The Progesterone – Cortisol Connection

What is progesterone? 

Progesterone is a steroid hormone produced in both males and females.  In females, progesterone is known as the pregnancy hormone and produced by the ovaries after ovulation.  Progesterone’s role is to prepare the uterus to accept and maintain a fertilized egg. In males, progesterone is responsible for counteracting the effects of estrogen on the male body.  Progesterone is a precursor for testosterone, the male sex hormone. 

What is cortisol? 

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is responsible for regulating a wide range of processes throughout the body, including metabolism and immune response.  It also has an important role in helping the body respond to stress. Almost every cell in the body has cortisol receptors, so an imbalance in cortisol can affect many processes throughout the body like blood sugar regulation, metabolism, salt and water balance, and blood pressure.  

How are progesterone and cortisol produced? 

Progesterone is produced by the ovaries, in the placenta during pregnancy and smaller amounts produced in the adrenal glands and the testes in males. In females, progesterone is mainly produced in a specific part of the ovary called the corpus luteum which ramps up progesterone production after ovulation.  If pregnancy occurs, progesterone production continues, if not progesterone levels drop, and menstruation occurs.

Cortisol is secreted by the adrenal glands and controlled by three inter-communicating regions of the body – the hypothalamus in the brain, pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands.  This is known as the HPA (hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal) axis. When cortisol levels are low in the blood, the hypothalamus releases a hormone to cause the pituitary gland to secrete another hormone called adrenocorticotropic hormone, which then stimulates the adrenal glands to secrete cortisol. 

What impacts the levels of progesterone?

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
  • Estrogen dominance 
  • Aging
  • Chronic stress 

What impacts levels of cortisol?

  • Chronic stress
  • Pituitary gland issues 
  • Adrenal gland issues
  • Side effects from medications (steroid or corticosteroid medications)
  • High estrogen levels 

How are progesterone and cortisol tied together?

Chronic stress is a big contributor to both progesterone and cortisol levels in the body.  When the body is under stress for extended periods, it works to produce higher levels of cortisol to counteract the stress effects.  Progesterone is a precursor to cortisol. This means that progesterone is needed to form cortisol in the body, causing progesterone levels to decrease when cortisol levels rise.  

How can I balance my progesterone and cortisol levels?

The effects of an imbalance in progesterone and cortisol can cause many negative effects on the quality of your life.  Here are some things you can do to get yourself back on track.

  • Eat foods that support your body’s production of hormones
  • Avoid foods and substances that cause your hormones to be out of sync
  • Reduce stress
  • Reduce body fat levels 

What foods and nutrients support my body’s hormone production? 

  • Magnesium – Magnesium deficiency is common nowadays.  Magnesium is needed to help the body absorb and metabolize vitamin D and calcium and act as a  “chill pill” for the brain. High stress depletes magnesium levels further in the body. Getting more magnesium in the diet is a great way to boost levels and get more nutrient-rich foods in your diet.  Good sources of magnesium include nuts, avocado, legumes, and dark chocolate.  
  • Vitamin B6 – Vitamin B6 plays a role in keeping the body’s hormones regulated.  Research shows that adequate intake of B6 raises progesterone levels and reduces estrogen to improve symptoms of hormone imbalance.   Vitamin B6 rich foods include salmon, tuna, eggs, sweet potatoes, milk, and lean beef.  
  • Zinc – Another important hormone regulating nutrient is zinc. Zinc is essential in helping the pituitary gland regulate hormones in your body.  Zinc is found in shellfish, seeds like pumpkin or sesame, whole grains, mushrooms, peas, green beans, kale, and turkey.  
  • Vitamin C –  In addition to its well-known role in boosting the immune system and wound healing, vitamin C can help boost progesterone levels and support the adrenal glands.  Vitamin C is in many veggies like broccoli, tomatoes, Brussel sprouts and lemons, strawberries, papaya, pumpkin, and kiwi.  
  • Vitamin E – Another nutrient to add to the diet to help with hormonal balancing is vitamin E.  Vitamin E helps to boost progesterone levels. Sources for vitamin E are sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, and even avocados, red peppers, pumpkin, asparagus, squash, and broccoli contain vitamin E.  
  • Fiber – Fiber is essential to hormone balance. It helps with bowel movements and evacuating metabolized hormones like estrogen, which high levels antagonize progesterone from doing its job in our bodies.  Great sources for fiber are flaxseed, quinoa, oats, pear, strawberries, carrots and beets – to name just a few!
  • L-Arginine – An amino acid found in high-protein foods helps the body make nitric acid.  Nitric acid improves blood flow by relaxing the vessels, allowing the various organs to produce hormones.  Add foods like lentils, chickpeas, salmon, tuna, turkey, chicken, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts to your diet for a boost of l-arginine.  
  • Omega3 fatty acids – EPA and DHA from fish oil are effective in counteracting the inflammatory effect of stress and help to reduce cortisol levels. You can get Omega 3’s from taking fish oil supplements or by adding mackerel, salmon, sardines, anchovies, seaweed, chia, hemp or flaxseeds into your meals. 
  • Vitamin B5 – Also known as pantothenic acid, B5 is easily depleted by stress.  B5 can help with cortisol fluctuations in times of stress. B5 is in many foods, including avocado, sunflower seeds, salmon, lentils, eggs, beef, poultry, peanuts, and chickpeas. 
  • Vitamin B12 – Vitamin B12 is vital for ensuring proper energy levels and deficiencies in this vitamin can lead to adrenal stress and higher cortisol levels.  B12 deficiency can also cause disruptions to progesterone levels. B12 occurs naturally in animal products – clams, liver, salmon, beef, eggs, and milk.  If you follow a vegan diet, B12 can found in nutritional yeast. However, consider a B12 supplement to ensure you are getting an adequate intake.  

Recommended Supplements by INEVO Body

Relax – Supports high cortisol levels, stress and anxiety

CortiMax – Supports low cortisol levels, fatigue and overall adrenal health

Thyro-B – Supports thyroid health and metabolism

Progestevo Cream – Non-prescription progesterone cream

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