Does Progesterone Cause Weight Gain? It Depends…

by Aug 12, 2021

Progesterone is an important female hormone with links to everything from supporting early pregnancy to regulating your menstrual cycle.  Although normally known for its role in sex and fertility, if your progesterone levels are out of whack it can impact your overall health and well-being.

Levels can change both during your menstrual cycle and during different life stages and may even change cycle-to-cycle.  Since hormones play such a vital role in our health, imbalances can lead to issues beyond our reproductive system, including maintaining a healthy weight.  If you’ve been prescribed progesterone you might be wondering what the side effects are or even if progesterone can help you lose weight.  In this post we’ll investigate progesterone and weight gain, answer the question “does progesterone make you gain weight”, and explore some of the science behind hormones and your weight .

Does progesterone cause weight gain?

While the hormone itself does not cause weight gain per se, progesterone interacts with estrogen in critical ways that can ultimately have an effect on your weight and cause weight gain.

It can be misleading to blame weight gain on progesterone alone, especially when other hormones are involved.  In reality, when progesterone and estrogen levels are ideal, they form a natural balance in our bodies and regulate one another.  When that balance is off, progesterone can’t work like it should and other hormones are left unchecked, both of which lead to weight gain.

The science behind hormones and your weight

It can be easy to reduce your weight to something as simple as exercise and diet, but in reality it’s much more complicated than that.  Hormones, the chemical messengers of the body, play a major role in weight and influence everything from your appetite to where fat is stored in your body.  Hormones help regulate almost all of your body’s functions, including weight.

Hormones like insulin, leptin, and cortisol all play a role in appetite, fat storage, and stress levels that can affect weight regardless of gender.  However, for women, the interaction between estrogen and progesterone also play a big role.  Estrogen and progesterone work in tandem and balance each other out and help maintain a healthy weight.  A woman needs healthy and normal levels of estrogen and progesterone to maintain a normal weight.

Estrogen is a growth hormone that works to make your cells bigger and promotes storing energy as fat.  Whether that’s your breasts and hips as you go through puberty, or your uterine cells during your cycle, the impact of estrogens make your cells bigger.

Estrogen also helps your body retain salt and water.  Progesterone on the other hand, helps limit the impact of estrogens by allowing our bodies to metabolize the fat stored and acts as a natural diuretic to aid in water loss and decrease swelling.  Like checks and balances, estrogen and progesterone work together to help your body maintain a healthy weight.  When either hormone level is left unchecked, an imbalance is created and can lead to a situation that creates weight gain.

Potential reasons for weight gain

When hormones are out of balance, the body has trouble regulating its weight and excess weight can sneak in.  Progesterone doesn’t cause weight loss or gain in and of itself, it works by reducing the effects other hormones have on your body – and too much or too little can have noticeable effects.

Too much progesterone

Too much progesterone can impair your body’s blood sugar regulation (through its interaction with insulin) and lead to weight gain.  During pregnancy, this sensitivity to insulin is normal and helps ensure enough nutrients are delivered to the growing fetus thanks to the increase in progesterone production.

However, in the absence of a pregnancy and fetus to feed, increasing the amount of insulin in the blood usually means your body is converting more blood sugar for storage as fat, leading to weight gain.  It’s also the likely culprit behind food cravings and hunger when progesterone is highest in your cycle.

Too little progesterone

When progesterone levels are too low, your insulin response can also be affected.  Without healthy levels of progesterone, estrogen is either left unchecked or levels are high in comparison.  And because progesterone supports the thyroid and regulating your metabolism, too little of this hormone means your metabolism could slow down and lead to weight gain.

Low estrogen

Since estrogen is also involved in regulating glucose and lipid metabolism, too little of the hormones can also result in weight gain.  Estrogen is produced mainly in the ovaries, so when levels are low the body looks for it elsewhere.

Because production also occurs in fat cells (especially when older), low estrogen levels can cause the body to gain weight in order to try and rebalance production.  Converting all extra energy sources into fat ensures the body has an estrogen source, even if it is misguided and leads to weight gain.

Other concerns for progesterone and your weight

Hormones and weight gain is a well worn topic of discussion for most women, but there may be other concerns when it comes to progesterone.  An imbalance of hormones can not only lead to changes in weight, but can also make any weight loss efforts even harder.  Weight gain, or lack of it, can be a critical message from your body.

What if you’re trying to lose weight?

If you’re trying to lose weight, the relationship between progesterone and estrogen can greatly impact your ability to do so.  Estrogen dominance due to low progesterone levels can wreak havoc on any weight loss efforts.  Likewise, progesterone therapy has shown to be useful for helping to maintain or even slightly decrease body weight if progesterone levels are the issue.

What if you’re TTC?

Progesterone levels are critical for conception as well as pregnancy and change over the course of your cycle.  Low levels may be at fault for infertility issues or pregnancy loss and supplements or therapies are commonly prescribed as a fertility treatment when TTC.

What if you have a history of other conditions like endometriosis or PCOS?

Because progesterone levels are so closely related to your menstrual function, women with abnormal menstrual cycles or menstrual issues may be prescribed a supplement to treat the issue.  Low progesterone has been linked to PCOS and the hormone is often prescribed as a treatment option for both endometriosis and PCOS especially in those looking to get pregnant.

How to test and monitor your progesterone

Progesterone can be tested through blood or urine.  Most blood tests involve a visit to a doctor’s office or lab, but there are a growing number of home options as well.  Blood tests give a specific numeric value at the time of testing, but it only provides a snapshot rather than the bigger picture.  Progesterone levels can vary greatly and have even been shown to fluctuate hour by hour.

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.

The app allows you to see your data over time, giving you a more complete picture of your levels rather than a one-time snapshot.  You can use these results to determine if your progesterone levels are off and measure them over time.

Progesterone weight gain FAQs

Does progesterone make you hungry?

Progesterone supports metabolic function and increases your metabolic rate.  This can translate to an increase in core body temperature that ramps up your metabolism and appetite.  Since estrogen suppresses the appetite, if levels are too low and progesterone is too high, you may experience hunger.

Can progesterone help you lose weight?

Progesterone can help you lose weight if your levels are low to begin with, but it’s more complicated than a cause-and-effect relationship. Progesterone is especially helpful to control weight when estrogen dominance is the issue as the effects of progesterone tone down the influence of estrogen.

It’s important to note that progesterone doesn’t directly cause weight gain or loss but instead works to reduce the effect of other hormones in the body that may be causing weight gain.

Does Progesterone cause belly fat?

Although progesterone doesn’t cause belly fat, one of the side effects of progesterone can be weight gain.  As we age, hormonal disruptions like progesterone levels dropping faster than estrogen levels can impact belly fat too.  Visceral fat, body fat found in the abdominal cavity, can be associated with insulin resistance, which can be closely tied to progesterone levels.

As you can see, progesterone plays an important role in many functions in your body.  Understanding its role and how it interacts with other hormones can help you understand the role between progesterone and weight fluctuations.

✔️ Medically Reviewed by Katerina Shkodzik, M.D., OB-GYN

Dr. Katerina Shkodzik is a certified OB-GYN with a special focus on reproductive endocrinology and infertility issues. She has been practising since 2015.

Dr. Shkodzik completed her residency program in the Department of OB/GYN at the Belarusian State Medical University and fellowship program in the Department of Gynecological Surgery at the Medical University of Bialystok, Poland.

Dr. Shkodzik is extensively involved in digital health projects providing her medical expertise and integrating of cutting edge technologies in medical science and clinical practice since 2018.

Dr. Shkodzik has participated in several studies focused on PCOS, endometriosis, menstrual cycle characteristics and their abnormalities based on big data of digital health in collaboration with leading universities.

She believes that paying special attention to women's health is a crucial step to improving the world we live in.

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