Whether you have been diagnosed with infertility, you’re trying to conceive, or you just happen to be a woman; knowing what progesterone is and how it affects your body is an absolute must. If you’re like me, you sat through years of health class looking at the diagram of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries, hearing the same thing year after year, and not learning much.
Let’s start with the basics, the stuff they should have told us when we first menstruated, oh so long ago. During the first half of a woman’s cycle, the estradiol levels rise, the cervix produces cervical mucus which will allows the sperm to travel into the uterus and make their way to the ovaries, where they’ll fertilize the egg- if the ovulation is strong enough.
As estradiol levels rise, a follicle in one of the two ovaries matures. Ovulation usually occurs within one or two days before or after estradiol levels reach their highest levels of the cycle. At the same time the estradiol levels are rising, the cervix is making mucus. In the realm of NaProTechnology, the last day of the cycle in which a woman observes mucus is known as peak day. Peak day typically occurs two days before or after ovulation. Ideally, estradiol levels should be between 300 and 400 to have an “effective” cycle.
After peak day, your estradiol levels drop, not gradually, sharply. Estradiol has had its turn, the post peak phase is where progesterone comes into play. Once your estradiol levels drop and you ovulate, that egg will hang around anywhere between 12-24 hours if you’re lucky. It could actually be much less. It’s different for every woman and it’s often different for every cycle.
That follicle that matured and produced your egg is now known as the corpus luteum, it is responsible for producing the progesterone your body needs. Your progesterone levels generally reach their highest levels about seven days after your peak day. If you are trying to conceive, your doctor may draw your “day 21” progesterone levels. These can be misleading; if you’re not sure when your peak day is, the levels could be off by a few days. NaProTechnology doctors rely on a peak plus 7 blood draw to assess a women’s progesterone levels, this is much more accurate for most women.
To conceive, your progesterone levels should be above 15, in a medicated cycle. However, progesterone levels vary from cycle to cycle. I’ve had cycles where my progesterone was 28 and others where it was 9!
If your body is not producing enough progesterone then pregnancy is virtually out of the question. Not to mention that your body will continue to make estradiol in the absence of progesterone. That means you’re at a higher risk for cancers. During my laparoscopy / hysteroscopy / selective HSG, they actually found a large polyp which they attributed to estrogen levels going unchecked by progesterone. The polyp was located right where a baby would have implanted. Good thing we had it removed. No wonder we were having trouble conceiving!
By the end of your cycle, if you haven’t conceived, your estradiol and progesterone levels will continue to drop and you’ll menstruate.
If your doctor determines that your progesterone levels are too low, you’re not out of luck. Progesterone can be supplemented!
Once when talking with someone about supplementing hormones, I was asked “Isn’t that dangerous, isn’t that how other women have gotten cancer?” The difference is in the details, in this case. Like someone who has diabetes whose body cannot make enough insulin, a woman with low progesterone can supplement her progesterone levels to achieve optimum levels. Because she is only restoring what nature intended to be there in the first place, there aren’t any risks of illness. That’s the great thing about NaProTechnology, it only restores what should be there in the first place; it does not expose a woman to the risks that come when using Artificial Reproductive Technology.
What is progesterone made of?
Progesterone is a hormone which is created by the corpus luteum, the remains of the follicle in which the egg matured. Like many other hormones, your body makes progesterone from cholesterol. Let me say that again, you need cholesterol in your diet to produce adequate amounts of progesterone. Yup, that stuff that you may have been avoiding is actually an essential nutrient for ovulation, and conception.
Cholesterol is found in dairy products made with whole milk, and other animal products containing fats such as butter, beef, salmon, etc. This may explain why women who eat low fat dairy products have a higher incidence of infertility than those who consume dairy products made with whole milk. Besides, it just tastes better!
I’ve correlated my diet with my peak plus seven blood draws and have noticed that when I consume Cabot Greek Yogurt with 10% fat, my progesterone levels are in the 20’s. When I’m not on my Cabot Greek Yogurt kick, my levels aren’t so great.
If you are opposed to including the foods that contain cholesterol in your diet, you can also consume naturally occurring progesterone. One food with the highest level of naturally occurring progesterone is the yam. Yams are such a vital source of naturally occurring progesterone that many progesterone supplements are actually made from yams.
Are you surprised? Stay tuned for more info about progesterone’s role in pregnancy…