Progesterone is a hormone naturally produced in the body. Though it is present in both women and men, it is more prominent in women as it plays a key role in regulating menstrual cycles and preparation for pregnancy. When progesterone levels become imbalanced, physical symptoms such as irregular periods, mood swings, headaches, fatigue and joint pain can occur. This type of hormone imbalance can happen at any time during a woman's childbearing years but is most common during perimenopause, or the transitional time before menses stops, according to John Lee, M.D.
Progesterone Deficiency and Bone Health
When progesterone levels are low for any length of time, the bones and joints can be affected, says author Karen J. Romano, R.N., D.C. Because progesterone works directly with bone-building cells known as osteoblasts, diseases like osteoporosis and arthritis can develop if the problem is not corrected. Studies have shown that progesterone replacement has significantly improved pain and other symptoms in patients with bone and joint conditions, says Romano.
The Relationship of Estrogen to Progesterone
Estrogen dominates during the first two weeks of a woman's cycles. When ovulation occurs, estrogen levels drop and progesterone naturally increases, taking the dominant role for the remainder of the cycle. The cycle starts again when the progesterone levels drop. Anytime a woman does not ovulate, the progesterone does not reach normal mid-cycle blood serum levels of 5 to 20 ng/mL, or nanograms per milliliter. This is the condition known as "Estrogen Dominance," a phrase coined by Dr. Lee. This disruption of normal hormone balance is one cause of adverse physical and emotional symptoms, according to Lee.
While correcting a progesterone imbalance is not usually complicated, it should be done under the care of a physician. Though there is insufficient proof that natural progesterone creams and supplements are more effective than prescription progesterone, some doctors may recommend them to bring the hormone levels back to normal. Dr. Lee proposes that "not all creams are created equal" and should be chosen carefully. The primary difference between natural progesterone and synthetic is that the natural type mimics the body's natural hormone and is absorbed more easily; therefore, symptoms may decrease faster.
Synthetic progesterone, or progestin, is considered a safe and viable treatment for hormone deficiency by the FDA. This type of therapy is usually given to women suffering from significant adverse symptoms related to perimenopause and menopause, as well as for many other hormone-related conditions. Though joint pain is a common symptom of low progesterone, it is also a side-effect of progestin therapy.
Do not use any type of progesterone replacement, natural or synthetic, during pregnancy. Some patients may have an increased risk of blood clots, stroke, heart attack, or breast cancer, depending on their medical history. Some progesterone creams may contain plant-based oils or other possible allergens. Consult your physician if your joint pain does not improve with progesterone replacement, as it may be a symptom of another disease or condition.
Is This an Emergency?
- “Hormone Balance Made Simple”; John R. Lee, M.D. and Virginia Hopkins; 2006
- “Preventing and Reversing Arthritis Naturally”; Raquel Martin and Karen J. Romano, R.N., D.C.; 2000
- Med Line Plus: Serum Progesterone
- Dr. Kaslow: Premenstrual Syndromes
- Project Aware: Synthetic Progestins and Natural Progesterone, A Pharmacist Explores the Differences