How Does Progesterone Help with Weight Loss?
One of the most common complaints I hear from women is how frustrating it is to lose weight, especially between the ages of 45 and 55. Stress is partly to blame, and environmental factors contribute, along with lack of exercise and overeating. However, many people are unaware that when certain hormones vital to our body’s homeostasis are deficient or not well-balanced with other hormones, this imbalance can create a halt in our weight loss efforts. No matter how hard we exercise or how little we eat, the needle on that bathroom scale just won’t budge! Progesterone is one of the vital hormones that have to be replenished and well balanced before weight loss can occur.
WHAT IS PROGESTERONE?
Progesterone is a female hormone produced by the corpus luteum in the ovary during ovulation. The hormone regulates and stimulates several functions in the body in addition to ovulation; it helps to support pregnancy; exhibits anti-inflammatory effects; regulates blood pressure; protects bone health; improves mood and reduces anxiety; supports fertility; helps with sleep; and aids in weight loss, among other things.
ROLE OF PROGESTERONE IN ESTROGEN BALANCE
Estrogen and progesterone must be in balance for proper body functioning and overall health and well-being. When this equilibrium is off, estrogen dominance occurs and this can create many health issues and dysfunction including weight gain. Estrogen dominance is a term coined by Dr. John Lee, a pioneer in bio-identical hormone replacement, to describe a condition where a woman can have deficient, normal or excessive estrogen, but has little or no progesterone to balance its effects in the body. Even a woman with low estrogen levels can have estrogen dominance symptoms if she doesn’t have any progesterone. Estrogen dominance is often seen in women between the ages of 35 and 55 as women are going through their perimenopausal phase of life.
Progesterone decreases the target organs’ response to estrogen by decreasing the number of estrogen receptors. Receptors are molecules on the cells that recognize specific hormones and allow them to carry their message to the cell. Progesterone also decreases breast cell growth. In addition, it is involved in the maturation of breast cells and decreases the rate of multiplication. Progesterone also promotes normal cell death in the breast, which is important in the prevention of cancer. Progesterone stimulates bone osteoblasts while estrogen decreases the rate of bone breakdown. Osteoblasts are responsible for making new bone to replace old bone.
HOW PROGESTERONE HELPS WITH WEIGHT LOSS
Excessive estrogen turns more calories into fat. Your fat cells make more estrogen and more estrogen causes more fatty tissue growth. This excess fat usually accumulates around the abdomen when you are estrogen-dominant because estrogen levels also impact where the body distributes fat. This is a vicious cycle that can be managed by balancing your estrogen levels with proper levels of natural progesterone.
Progesterone helps your thyroid hormones function more efficiently. When there are low levels of circulating progesterone, the liver produces excess amounts of a protein called Thyroid Binding Globulin (TBG). This TBG binds to the thyroid hormones your body makes, essentially blocking it or tying up the hormone so it cannot be used by the body. The net effect is a form of hypothyroidism (that some refer to as Type 2 hypothyroidism) which doesn’t show up on blood tests since the problem is within your cells rather than in your blood.
Progesterone aids in the retention of zinc and potassium in our cells. Zinc and potassium allow the thyroid hormone to enter the cell and then to be converted to the active form known as T3. According to Dr. Ward Dean, progesterone facilitates the action of thyroid hormone. Estrogen has been known to be an antagonist to thyroid hormone. Progesterone is an antagonist to estrogen. This would mean that if progesterone is low, estrogen would automatically be suppressing thyroid function.
Furthermore, estrogen can cause copper retention if zinc or progesterone levels are too low. Copper is required for the synthesis and release of estrogen and also forms enzymes in the liver which help to break down leftover estrogen into harmless substances. Copper has been found to be an antagonist to thyroid hormone. In addition, calcium is an antagonist to allowing thyroid hormone to enter the cell. Abnormally elevated calcium levels in tissue correlate with elevated copper. Calcium and copper can elevate together and block the effects of thyroid hormone. Progesterone appears to reverse this action.
Women with low thyroid women tend to gain weight on the thighs and hips. This seems to be due to the effects of estrogen. Progesterone reverses this tendency. Balancing estrogen with progesterone allows the progesterone to do its job in restoring and normalizing thyroid function.
Progesterone has a calming effect on the brain. Estrogen, on the other hand, has an excitatory effect on the brain. As a result, women experiencing estrogen dominance typically have restless sleep. Sleep deprivation is also associated with disrupting leptin (a hormone that regulates your appetite). Lack of sleep has been linked to increased calorie consumption which in turn increases weight.
Estrogen dominance can lead to the release of excess insulin. Increases in insulin lead to sugar craving that can be difficult to control. This is why many women crave chocolate or other sweets during PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome). Estrogen balanced with progesterone can calm these cravings.
When estrogen levels are not well balanced with progesterone, women tend to retain more fluid than usual. Progesterone is a natural diuretic and can greatly reduce bloating and swelling.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROGESTERONE AND PROGESTINS
It is important to understand the difference between natural progesterone and the synthetic progestin. Bio-identical progesterone, made from the soy or yam plant, has a molecular structure identical to what your body makes. This is significant because the body will recognize it and utilize it appropriately.
Progestins, on the other hand, do not have the same molecular structure as the ones made by your body; thus they’re not treated the same way by your body. Examples of HRT therapy with progestins include Activella®, Angeliq®, Combipatch®, Femhrt®, Prempro®, and Mimvey®, to name a few. These synthetic molecules are “fakers” and in many instances do more harm than good. The negative effects of progestins are exacerbated by the fact that they actually shut down your body’s production of its own progesterone. This explains why women who use birth control pills which contain progestins tend to gain weight, retain fluid, have migraines, mood swings, and exhibit other symptoms of estrogen dominance.
FINDING OUT YOUR LEVELS
If you’re having trouble losing weight and have tried basically every diet fad and have overworked out your body to no avail, it could be a hormone imbalance with estrogen dominating. Salivary, blood, and urine testing are available for hormones. Saliva testing tests for active free hormones in your tissues; blood testing tests for bound and unbound hormones in blood; and urine testing shows hormone metabolites.
Losing weight can be daunting for women as their hormones change with the phases of their lives. We often resort to quick fixes thinking we can get immediate gratification but often these quick fixes come with short or long-term consequences. The body is an intricate machine with body organs, tissues, and hormones all working together for proper functioning. When biological changes occur over time, we have to address the changes in order for the body to continue to function for us. If you feel that the extra pounds you’re carrying around could be due to hormone imbalance, get tested to identify those imbalances in order to get your body back.