By Jennifer Morganti, ND, NEEDS Director of Education
Sometimes it's not easy to be a woman. When we're young, we have hormone fluctuations due to PMS, causing mood swings, acne, cramps, and the joy of having "Aunt Flo" visit every month. When we're older, we deal with the long slow decline of hormones, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and other frustrating symptoms of menopause. In between, we may be estrogen excessive or progesterone deficient, each causing a slew of symptoms. It seems like it's never quite all right.
When discussing menopause, we usually think in terms of estrogen deficiency. Historically, estrogen replacement therapy (hormones derived from horse urine) was the preferred remedy for hot flashes and night sweats. Then, research revealed that this form of estrogen was potentially cancer-causing and dangerous. Since that realization, doctors have been thinking twice about what type of estrogen they prescribe and are offering bioidentical hormones, which are safer.
Estrogen has always been the focus, but Jerilyn Prior, MD, researcher and author of Estrogen Errors, has a different take on menopause. She believes that low progesterone levels are the root cause of hormone imbalances in women far more frequently than low estrogen. Based on her research findings, she recommends progesterone to treat menopausal symptoms in the majority of women she treats. She also finds that in women with excess estrogen, progesterone is the proper treatment needed to create balance. And when treating infertility, she prescribes progesterone to help lead to pregnancy.
What is progesterone?
Progesterone is one of the reproductive hormones produced by the ovaries and adrenals. It helps with achieving conception and regulating a woman's monthly cycle. It's at peak levels in the second part of a woman's menstrual cycle, after the egg is released. It's particularly important for maintaining a pregnancy, and resolving deficiency can often help women who are struggling to become pregnant.
John Lee, MD, was a pioneer in the use of natural progesterone creams for all the reasons stated above. Progesterone creams are a more natural form of progesterone, as compared to the synthetic, oral prescription form of progesterone (ie: Progestin). The type of progesterone found in creams is manufactured in a lab, but starts from a natural source such as wild yam. Through decades of use, it has been found to be safer than synthetic hormones and without side effects.
Dr. Lee coined the now familiar term "estrogen dominance," which can mean having too much estrogen, or not enough progesterone, both causing the ratio to be imbalanced. Estrogen dominance can cause unbearable PMS symptoms, such as weight gain, bloating, irritability, depression, and endometriosis. Progesterone cream can improve hormone balance and resolve many of these symptoms.
If you suspect your estrogen/ progesterone ratio is off-balance, your doctor can provide tests to measure your hormones. You can also safely do a trial test to see if progesterone cream helps if you are unable to take the hormone tests. Progesterone cream is generally well absorbed and easy to use. In some cases, it may not provide a high enough dose to remedy the problem, so your physician will need to help you find ways to get higher doses.