Progesterone: An Overview
Progesterone is a hormone naturally produced in the ovaries of ovulating women with the primary function of supporting pregnancy. Progesterone-like substances, called progestogens or progestins, can be currently found in either natural or synthetic forms.
Synthetic progesterone is commonly used in supplement due to the tendency of natural progesterone to be broken down by the liver when taken orally rather than be absorbed in the bloodstream. Progestogens can be found in birth control pills, menopausal hormone replacement therapy, or for other situations where hormone control and regulation can be beneficial.
Progesterone can be taken orally (as a pill), as a shot, as a vaginal suppository, or as a cream or gel. Each method varies in terms of thoroughness of absorption, duration of effects, price, availability, and personal opinion of convenience.
Progesterone supplementation has been very helpful in infertility treatment and in helping women with premature ovarian failure. On the flip side of the coin, progesterone is also used in contraception devices such as birth control pills or birth control injections. When used in hormone replacement therapy (HRT), progestogens can reduce the risk of uterine cancer that would otherwise result from the replacement of estrogen alone. Progesterone has also been used as therapy for PMS and to help regulate irregular or abnormal periods.
There are side effects and cautions that come along with the use of progesterone. Progestogens should not be used by women with blood clots in the legs or by women who have had liver disease. Some medical conditions, such as migraines, heart failure, asthma, and epilepsy, can worsen with use. Too much progesterone can cause sedation, vaginal dryness, or the cessation of menstrual periods (for pre-menopausal women). Natural progesterone tends to have fewer side effects than synthetic. Because synthetic progestogens are chemically different than natural progesterone, there can be some alternative side effects. Synthetic progesterone can sometimes affect HDL (good cholesterol) levels or blood pressure.
All effects of progesterone therapy vary according to the unique chemical nature of each woman taking it. A physician can help determine dosage, assist in choosing a method of absorption, and spot any potential reasons for caution for each case.