Keeping your hormones in balance is important for everyone at any age, but especially if you are trying to conceive. Progesterone plays a key role in falling pregnant, so how can you naturally increase progesterone?November 17, 2022 5:04 pm June 07, 2022 5:33 pm
What is progesterone?
Progesterone is a hormone found in both men and women. In women, progesterone is made by the ovaries after ovulation. Progesterone plays an important role in preparing the uterus for receiving, implanting and supporting a fertilised egg during pregnancy.
The four stages of the menstrual cycle are the follicular phase, ovulation, the luteal phase and menstruation. During the first stage of the menstrual cycle, the follicular stage, progesterone levels tend to be low. During ovulation, the egg is released into the fallopian tube. Following ovulation, progesterone levels increase for approximately five days and then decrease again.
If you fall pregnant, progesterone will increase starting in the ninth week of pregnancy up until the 32nd week. However, if pregnancy does not occur and the egg is not fertilised, progesterone levels decline, triggering the start of the menstrual cycle.
After 3 months of pregnancy, the placenta will start to produce progesterone in order to maintain a healthy pregnancy. In women, progesterone levels vary according to the stages of the menstrual cycle and stages of pregnancy.
How To Naturally Increase Progesterone
If you are a woman planning a pregnancy, you may be wondering how to naturally increase progesterone. The good news is that there are several methods to increase progesterone, from adding certain foods to your diet, managing stress and getting enough sleep.
In fact, if you are trying to conceive, your goal is to maintain your progesterone levels throughout the luteal phase and avoid the decrease in progesterone if your egg has been fertilised. This will help to support healthy implantation and sustain you and your embryo in the initial stages of pregnancy.
If your progesterone levels are too low or not detectable, this can lead to complications. Symptoms of low or absent progesterone levels include miscarriage and premature labour, irregular or heavy cycles, failure to release an egg during ovulation.
There is some research in its early stages which indicates that diet may be helpful to boost progesterone levels and balance high oestrogen levels. It’s important to note that foods do not actually contain progesterone, but they may be helpful to increase the levels of this hormone. During the second half of the menstrual cycle, high levels of oestrogen can disrupt the ratio of progesterone to oestrogen, thus making conception more difficult. The research in this field is still relatively new so there is a need for more solid evidence in this space.
“[...]there are several methods to increase progesterone, from adding certain foods to your diet, managing stress and getting enough sleep.”
Naturally increase progesterone through diet
A nutritious plant-based diet is a wonderful way to support your fertility. Legumes and pumpkin seeds are excellent sources of plant protein, fibre and most importantly, zinc. Zinc is a crucial nutrient which supports the development of a baby’s cells and DNA during pregnancy.(1)
Pumpkin is an incredibly nutritious vegetable, boasting vitamin A and B vitamins. In particular, vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, may help to increase progesterone levels due to its role in the development of the corpus luteum.
Cruciferous veggies, which we have previously talked about here, contain many healthy compounds, and in particular one called indole-3-carbinol. In fact, it is thought that this compound contributes to supporting oestrogen metabolism and excretion. In fact, a study conducted by the Institute for Hormone Research in New York found that consumption of Indole-3-carbinol (I3C), obtained from cruciferous vegetables (e.g., cabbage, broccoli, etc.) significantly increased excretion of an oestrogen metabolite. What’s more, studies have shown a strong association between oestrogen metabolism and the incidence of breast cancer, so increased oestrogen excretion through the consumption of a compound such as indole-3-carbinol may potentially even reduce cancer risk.(2)
Whilst these foods do not contain progesterone per se, they are nutritious options which boost your intake of veggies, antioxidants and plant-based protein which all help with fertility.
Manage Your Stress Levels
High stress levels aren’t good for anyone, but they can be especially challenging when you’re trying to conceive. Trying for a baby can be stressful enough in itself if you have fertility issues, so it’s easier said than done to just “relax”. High stress levels equal high cortisol levels which can throw your hormones out of balance.
There is evidence to suggest that psychosocial stress can influence fertility in women, so it’s all the more important to try to find techniques to manage your stress.(3)
Finding what works best for you is a great place to start. Perhaps consider delegating chores to your partner or friend or anyone who is willing to help. Treating yourself to a massage or taking a day of sick leave or mental health leave can also help you to reduce cortisol levels.
Talking to a friend or loved one about any anxiety or concerns you may have can help immensely. Keeping things bottled up or thinking you need to face the world on your own is not a healthy coping mechanism. In fact, it may just increase your stress levels further.
Seek Help If You Need It
If you can afford it, seek therapy from a licensed psychologist. Although it is quite a large investment, it will pay its dividends in the long run. Speak to your GP about any potential mental health plans or subsidised options if you are struggling financially. You can also look for virtual therapy sessions online which are often more affordable and you can sometimes purchase them as a package to get a discount.
If your stress levels are unmanageable and you feel like it is severely impacting your day to day life, there are free hotlines available in most countries where you can speak to a counsellor for free in times of crisis. You can also try meditation in the comfort of your own home, there are plenty of apps and free resources online to help you get started! Even if it’s just a few minutes each morning to start off with, many people have benefited from the effects of meditation.
Sleep is Key
Good quality sleep is absolutely critical for health and wellbeing. Unfortunately these days it is not uncommon for people to sleep poorly for a number of different reasons. As a society we do not prioritise sleep enough and in fact, those who claim to thrive on less sleep are praised for their “resilience” whereas those who sleep longer hours are seen as “weak”. If you are interested in the topic of sleep I highly recommend listening to Matthew Walker’s ted talk in which he explains just why sleep is a crucial determinant of health and longevity, or in his words, “sleep is your superpower”.
There have been studies to show that female shift workers have abnormalities in menstruation, fertility and pregnancy maintenance. This provides evidence that circadian rhythms play a significant role in reproductive health for women. In addition, reproductive hormones can impact sleep patterns, and the relationship between sleep and hormones goes both ways. In other words, sleep disruptions and erratic sleep patterns can lead to hormone imbalances. Therefore, sleep may play a significant role in achieving pregnancy.(4)
More research is needed in this area, but for now one thing is certain, without proper sleep it is virtually impossible to balance your hormones. That alone is enough to make sure that sleep is your number one priority. You can read more about how to get a better night’s sleep here.
Exercise is essentially beneficial for everyone, no matter your age, gender or health status. In fact, we know that exercise improves our physical health, mental health and longevity! You can read more about the benefits of exercise here, particularly its powerful impact on combating depression and anxiety!
Unsurprisingly perhaps, exercise may also be beneficial for women trying to conceive and plan a pregnancy. In fact, a group of researchers investigated the relationship between physical activity and fertility in a group of over 3600 women aged between 18 and 40 years.(5)
The findings suggest that physical activity of any type (moderate or vigorous) may improve fertility amongst overweight and obese women, who tend to be at higher risk of infertility. Conversely, women with a lower body weight who substitute vigorous exercise with more moderate physical activity may benefit from improved fertility. So overall, gentle exercise in the preconception stage appears to be beneficial for women planning a pregnancy. It’s always best to check with your doctor regarding the most appropriate physical activity for you during pregnancy. In fact, this can vary throughout trimesters and depending on your individual health status.