Why is it important to keep progesterone levels up?
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 12/24/20
What is progesterone and why is it important?
Progesterone is one of the two female hormones playing an important role in reproduction and sexual health. The other key hormone is estrogen. Progesterone, as its name implies, is the main progestational hormone, responsible for the health of your menstrual cycle and essential in conception and pregnancy.
During the first part of your cycle, also called the follicular phase, progesterone levels are supposed to be low. After ovulation, progesterone is produced by the follicle from which the egg was released. Progesterone levels increase post-ovulation and keep growing during your luteal phase — the second half of your cycle.
One of progesterone’s main functions is to nourish the uterine lining and get it ready for the implantation of an embryo, in case fertilization occurs. While estrogen thickens the lining during the first half of your cycle, progesterone stabilizes it and makes it “sticky” enough for an embryo to implant. Without enough progesterone, it can be more difficult to conceive.
When your progesterone levels remain elevated high enough for long enough post-ovulation, your luteal phase should last for at least 12 days, allowing for implantation to occur between 6 to 12 days post egg release. When your progesterone levels are low to start with, your luteal phase may be shorter and you may get your period before your expected due date. A short luteal phase may impact your chances of getting pregnant and/or having a viable pregnancy.
When your progesterone levels remain elevated high enough for long enough post-ovulation, your luteal phase should last for at least 12 days, allowing implantation to occur between 6 and 12 days post egg release.
When should progesterone levels be high?
As we mentioned, your menstrual cycle is divided in two main phases: follicular and luteal. The follicular phase is characterized by estrogen dominance. As your follicles grow and prepare for ovulation, they put out estrogen, as a sign they are maturing.
Once you ovulate, the corpus luteum that forms in the place of your now collapsed follicle starts producing progesterone. Progesterone levels increase during the luteal phase, reaching a peak around 7 days after ovulation. Progesterone levels should remain elevated for several days during the luteal phase.
How do I measure progesterone?
You can measure progesterone via a one-time blood test from your doctor. These tests are typically conducted on cycle day 21, about 7 days after ovulation, when progesterone should be highest. You may want to keep in mind that not all women ovulate on cycle day 14, therefore it is essential to have your progesterone levels tested 7 days after your specific ovulation date, rather than on cycle day 21.
There is a flaw to this practice though, as progesterone serum levels are known to fluctuate drastically, up to 8 times during a 90-minute period and from 2.3 ng/ml to 40.1 ng/ml over 24 hours for the same healthy subject.
Typically doctors like to see serum progesterone levels over 5 ng/ml to confirm ovulation. However, there is medical consensus that in order for a pregnancy to be viable, a progesterone level of 10 ng/ml is necessary. You’ll want progesterone levels to remain elevated to this level during the luteal phase.
Typically doctors like to see a progesterone level of 5 ng/ml or higher to confirm ovulation.
What happens if my progesterone levels are too low?
There are two reasons for low progesterone levels. Either you didn’t ovulate at all — which means you had an anovulatory cycle — or you did ovulate, but the empty follicle doesn’t produce enough progesterone for long enough to allow for the best possible chance at conception.
Symptoms of low progesterone may include:
- A luteal phase shorter than 11 days
- Spotting before period
- Spotting or cramping during pregnancy
- Early miscarriage
- Recurrent pregnancy loss
If you experience any of these symptoms, we recommend consulting your doctor who can either test your progesterone levels or run other tests to find the root cause.
How can I measure my progesterone levels at home?
Since the science shows that one single progesterone serum level is hardly reliable due to progesterone being released in blood in pulsations, the solution would be having blood drawn several days in a row and establishing an average.
Or you can try the more convenient and less invasive option: measuring PdG — a progesterone metabolite — levels in urine. Scientists have been studying PdG for decades, and have come to the conclusion that their levels correlate to the progesterone levels found in blood. PdG tracking also provides a more consistent average of progesterone levels compared to serum fluctuations.
Proov is the first and only FDA cleared PdG test kit to confirm successful ovulation at home. Testing PdG levels with Proov on days 7, 8, 9, and 10 after peak fertility ensures “successful” ovulation did in fact occur. Successful ovulation refers to an ovulatory event in which an egg was released and PdG levels remained adequately elevated for long enough to allow for the best possible chance at conception.
Proov is the first and only FDA cleared PdG test kit to confirm successful ovulation at home.
How can I increase my progesterone levels if they’re too low?
Testing your progesterone levels is the first step in getting proper treatment. If your progesterone test shows you are not ovulating, we recommend consulting your doctor who may be able to give you ovulation-inducing medication.
If you have ovulated but your levels are not optimal, you may either opt for prescription progesterone supplements or for a more natural approach. We recommend consulting your doctor before starting any supplements.
Seed cycling: Seed cycling is an easy way to improve hormone balance and promote progesterone production. It is based on incorporating certain seeds into your diet, during different stages of your cycle. During your follicular phase you are supposed to eat flax and pumpkin seeds, known to promote estrogen production. Then, once ovulation occurs, you want to switch to sunflower and sesame seeds that favour progesterone production.
Diet changes: Diet changes may positively impact progesterone production. Certain foods known to do that are beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, cauliflower and spinach.
Herbal supplements: Some herbals such as vitex, red raspberry leaf, and maca have been shown to increase progesterone production.
With progesterone being vital for menstrual health, conception, and pregnancy, it is essential to make sure your levels are at optimal value, especially if you are trying to conceive.