Medically reviewed on February 7, 2022 by Jasmine Thompson. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
Progesterone plays an integral role in sexual and reproductive health, but it can also affect aspects of your overall health. Progesterone levels can fluctuate for a variety of reasons, but they naturally diminish as you get older. As you hit menopause, progesterone production stops almost entirely.
Raising progesterone can benefit health, especially as you reach perimenopause and menopause. Read on to learn more about progesterone and how to raise it (and consider checking up on key hormones with the at-home Perimenopause Test).
Progesterone is a steroid hormone produced in the ovaries and adrenal glands. Before ovulation, the ovaries form several follicles, which are essentially little pockets that contain an immature egg. During each cycle, one egg matures and is released during ovulation. The egg leaves behind its follicle, now known as a corpus luteum .
The corpus luteum releases progesterone, which regulates the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) for a potential pregnancy. Progesterone causes the uterine lining to thicken, making it a more suitable place to accept a fertilized egg. The hormone also prevents muscle contractions in the uterus that might cause the rejection of a fertilized egg. At the same time, progesterone prevents further ovulation, ensuring that there is only one mature egg available to be fertilized .
Some people may wonder if they can get pregnant during perimenopause, and it is possible. However, during this transition stage into menopause, the fertility rate decreases. Some perimenopausal women consider raising their progesterone levels to help them conceive.
If you get pregnant, progesterone stimulates the body, causing the endometrium to grow blood vessels that can nourish a growing fetus. At about ten weeks of the embryo’s development, the placenta develops and helps to support the corpus luteum in keeping progesterone levels high .
If you don’t get pregnant, the corpus luteum gradually breaks down. This lowers progesterone levels, marking the end of a cycle and the beginning of the next cycle as the period begins. During the period, the extra blood and tissue making up the uterine lining shed away. This also makes progesterone an essential hormone in controlling the overall menstrual cycle .
Progesterone also serves various roles outside of your sexual and reproductive health. Vascular actions of progesterone have been reported, independently of estrogen, affecting both blood pressure and other aspects of the cardiovascular system.2 Progesterone has also been studied for its potential positive effects on sleep and mood, and it may support the thyroid .
Progesterone levels will vary, but generally, progesterone levels are lower in the first part of the menstrual cycle and much higher in the second half of the cycle.
The first phase of the menstrual cycle is known as the follicular phase. Generally, progesterone levels are low, no higher than 0.89 ng/ml. These levels go up to about 12 ng/ml by ovulation, though they can be lower .
Following ovulation, the corpus luteum forms, which also signals the beginning of the luteal phase. This is when progesterone levels are at their highest outside of pregnancy. Progesterone levels can reach upwards of 24 ng/ml. These levels will typically peak from days 21 to 23 of your cycle. A good way to tell if you’re ovulating during this time is to check your progesterone levels, which should be at or higher than 10 ng/ml .
Most commonly, progesterone levels will go down naturally as you get older. This is frequently associated with menopause and a general decline in fertility. As progesterone levels decline with age, the menstrual cycle changes as well, often leading to irregular periods, longer cycles, and eventually, menstrual cycles ending altogether .
Outside of aging, other health conditions could result in lower progesterone levels.
Hypothyroidism, referring to an underactive thyroid, can contribute to low progesterone. The thyroid produces hormones that help to regulate other hormones in the endocrine system, including progesterone. With less thyroid hormone, the body may have trouble producing as much progesterone .
Anovulatory cycles refer to menstrual cycles that do not include an ovulation phase. Without ovulation, you don’t get a corpus luteum, which naturally means less progesterone. Anovulatory cycles are rare, but they can occur in people who use certain forms of birth control and in people who have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) .
Cortisol is the primary stress hormone in your body. High cortisol levels can interfere with your overall hormonal functions and production, including progesterone. Chronic stress can lead to consistently high cortisol levels that can contribute to low progesterone .
Low progesterone levels can potentially lead to problems with the menstrual cycles and getting pregnant. If you do get pregnant, low progesterone can also increase the risk of miscarriage or premature birth . During and after menopause, low progesterone levels can also increase the risk of heart disease, and because of its role in bone health, there may be a higher risk of osteoporosis, resulting in weak, brittle bones .
While it’s normal for progesterone levels to go down during perimenopause and menopause, increasing progesterone may help improve and ease some menopausal symptoms, like hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal atrophy. Maintaining progesterone levels can also stabilize hormones and prevent health risks that may arise during menopause, like abnormal bleeding .
There are risks associated with natural progesterone creams, such as blood clots, deep vein thrombosis, uterine cancer, stroke, and gallbladder disease . If you are interested in progesterone hormone therapy, make sure to consult with your healthcare provider first.
High progesterone levels, along with rising estrogen levels, stimulate a woman’s breast milk ducts and glands. High progesterone production also causes the breast to swell and become tender.
Hormone therapy is a common form of treatment that can help to boost hormones, support hormonal balance, and reduce some of the side effects of perimenopause and menopause . Outside of perimenopause and menopause, if you experience low progesterone levels, it’s worth consulting your healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause of the low progesterone.
Hormone therapy comes in a variety of forms. There is generally a split between estrogen therapy and combination therapy. The former comprises estrogen alone, while combination therapy includes both estrogen and progesterone together. Taking estrogen alone can contribute to the uncontrolled growth of cells within the uterus, leading to increased potential health risks. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine the best form of hormone therapy for your needs .
Progesterone in hormone therapy typically comes in the form of progestin, which is a synthetic form of the hormone. While natural progesterone medication is available, progestin has become the favored form as it is considered a safer alternative. Some people believe that you can get natural progesterone by eating yams or soy products. While these contain isoflavones, a type of plant-based form of estrogen, they need to be altered in a lab to be usable by humans .
Progesterone can be delivered through several means. Oral progesterone, taken in the form of a pill, is a standard option, but other forms include:
If you suspect you are perimenopausal, try an at-home perimenopause test with Everlywell. This test measures key hormones to determine if you are transitioning toward menopause and provides insights into the next steps to consider taking.
1. Reproductive Hormones. Endocrine Society. URL. Accessed February 7, 2022.
2. Vascular Effects of Progesterone. American Heart Association (Hypertension). URL. Accessed February 7, 2022.
3. Low Progesterone Symptoms, Causes, and What You Can Do About It. Flo. URL. Accessed February 7, 2022.
4. Benefits of progesterone after menopause. Everlywell Blog. URL. Accessed February 7, 2022.