supplements can help mitigate miscarriage. This is especially true for patients who experience early pregnancy bleeding or recurrent losses.
Diet and lifestyle changes
Diet and physical activity can have a huge effect on your hormonal levels. Eating a healthy diet – more healthy fats, less sugar and simple carbs, and lean proteins and vegetables – can promote weight loss and also balance hormones.
Food doesn’t have progesterone, but there are many foods that can also promote the production of the hormone. These foods include: broccoli, beans, nuts, cabbage, kale, pumpkin, brussel sprouts and spinach.
Stress reduction also plays a major role in hormonal balance. When your body is under a lot of stress – whether that be physical or emotional – your body saves resources that otherwise would be used to support reproduction to help cope with the stress. Try practicing mindfulness and breathing techniques to lessen stress levels daily.
Last but not least, seed cycling has been shown to be successful in supporting overall hormone balance. Seed cycling is the act of eating different seeds at different times of your cycle to either promote or inhibit the production of certain hormones. Seed cycling is used to help hormone imbalance, therefore you can try this method out to promote the production of progesterone and ultimately raise your levels!
There are different ways to figure out your progesterone levels, as well as how to actually raise them as needed. Although it can be frustrating, there are ways at home to try and change low levels of progesterone. Please consult your doctor before starting any new over-the-counter solutions.