As explained in our last blog post about fertility, the word progesterone translates to “promoting gestation,” so progesterone is often thought of as a female hormone required for fertility and healthy pregnancy. While this is true, progesterone has many effects beyond pregnancy, and an ideal progesterone level supports optimal health in men and women of all ages.1
Progesterone affects blood pressure; metabolism, including blood sugar metabolism; mood balancing; gut health; and more.2 In women, progesterone is primarily synthesized by the corpus luteum in the ovary during the second half of the menstrual cycle (after ovulation), the adrenal glands daily, and the placenta during pregnancy. In men, progesterone (which is a precursor for testosterone production) is predominately produced by the adrenal glands and the testes.3
Progesterone is a sex hormone that is derived from cholesterol. The sex hormones include androgens, estrogens, and progestogens; Progesterone is one of the progestogen hormones.4 Progesterone is also a neuro-steroid since it is produced in the brain.2,5
This blog post and our next blog will explore the many effects of optimal salivary progesterone levels in men and women.
Progesterone and Mood
As neuro-steroids, progesterone and its metabolites, including allopregnanolone, modulate several neurotransmitter systems that affect mood, including the serotonergic, cholinergic, muscarinic, and dopaminergic systems in men and women.2,6
The serotonergic system affects many complex processes, including mood balancing, sexual behavior, stress responses, cognition, reward, learning, and memory. Research suggests progesterone increases the transmission of serotonin, affects the levels of the enzymes that metabolize serotonin, and modifies the serotogenic responsivity to serotonin-reuptake inhibitors. It is clear there is also a connection between progesterone levels and serotonin synthesis, and this connection could be why mood tends to be more balanced during pregnancy and portions of the menstrual cycle when progesterone levels are higher.2
Progesterone and Gut Motility (Period Poops!)
Many women report that their bowel movements are looser and more frequent during their menstrual period, and this phenomenon is attributed to the effects of shifting progesterone levels during the menstrual cycle.
The red line in the graph below shows the significant shift in progesterone levels during a healthy menstrual cycle:
Progesterone receptors are present in the smooth muscles of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, so progesterone plays a role in GI tract motility. Research indicates progesterone exerts a relaxing or inhibitory role on the smooth muscle cells in the gut.7 Therefore, a higher progesterone level reduces the number and frequency of bowel movements in men and women.
This is why the lower progesterone levels present during the follicular phase (Days 1-13 in the graph above), which begins when the menstrual period begins, are associated with diarrhea in women. The monthly phenomenon is known as “period poops.” When progesterone levels are higher during the luteal phase (Days 14-28 in the graph above) of the menstrual cycle after ovulation, constipation is more likely to occur. The robust progesterone levels present during a healthy pregnancy are an underlying cause of pregnancy-associated constipation.7
Researchers are also beginning to investigate the effects of progesterone and other sex hormones on gastrointestinal conditions, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).8
Progesterone and Blood Pressure
Overall, progesterone tends to have a relaxing effect on all smooth muscle cells that express progesterone receptors. In addition to relaxing the smooth muscle in the gastrointestinal tract, research has shown progesterone also relaxes uterine and vascular smooth muscle.3,7
Since progesterone relaxes the smooth muscles in blood vessels, there is speculation it might decrease blood pressure, but the relationship has not been studied adequately. Based on the minimal research performed, it appears the effects of progesterone on blood pressure might depend upon several factors. One study discovered that among men, a 2.738 ng/ml increase in progesterone was associated with a 0.557 mmHg decrease in diastolic blood pressure and a 0.541 mmHg decrease in mean arterial pressure. Similar results were observed in postmenopausal women, but this beneficial association was only clear in premenopausal women when educational attainment was considered. Also, elevated progesterone levels in men were associated with high blood pressure in the study; therefore, monitoring and maintaining optimal salivary progesterone levels is essential in men.9
Progesterone, Insulin, and Blood Sugar Metabolism
An elevated progesterone level can have significant effects on blood sugar metabolism, so consider speaking with your doctor about testing your salivary progesterone level to ensure it is optimal.
According to research, progesterone directly stimulates the islet cells of the pancreas to produce more insulin. Therefore, a high progesterone level can induce hyperinsulinemia. Furthermore, progesterone affects carbohydrate metabolism by promoting the storage of glycogen in the liver (which could increase the risk of developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)). Progesterone also induces the transcription of gluconeogenic (glucose-producing) genes and activates glycogen phosphorylase, an enzyme required for glycogen metabolism, to increase the blood glucose level.10
Non-invasive clinical studies performed during pregnancy illuminate a direct relationship between higher progesterone levels and gestational diabetes. Also, the results of an animal study showed pregnant animals treated with progesterone were more likely to develop insulin resistance when compared to the placebo group.10
Overall, the metabolic effects of progesterone on blood sugar metabolism are adaptations that support a healthy pregnancy but can potentially be harmful to those with exceptionally elevated progesterone levels. Thus, maintaining a healthy salivary progesterone level at all ages and life stages is ideal.
Metabolism, Progesterone, and Melatonin
Progesterone has a thermogenic effect that increases core body temperature; and, therefore, overall metabolism. Study after study confirms a higher body temperature during the luteal phase in young fertile women when the progesterone level is higher.11 This is why women can track their core body temperature every morning to determine the timing of ovulation.11,12
Progesterone will even increase the core body temperature when it is administered to men, young women without a menstrual cycle, and post-menopausal women. The thermogenic effect of progesterone is evident at very low doses of only 5 mg of progesterone in men, but higher doses are more likely to induce a consistent thermogenic response.11
While the research is ongoing, the thermogenic effect of progesterone appears to be related to melatonin. Melatonin naturally reduces core body temperature to support healthy sleep. Circulating levels and patterns of melatonin production are similar throughout the menstrual cycle in women, in both the follicular and luteal phases. But, research shows melatonin appears to have a reduced hypothermic effect during the luteal phase.11,12
Researchers speculate a higher progesterone level may inhibit the nightly core body temperature-lowering action of melatonin in the luteal phase. When melatonin is administered to healthy women during the day in the follicular and luteal phases, core body temperature decreases during the follicular phase but not during the luteal phase, suggesting progesterone must affect the hypothermic action of melatonin.11
To further support the role melatonin plays in the thermogenic effect of progesterone, a recent clinical study demonstrated that light exposure during the follicular phase suppressed melatonin production (as expected), which resulted in a core body temperature similar to that of women in the luteal phase.11
The consequences of changes in metabolism and core body temperature during the menstrual cycle are not yet well understood. Research to date has illuminated correlations between core body temperature, cognitive performance, sleep quality, and heart rate. Studies show the poorest cognitive performance coincides with lower body temperature, low progesterone levels, and the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle.11
Some studies have noted a small reduction in REM sleep in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. This phenomenon could be related to the effect progesterone has on melatonin and the higher core body temperature during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle when the progesterone level is higher. An increased heart rate is also present during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, and researchers speculate the increase could be secondary to the boost in core body temperature and metabolism.11
Future research will continue to explore the effects of progesterone and melatonin on core body temperature, metabolism, and other physiologic processes in the body.
Progesterone, Hair Loss Prevention, and Healthy Skin – Can Stress Cause Hair Loss?
An optimal progesterone level supports healthy skin and hair. Research shows the use of micronized progesterone in postmenopausal women clearly offers anti-aging skin benefits.13
Progesterone also influences the hair follicles via both direct and indirect mechanisms. The presence of a healthy progesterone level reduces the excessive secretion of a hormone called Luteinizing Hormone (LH) from the pituitary gland. LH acts to increase androgen production in men and women. If androgen production increases too much and results in a high salivary dihydrotestosterone (DHT) level, the elevated free DHT level can cause hair loss.14
At the level of the hair follicle, progesterone directly decreases the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone by inhibiting the 5-alpha reductase enzyme.14 Chronic stress can contribute to hair loss because the adrenal glands produce progesterone. Low progesterone levels are associated with the excessive production of DHT within the hair follicles leading to hair loss.13-15
Here is a depiction of excessive DHT production in a female with chronic stress and hair loss:
Based on the available research, supporting optimal progesterone production and healthy salivary progesterone levels in men and women may be beneficial for many health concerns, including infertility, diarrhea, constipation, hypertension, insulin resistance, blood glucose dysregulation, mood balancing, hair loss, and skin concerns.
To support optimal progesterone levels, consider nourishing your adrenal glands with vitamins, minerals, and organic botanical extracts, including Ashwagandha.*
B-KalmPlexus is a unique formulation that includes B vitamins, magnesium, and Ashwagandha to support optimal adrenal function and balanced hormone levels.*
Flavo PlexC is a physician-formulated supplement that features vitamin C, magnesium, Ashwagandha, and potent antioxidants to support optimal progesterone production.*
* This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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- Nagy B, Szekeres-Barthó J, Kovács GL, et al. Key to Life: Physiological Role and Clinical Implications of Progesterone. Int J Mol Sci. 2021;22(20):11039. doi:10.3390/ijms222011039
- Kolatorova L, Vitku J, Suchopar J, et al. Progesterone: A Steroid with Wide Range of Effects in Physiology as Well as Human Medicine. Int J Mol Sci. 2022;23(14):7989. doi:10.3390/ijms23147989
- Bulletti C, Bulletti FM, Sciorio R, Guido M. Progesterone: The Key Factor of the Beginning of Life. Int J Mol Sci. 2022;23(22):14138. doi:10.3390/ijms232214138
- Pompili A, Iorio C, Gasbarri A. Effects of sex steroid hormones on memory. Acta Neurobiol Exp (Wars). 2020;80(2):117-128.
- Guennoun R. Progesterone in the Brain: Hormone, Neurosteroid and Neuroprotectant. Int J Mol Sci. 2020;21(15):5271. doi:10.3390/ijms21155271
- Szczurowska E, Szánti-Pintér E, Chetverikov N, et al. Modulation of Muscarinic Signalling in the Central Nervous System by Steroid Hormones and Neurosteroids. Int J Mol Sci. 2022;24(1):507. doi:10.3390/ijms24010507
- Alqudah M, Al-Shboul O, Al Dwairi A, et al. Progesterone inhibitory role on gastrointestinal motility. Physiol Res. 2022;71(2):193-198. doi:10.33549/physiolres.934824
- So SY, Savidge TC. Sex-Bias in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Linking Steroids to the Gut-Brain Axis. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2021;12:684096. doi:10.3389/fendo.2021.684096
- Shi J, Wei D, Wang L, et al. Serum Progesterone is Negatively Associated with Hypertension and Blood Pressure Indicators Among Men and Postmenopausal Women. Horm Metab Res. 2023;55(4):273-283. doi:10.1055/a-2024-0708
- Azeez JM, Susmi TR, Remadevi V, et al. New insights into the functions of progesterone receptor (PR) isoforms and progesterone signaling. Am J Cancer Res. 2021;11(11):5214-5232
- Baker FC, Siboza F, Fuller A. Temperature regulation in women: Effects of the menstrual cycle. Temperature (Austin). 2020;7(3):226-262. doi:10.1080/23328940.2020.1735927
- Su HW, Yi YC, Wei TY, et al. Detection of ovulation, a review of currently available methods. Bioeng Transl Med. 2017;2(3):238-246. doi:10.1002/btm2.10058
- Gasser S, Heidemeyer K, von Wolff M, Stute P. Impact of progesterone on skin and hair in menopause - a comprehensive review. Climacteric. 2021;24(3):229-235. doi:10.1080/13697137.2020.1838476
- Grymowicz M, Rudnicka E, Podfigurna A, et al. Hormonal Effects on Hair Follicles. Int J Mol Sci. 2020;21(15):5342. doi:10.3390/ijms21155342
- Thom E. Stress and the Hair Growth Cycle: Cortisol-Induced Hair Growth Disruption. J Drugs Dermatol. 2016;15(8):1001-1004.