Forget oestrogen, forget testosterone! This article looks at why low progesterone is the most common cause of hormonal acne and turbulent PMS in adult women.
Progesterone plays a vital role in woman’s health but this hormone is often overlooked when it comes to natural acne healing. Acne is often blamed on androgens such as testosterone and DHT and while these hormones are a huge part of the acne process, it’s actually progesterone, or lack of progesterone, that could be upsetting the balance of all your other hormones and resulting in acne and PMS in the first place.
WHAT IS PROGESTERONE?
Progesterone is the second most recognised ‘female hormone’ after oestrogen and when our bodies produce enough, it has a soothing, calming and mood lifting effect on our bodies. Progesterone is produced in the corpus luteum, ovaries, adrenal glands and during pregnancy it is also produce in the placenta.
For women, progesterone is important for the regulation of ovulation and menstruation. It regulates your period and its main role is to mature the uterus for conception and pregnancy. During the second half of your cycle, progesterone causes the inner layer of the uterus to secrete proteins which prepares the uterus for pregnancy. If implantation doesn’t occur, oestrogen and progesterone levels will drop, the uterus lining will break down and your period will start.
Unfortunately, high levels of stress can decrease your progesterone levels and cause your hormones to become further imbalanced. When your body is in a constant state of stress (poor diet, low carb/low calorie diet, excessive exercise, lack of sleep and anxiety over your skin are all reasons you could be chronically stressed), your adrenal glands need progesterone to produce the additional cortisol and adrenaline. This is known as the ‘progesterone steal’ and means that your body uses up your progesterone stores to help you deal with stress, as opposed to what it is designed to do – maintaining and regulating your menstrual cycle and supporting pregnancy.
Progesterone also plays a key role when it comes to:
- using fat for energy
- reducing inflammation
- boosting thyroid function
- normalising blood sugar
HOW DOES LOW PROGESTERONE AFFECT ACNE?
While low progesterone itself doesn’t cause acne, having low levels of progesterone can causes other hormone levels to become unbalanced. Hormones such as excess oestrogen and androgens.
Progesterone complements some of the effects of oestrogen and without enough progesterone, oestrogen can become the dominant hormone and upset the delicate balance between the two hormones. An unbalanced ratio of progesterone and oestrogen levels are responsible for PMS symptoms such as mood swings, breakouts, breast tenderness and feeling bloated as well as fibroids, weight gain and thyroid disfunction.
Excess androgens are the biggest factor when it comes to acne, particularly an androgen called DHT, or Dihydrotestosterone. When there’s too much free testosterone floating around our blood (caused by stress, PCOS or insulin resistance) an enzyme in our body called 5-alpha reductase converts the excess testosterone into DHT. DHT is so much more potent than testosterone and causes oily skin, acne breakouts, hirsutism and sometimes even male pattern baldness.
So…where does progesterone come in?
Healthy levels of progesterone are key to keeping DHT levels down and under control as progesterone regulates the production of DHT and blocks the activity of 5 Alpha Reductase – preventing testosterone turning into DHT! Low progesterone levels means that testosterone can be freely converted into DHT and cause a tonne of unwanted symptoms!
WHAT CAUSES LOW PROGESTERONE?
Low progesterone levels can be a result of many different factors including:
- Coming off birth control
- Poor diet and gut health
- Chronic stress
- Low calorie diet
- Stagnation/lack of exercise
- Xenoestrogen excess
HOW TO TEST FOR LOW PROGESTERONE
Getting proper lab work done will help determine the exact hormones that could be causing problems. However, blood and saliva tests don’t come cheap, and they’re not often completely accurate either! Women’s hormones change A LOT during the month so for truly reliable results you need to be testing your hormone levels regularly throughout your cycle to determine where your imbalances lie.
One way you can learn more about your progesterone levels is to start charting your basal body temperature. I wrote a whole post on it a while ago and found it a great way of helping me to realise that despite all my efforts with supplementation, diet and stress management, I was still unable to raise my temperature, therefore my progesterone levels, during the second half of my cycle.
Fortunately, many people will have so many of the below symptoms that there’s almost no question that their progesterone levels are out of whack and the reason behind their acne and hormonal issues. There isn’t always a need to get expensive hormone tests done or start charting your basal body temperature as you can often determine low progesterone levels by looking at your symptoms. However, while not necessary, charting your basal body temperature is a great way to monitor your progress and see if the supplements and lifestyle changes you’ve made are making an impact on your progesterone levels.
In a 6 month study, women with PCOS followed either a high protein diet consisting of 70% or more energy from protein and fat (30% carbs) versus a standard diet of less than 45% protein and fat (55% carbs) to see the effects on weight loss and blood glucose levels. The results? The high protein diet had a greater weight loss, body fat loss, waist circumference and healthier blood glucose levels – 17 lbs weight loss [1.2 stone] compared to 7 lbs! Higher protein meals mean that signification weight loss can be achieved without ANY restriction of calories! This is because higher protein foods keep you fuller for longer so prevent you from snacking on carb loaded foods that cause your insulin levels to go crazy. Head over to the blog for more tips on managing insulin resistant PCOS symptoms through diet! [link in bio]
SYMPTOMS OF LOW PROGESTERONE
If your suffer with many of the symptoms below then it’s likely that you could be suffering from low progesterone levels:
- Weight gain (especially around the middle)
- Menstrual cramps
- Low/no libido
- Menstrual headaches
- Breast tenderness/swelling
- Mood swings
- Amenorrhea (absent periods)
- Waking in the night
- Short menstrual cycles
- Irregular periods
- Ovarian cysts
- Difficulty sleeping
- Low basal body temperature
- Slow temperature rise after ovulation
- Sugar cravings
HOW TO BOOST PROGESTERONE NATURALLY
Luckily, there are plenty of ways that we can boost our progesterone levels naturally! To find out the best ways to boost your progesterone levels naturally, visit this post here and to get the low down on the top supplements to raise low progesterone visit this blog post.
Do you struggle with low progesterone? Let me know your story in the comments below!
Peace, Love & Clear Skin