Have you heard the buzz about progesterone creams? Promoted by alternative health researchers, like Ray Peat, and doctors like Dr. John Lee, progesterone creams purportedly offer the be-all-end-all relief for hormonal problems like PMS, infertility and menopausal symptoms. Are progesterone creams really all they are cut out to be?
Progesterone: The Powerhouse Hormone
I’ve heard progesterone called the “sexy hormone.” Progesterone is an antagonist to estrogen, a hormone that can fly out of control due to a poor diet, stress and toxins in our life. This common scenario is called estrogen dominance. Progesterone helps to combat the unpleasant symptoms of estrogen dominance.
Some of the roles of estrogen and progesterone (read more at East West Healing):
- Stimulates fat-burning
- Facilitates thyroid
- Helps prevent breast cancer
- Reduces bloating
- Protects against fibroids in breasts
- Supports blood sugar balance
Estrogen (in excess)
- Increases fat storage
- Impairs thyroid function
- Causes breast tenderness
- Leads to endometriosis
- Increases risk of breast cancer
- Creates bloating
Progesterone Creams and Bioidentical Hormones
First, let’s make the distinction between hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). The difference is whether the hormone is molecularly identical to that produced by the human body. For example, the estrogen extracted from the urine of pregnant mares (Premarin), commonly prescribed in HRT, contains types of estrogen that are not known to the human body. Premarin has been shown to cause colon cancer, stroke, and blood clots.
Bioidentical hormones are molecularly identical to human hormones and natural hormones are made from naturally occurring plant sterols. These hormones are manufactured in a laboratory and purportedly behave exactly like the correlating hormone your body produces naturally. We cannot forget, however, that the endocrine system cannot be simplified into molecular equations. The human body is infinitely complex: every system, cell and atom in the body is inextricably tied to other physical and emotional aspects of the body. In my opinion, a hormone produced in the lab is absolutely not the same as a hormone produced by the body.
This post relates to bioidentical, natural progesterone creams.
Why do progesterone creams work?
Now that we know the qualities of progesterone, it makes sense that taking progesterone into the body ameliorates so many symptoms. Here’s a quick summary of how progesterone creams work:
- We have hormonal issues (PMS, endometriosis, menopausal symptoms, etc) because a. we aren’t making enough progesterone, b. we have too much estrogen in our system, c. are cells aren’t responding to progesterone, or d. a combination of any of these.
- Progesterone creams are absorbed through the skin and deliver progesterone to our cell receptors. In many cases, this sudden influx of progesterone jolts any desensitized progesterone receptors. The increased progesterone ameliorates many symptoms.
- Over time, the dose of progesterone often looses its efficacy because the cell receptors are becoming resistant and the dose of the hormone must be increase to again “jolt” the receptors.
- Symptoms may be managed, but are the underlying issues really addressed?
Here’s why I encourage careful thought before using progesterone creams:
1. Progesterone creams only treat a symptom, not the cause
If you are a frequenter of my blog, then you probably support the philosophy that, in order to reach optimal wellness, we must address the root cause and not just the symptom. This is news for many people because we are brainwashed by mainstream medicine and the media to just look at symptoms. For example, constipation. “Just take some phylum husk,” you’ll be told. But constipation is only a symptom of poor digestion and poor diet.
In the same way, dolling out progesterone cream is a band-aid for a symptom. Hormonal problems are a symptom and not the foundational health issues! So where do hormonal issues like PMS and menopause originate? Diet, digestion, toxic burden and lifestyle. Therefore, it makes the most sense to focus on correcting diet, digestions, toxic burden and lifestyle.
2. Chaos with the negative-feedback loop
Perhaps you remember the idea of negative feedback from your high school biology. Maybe you don”t (that’s okay!). As a refresher, most of the hormones in the body are governed by negative feedback, which works like your household thermostat. Say you set your thermostat to 72 degrees and the room temperature is 69 degrees. The heater kicks in to warm the room up. When the temperature reaches 72 degrees, the heat shuts off until the temperature drops again.
Administering hormones can actually shut off our body’s hormonal negative feedback loop. It’s like heating a room by a space heater and the furnace shuts off because it isn’t needed. That means taking progesterone creams can cause reliance on the product because the body is too confused to monitor hormone production when we have hormones coming into our body.
3. Perceived deficiency in the state of excess
Progesterone cream can cause progesterone resistance due to the concept of “deficiency in the state of excess.” When there is excess of any hormone, cells can get immune to it. The hormone is bombarding the cell receptor for that hormone and so the cell receptor shuts its door. Then, the body senses a deficiency of the hormone and orders the release of more of that hormone… which just exacerbates the vicious cycle of hormonal resistance. A common example to illustrate this phenomena is the case of insulin resistance. The pancreas pump out too much insulin and the cells shut down their response to this hormone.
4. Progesterone creams are often used without professional assistance
Dietary, lifestyle, and supplementation changes are potent solutions for hormonal issues and can be utilized (in many cases) without a professional’s help. These changes support the adrenals, lower chronic cortisol and give the body tools to produce and utilize progesterone… addressing the whole system.
The dosing of progesterone creams should be precisely regulated and customized for the individual. Dr. John Lee, a pioneer in the use of progesterone creams, explains the obstacles in determining the dose of hormone therapy:
“As might be expected, we have learned that hormone levels differ between individuals; what is normal for one person is not necessarily normal for another. Further, one must be aware that hormones work within a complex network of other hormones and metabolic mediators, something like different musicians in an orchestra. To interpret a hormone’s level, one must consider not only its absolute level but also its relative ratios with other hormones that include not only estradiol, progesterone and testosterone, but cortisol and thyroid as well. (Source)”
Unfortunately, progesterone creams are frequently used without the guidance of an experienced professional who can take the proper tests and adjust the dosage accordingly. This can cause or exacerbate the previous issues I discussed.
How to raise progesterone naturally
So, are progesterone creams bad? I think that there are certain cases when progesterone cream, under the guidance of an experience professional, can be useful and beneficial. But casual use of progesterone cream carries a host of potential problems.
A more holistic alternative to progesterone creams is to raise progesterone levels naturally. This ensures that we are addressing the root cause so it provides a potent and long-term solution. Raising progesterone naturally requires a dietary, supplemental and lifestyle approach. I discuss this all in detail in my book Quit PMS: End Your Menstrual Misery.
Have you used progesterone creams? Do you struggle with progesterone/estrogen balance?