15 Ways to Increase Progesterone: Diet, Supplements & Lifestyle Tips
Progesterone, along with estrogen, is one of the two major female sex hormones. Because it plays an important role in pregnancy, menstruation, and overall health and well-being, you can run into problems when progesterone levels are too low.
If you suspect you may be experiencing low progesterone, there are some easy ways to raise your levels naturally. In this post, we will look at three major categories: diet, supplements, and lifestyle tips and explore how each can help keep your progesterone levels in check.
Understanding the Role of Progesterone
You can learn a lot about the role of progesterone from looking at the etymology of the word itself: the prefix “pro-” means to promote, and the rest of the word, “-gesterone,” refers to gestation, a.k.a. pregnancy. In other words, progesterone is a reproductive hormone that’s necessary to promote a healthy pregnancy.
Even so, progesterone is produced by the corpus luteum (the transformed follicle that releases an egg during ovulation) whether you become pregnant during your menstrual cycle or not. If you do become pregnant, progesterone will rise to thicken the uterine lining, which provides nutrients to the developing fetus.
Because progesterone is so important in pregnancy, experts believe that low progesterone levels may contribute to recurrent miscarriages in some women. Accordingly, progesterone therapy has been found to have a significant benefit in helping women with recurrent miscarriages get and stay pregnant.
If you do not become pregnant during your cycle, progesterone still peaks, but it declines toward the end of your cycle to signal to your body that it is approaching menstruation. If you have anovulatory cycles where you do not ovulate, you may not experience this peak and decline in progesterone and may fail to have a menstrual period as a result. Tracking your urine hormone concentrations with a digital fertility tracker like Mira can help you determine if your progesterone levels are rising and falling as they should.
Birth control pills work to produce a similar effect. They contain synthetic forms of progesterone and estrogen, or sometimes progesterone only, to keep hormones at a steady level throughout your cycle. This prevents you from ovulating and having a true menstrual period — a “period” on hormonal birth control is actually known as withdrawal bleeding, and is not considered a “true period” — so you cannot get pregnant.
In addition to playing a role in reproduction, progesterone also contributes to many medical conditions. Progesterone pills are used to treat reproductive health conditions like endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). The hormone may also contribute to other medical conditions not involving the reproductive system, including the growth of some cancers and migraine headaches.
How to Increase Progesterone
For women who are not pregnant, normal serum progesterone levels can range from 1 to 20 ng/mL, depending on where they are in their menstrual cycle. In the first trimester, a pregnant woman’s serum progesterone levels can get as high as 90 ng/mL. If your progesterone levels are low, you might be experiencing uncomfortable symptoms, such as:
- Low sex drive
- Hot flashes
- Migraine headaches
- Mood changes
- Irregular or absent periods
You might also be experiencing fertility issues, such as difficulty conceiving or multiple miscarriages.
If you are experiencing any of these issues, you may be desperate for a solution. Luckily, when it comes to raising your progesterone levels, taking synthetic hormones may be supported with natural options. You may be able to increase your progesterone naturally at home using diet, supplements, and lifestyle changes.
Progesterone Diet & Foods
As the cliched saying goes, “you are what you eat.” What you eat affects your whole body, including your fertility hormones. If you’re struggling with low progesterone, you can use this principle to your advantage by tweaking your diet to try to raise your progesterone levels naturally. Here are some foods to increase progesterone if you’re looking for a boost in production.
Sex hormones like progesterone are made from protein, fat, and cholesterol. When the body doesn’t derive enough of these nutrients from its diet, hormone production can suffer. For this reason, women eating a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet may suffer from symptoms of low estrogen or progesterone.
Your body needs a steady supply of healthy fats in order to optimize hormone production. So, what types of fats are considered “healthy?” In general, fats that can be found in natural foods are good for you, while those found only in manufactured, processed foods are harmful to your health. Namely, you should avoid trans fats, found in hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils, which are manmade and contribute to a number of health problems.
Make sure you are eating enough saturated and unsaturated fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. You can find these fats in a number of whole foods. Saturated fats are primarily found in animal products like butter, cheese, and meat, but they are also found in coconut oil. Unsaturated fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, can be found in fatty fish (such as salmon), nuts, vegetable oils (like olive and avocado), and flaxseed. Try to get most of your fats from unsaturated fats and limit saturated fat to 10% or less of your daily calories.
Incorporate some of these healthy fats into your diet to boost progesterone production naturally!
Some of the best foods you can eat when trying to raise your progesterone levels are nuts and seeds. As we mentioned previously, nuts and seeds are rich in unsaturated fats, which are essential nutrients for sex hormone production. However, nuts and seeds have other benefits on progesterone production, too.
Many nuts and seeds are also rich in zinc, a mineral that helps tell the pituitary gland to regulate the production of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) during the first half of your menstrual cycle. FSH triggers the growth of a follicle containing an egg in preparation for ovulation. Later, once the egg is released, the follicle transforms into the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone. Foods rich in zinc can promote healthy progesterone levels by keeping this process on track.
In addition to zinc, the majority of nuts and seeds contain magnesium, another essential nutrient for regulating the menstrual cycle. Magnesium helps regulate the pituitary gland, which not only produces FSH but also produces luteinizing hormone (LH). LH surges around ovulation and if you do not ovulate, this process will not occur. Without ovulation, progesterone levels will remain low due to the lack of a corpus luteum.
Thus, eating foods rich in magnesium, like nuts and seeds, can boost your progesterone levels by keeping ovulation on track. Try almonds, cashews, walnuts, sunflower seeds, and pepitas to raise progesterone naturally.
Believe it or not, chocolate — especially dark chocolate containing at least 70% cacao — can be part of an overall healthy diet! Eaten in moderate amounts, dark chocolate may even improve your hormone health.
Dark chocolate is a rich source of magnesium — which, as we now know, plays an important role in regulating ovulation and triggering progesterone production. In fact, it’s been theorized that the high magnesium content of chocolate explains why so many women crave it before their menstrual periods!
The magnesium content of chocolate comes from the raw cacao that it is made from and the darker the chocolate (i.e. the greater the percentage of cacao), the more magnesium it contains. Look for 70% dark chocolate or higher to maximize the nutritional value of this sweet treat!
Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, are used to synthesize hormones like progesterone within the body. The body needs amino acids to function, but it cannot make them by itself. In other words, you must consume the nine essential amino acids through your diet to maintain your hormone health and overall well-being.
A complete protein is one that contains all nine of the essential amino acids. While there are some plant-based proteins that are considered “complete,” most of them are animal proteins, like meat and poultry. One of the nine essential amino acids that is especially important to progesterone production is L-arginine, which increases blood circulation so your ovaries can function optimally throughout your cycle.
When it comes to animal protein and progesterone foods, chicken is a complete protein and the “white meat” found in the chicken breast — is a great choice because it is both lean and versatile. Think of all the healthy dishes you can cook using chicken!
If you are looking for a plant-based protein source, oats are a strong choice for hormone health. Boasting about 11g of protein per 100g, oats are higher in protein than many other grains. Not to mention, oats contain all nine of the essential amino acids the body needs to function optimally — and synthesize important hormones.
Technically, oats are not considered a “complete” protein because they contain only small amounts of certain amino acids, particularly lysine. However, you can make oats into a complete protein by adding other incomplete proteins to your meal, especially those containing lysine. For example, you might sprinkle seeds or drizzle nut butter on top of your oats.
Herbals & Supplements
If you are struggling with low progesterone, certain herbs and supplements may help rebalance your hormones. While you can usually get all the nutrients you need from a whole foods diet — you may occasionally need a boost when seeking to balance your progesterone levels naturally.
Chasteberry, or Vitex, is an herbal supplement that has been used for centuries to treat hormonal health conditions. It can be used to relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) as well as to rebalance progesterone levels.
It’s believed that taking chasteberry supplements could increase progesterone levels by regulating the pituitary gland. Evidence to support this practice is limited, but since chasteberry is usually well-tolerated by women with minor (if any) side effects, there’s probably no harm in trying it for yourself.
As we mentioned previously, zinc plays an important role in regulating progesterone levels by interacting with the pituitary gland to trigger the production of FSH. This keeps ovulation regular, ensuring that the corpus luteum forms and produces progesterone during the second half of the menstrual cycle.
You can get zinc from food sources like nuts and seeds, but also from mineral supplements. Avoid consuming more than 40 mg of zinc per day from food and supplements combined. You should also avoid intranasal zinc supplements, which have been linked to loss of smell.
Like zinc, magnesium helps regulate the pituitary gland to keep ovulation — and progesterone levels — on track. You can get magnesium from food sources like nuts and chocolate, but also from mineral supplements.
The maximum upper intake level of magnesium that you should consume per day from supplements is 350 mg, though magnesium toxicity is not a concern for most healthy people. However, it is possible to get too much magnesium from taking supplements, so use them with caution.
Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, may be a valuable supplement for women looking to raise their progesterone naturally. Studies show that taking 200-800 mg of vitamin B6 per day may increase progesterone levels and curb symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
Women ages 19 to 50 need at least 1.3 mg of vitamin B6 per day. Because B vitamins are water-soluble, you can safely take high doses of vitamin B6 without worrying about overdose. Any excess B6 will be expelled from the body through the urine.
Like vitamin B6, vitamin C supplements can help raise your progesterone levels naturally. According to one study, women who took 750 mg of vitamin C per day saw an increase of 77% in their serum progesterone levels. The average daily recommended amount of vitamin C is 75 mg, so make sure you are getting at least that much.
Use caution when taking vitamin C supplements, as it is possible to overdose on them. For adults, the tolerable upper limit of vitamin C is 2,000 mg per day from food and supplements combined.
Lifestyle & Exercise
When it comes to raising your progesterone levels, what you put into your body matters — but so does the way you treat your body. From maintaining a healthy weight to limiting your caffeine intake, here are some attainable lifestyle changes you can make to bring your hormones back into balance naturally.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Estrogen dominance, which can result when progesterone is lower relative to estrogen, is a common consequence of weight gain in women. Progesterone levels have a “chicken and egg” effect on your weight: healthy progesterone levels can reverse weight gain by having a diuretic effect, but in overweight individuals, weight loss can also help bring hormones back into balance. Keeping your BMI in a healthy range by eating healthfully and exercising appropriately is an overall good idea for your hormone health and fertility (more on how to reverse estrogen dominance naturally here).
Don’t Overdo It with Exercise
Over-exercising can lead to hypothalamic amenorrhea, or the lack of a menstrual period. When a woman has hypothalamic amenorrhea, she does not ovulate normally. As a result, she does not form a corpus luteum, which would produce progesterone during the second half of her menstrual cycle. This can lead to low progesterone levels.
Exercise is important for your overall health, but it is also important not to overdo it. While you should maintain a regular exercise routine, you should also be careful not to push yourself beyond your limits — and make sure to take plenty of rest days!
When our stress hormone, cortisol, spikes, it blocks progesterone receptors, limiting the activity of progesterone. Even if you have enough progesterone in your body, you might experience symptoms of low progesterone when stressed due to this physiological response.
While you cannot escape everything that stresses you out, you can find proactive ways to manage your stress. Prioritizing your daily to-do list (and making time for self-care) can help you find balance in your everyday life. Mindfulness techniques like meditation or yoga can also be helpful for managing your stress.
If you’re a fan of caffeine, it might be time to cut back. Women who drink more than four cups of coffee per day may see a negative effect on their hormone balance. While you definitely don’t need to cut out caffeine altogether, too much can create estrogen dominance, leading to low progesterone levels by comparison.
Experts say that healthy adults can safely consume up to 400 mg of caffeine per day — about the amount of caffeine found in four cups of brewed coffee. For women who are trying to get pregnant, it is preferable to limit caffeine intake to no more than 200 mg daily. As long as you stay within these limits, you should not see negative effects on your hormone balance.
Watch Your Blood Sugar
When your blood sugar is high, the body will produce more insulin to help bring glucose back into balance. Some women may be insulin resistant, meaning that even when their body pumps out insulin, they are not sensitive to its effects. As a result, the body continues to overproduce insulin, leading to weight gain.
High insulin levels cause the body to make more cortisol — which, as we mentioned previously, can deplete progesterone reserves. In other words, it’s important to keep your blood sugar in balance when you have low progesterone. To manage your blood sugar levels, eat at regular times, don’t skip meals, and drink water instead of juice and soda.
Where to Start
If you suspect you have low progesterone levels, it’s important to confirm the diagnosis by getting an accurate measure of your serum progesterone. Your primary care doctor or OB/GYN can read your serum progesterone levels with a simple blood test — and make sure they fall within a healthy range (more on PdG tests here) .
You can also watch your progesterone levels at home using a digital hormone tracker like Mira. Mira measures hormones like progesterone, FSH, and LH in your urine to help you identify hormone imbalances and pinpoint your menstrual cycle with greater accuracy.
How to Track Your Progesterone Levels
With the Mira fertility tracker, measuring your hormone levels is easy and intuitive. Mira uses test wands (similar to a home pregnancy test) to measure hormone concentrations in your urine. After inserting the wand into Mira, it reads your results and sends them to the Mira app, which graphs your exact hormone curve to give you insight into your menstrual cycle. You can use these results to determine if your progesterone levels are too low, too high, or just right. To get the Mira digital fertility tracker, click here.