Progesterone is a hormone produced by a woman’s ovaries after ovulation and in much smaller amounts by the adrenal glands. Progesterone is produced by all mammals, male and female, and it affects almost every type of tissue in the body. While it is often referred to as a sex hormone, progesterone does not confer any secondary sex characteristics and is neither male nor female. Natural progesterone is a term used to describe plant-based compounds that contain naturally occurring progesterone.
Natural progesterone is made from wild yams and, in some cases, soybeans. The naturally occurring progesterone contained in these compounds is synthesized from plant steroids as an alternative to synthetic progesterone. The natural progesterone in these products is identical to the progesterone produced in the body, while synthetic progesterone supplements are molecularly different from natural progesterone and have been shown to cause serious side effects in women.
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) using synthetic estrogen and progesterone was for years routinely prescribed to help pre-menopausal women replace and balance their hormones. HRT was effective at relieving the many problems caused by pre-menopause, but several large studies found that women using HRT had significant increases in breast cancer and heart disease. As a result, HRT fell out of favor.
Instead of prescription HRT, many pre-menopausal women use natural progesterone in the form of progesterone cream that is available over the counter. These creams are rubbed on the skin and are quickly absorbed into body fat, where they are readily available to the various body systems that require progesterone. Some of these systems include the female reproductive system, the thyroid, the endocrine system, bone cells, nerve sheath synthesis, fat metabolism, energy production, water balance, and the immune system. Progesterone is also a precursor to testosterone.
Large amounts of progesterone are produced by the placenta during pregnancy. It is used by the body to help ensure the survival and development of the embryo and, later, the fetus. During the third trimester of pregnancy, the placenta can produce as much as 400 mg of progesterone a day. The placenta is expelled after birth, and this huge amount of progesterone is suddenly no longer available, which is believed to play a part in the development of post-partum depression in some women.
As with childbirth, hormonal changes associated with menopause can cause problems with a woman's mood. Natural progesterone creams can help with this, and there are several options available. They work to normalize hormone levels, which can relieve the negative symptoms of menopause. Most good health food stores and pharmacies will carry natural progesterone products.