Fluctuations in the key female hormones–estrogen and progesterone–can cause a number of symptoms including irregular menstrual cycles, an increase in bad cholesterol in the blood, sleep problems and hot flashes. Hormonal changes that occur during perimenopause–the transition period before menopause–may bring on symptoms such as irritability and mood swings for some women. You should not ignore symptoms of low progesterone as hormonal imbalances can also lead to intense anxiety and depression.
Female Reproductive Cycle
Hormone fluctuations that occur in connection with the female reproductive cycle can influence mood and lead to symptoms of depression in some women. Women who are pregnant, those who are experiencing postpartum baby blues or who suffer the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome or premenstrual dysphoric disorder undergo hormonal changes that can affect mood and emotional well-being. Perimenopause and menopause are other times in a woman's life when hormones fluctuate, putting her at increased risk of depression.
Role of Progesterone
Progesterone is a sex hormone that plays a major role in fertility and pregnancy. Your body needs progesterone to keep your menstrual cycles normal. Levels of the hormone progesterone rise and fall throughout a woman's monthly cycle. When progesterone levels drop, progesterone deficiency leads to estrogen dominance. This imbalance of too much estrogen can cause the body to retain copper and lose zinc in the blood and brain. There may be a link between zinc levels and depression. Symptoms of depression have also been associated with copper toxicity.
Symptoms of Low Progesterone
Symptoms of low progesterone levels may include weight gain, bloating, changes in appetite, muscle and joint pain, sleeplessness, irritability and difficulty concentrating. Diminishing hormone levels can also lead to symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety and in some cases, feelings of depression. Progesterone has a calming effect on mood similar to that of serotonin–a hormone that helps to enhance mood. When levels of progesterone and estrogen begin to drop, especially as a woman gets closer to menopause, anxiety sometimes becomes more of a problem, according to Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN nurse practitioner.
Effects on the Body
The hormone progesterone is the precursor of estrogen, testosterone and other corticosteroid hormones. Progesterone is produced in both the ovaries and adrenal glands. Along with the role it plays in reproduction, this steroid hormone helps women cope with stress. However, the body produces little progesterone following menopause. Migraine, irregular periods, infertility, miscarriage, premenstrual syndrome and polycystic ovarian syndrome are just some of the medical conditions related to low progesterone levels. Dr. Peter Bongiorno, an adjunct faculty member at New York University and author of "Healing Depression: Integrated Naturopathic and Conventional Treatments," recommends screening for and treating any menstrual cycle and estrogen/progesterone abnormalities when evaluating a depressed female patient.
Is This an Emergency?
- Women to Women; Depression, anxiety and mood; Marcelle Pick; April 2011
- HelpGuide.org; Depression in Women; Melinda Smith, et al.; November 2010
- MayoClinic.com; Perimenopause: Symptoms; Mayo Clinic Staff; September 2010
- Premenstrual Syndrome Support: Symptoms of Low Progesterone
- Understanding Perimenopause: What Is the Role of Progesterone in Humans?
- Dr. Peter Bongiorno, N.D.; Naturopathic Doctor; New York, NY