Does Taking Progesterone Make You Gain Weight?

Taking progesterone pills can be helpful if you have PCOS, irregular periods or are in menopause.
Image Credit: Emilija Manevska/Moment/GettyImages

Progesterone is a type of reproductive hormone naturally found in the body. It has many functions, including regulating the menstrual cycle.

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Sometimes, your body may not produce enough progesterone to function optimally, leading to hormonal imbalances. In these cases, progesterone is prescribed in pill, patch or cream form, according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

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But does taking progesterone cause any side effects, like weight gain?

Read on to learn about progesterone symptoms and side effects along with ways to prevent or reduce weight gain while on progesterone.

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A Note on Language

Here at LIVESTRONG.com, we try to avoid language that implies a sex or gender binary in favor of more inclusive language, but we sometimes include words like "men" or "women" when quoting an expert or other original source material for the sake of accuracy.

First, What Does Progesterone Do?

In people with uteruses, progesterone is a sex hormone that helps to regulate the menstrual cycle and support pregnancy. But it also helps improve your mood, aids thyroid function and supports lactation after you give birth, per the Cleveland Clinic.

Progesterone in pregnancy, specifically, thickens the uterine lining, which helps a fertilized egg grow into an embryo and then a fetus. Progesterone levels continue to gradually increase throughout pregnancy, and the hormone helps support uterine contractions during labor, per the Cleveland Clinic.

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Progesterone is used in medication form to treat the following conditions:

  • Anovulation (lack of ovulation)
  • PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome)
  • High cortisol levels
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hyperprolactinemia (when the body produces too much prolactin, the hormone responsible for lactation)
  • Low cholesterol
  • Hot flashes associated with perimenopause (the period of time just before menopause)

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Does Progesterone Lead to Weight Gain?

Weight gain isn't a primary side effect of progesterone, per a December 2013 review in the ‌Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.‌ Still, there are several reasons why you might gain weight when taking it. These reasons include:

1. Progesterone Can Make You Feel Hungry and Tired

Taking progesterone medication can cause you to feel more hungry and tired, which could lead to overeating and under-exercising — therefore causing you to gain weight. But progesterone in and of itself has not been proven to cause weight gain, per the Cleveland Clinic.

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2. Some Conditions It Treats Put You at Higher Risk for Weight Gain

People who have too little progesterone in their bodies could be dealing with an underlying condition that causes a hormone imbalance. It's possible, then, that the condition is the culprit behind the weight gain rather than progesterone.

For example, PCOS is linked to weight gain, per the Cleveland Clinic, and more than half of people with the condition have overweight, although the exact reasons aren't totally understood.

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Along the same lines, hypothyroidism can lead to a slower metabolism, which may cause weight gain, according to the American Thyroid Association.

3. Perimenopause and Menopause Are Associated With Weight Gain

Progesterone is typically prescribed as a hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, in people going through perimenopause or menopause, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). But this time of life comes with a risk of weight gain due to aging as well as lifestyle and genetic factors, per the Mayo Clinic.

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Is Low Progesterone Linked to Weight Gain?

If anything, ‌too little‌ progesterone in your body puts you at higher risk for gaining weight. Low progesterone may cause an estrogen dominance, and too much estrogen has been linked to weight gain, per the Cleveland Clinic.

Progesterone is also known to help support your thyroid, which regulates metabolism. If your progesterone is low, your thyroid (and metabolism) might be slow (hypothyroidism), and you could gain weight as a result, per the Mayo Clinic.

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Side effects of ‌too little‌ progesterone in the body include the following, per the Cleveland Clinic:

  • Weight gain
  • Mood changes like anxiety and depression
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Irregular periods
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Hot flashes
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Gallbladder issues
  • Fertility issues

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Risks of Taking Progesterone

Unfortunately, taking progesterone does not come without risk.

People with uteruses who use HRT are more likely to develop heart disease, breast cancer, stroke and blood clots in the lungs and legs, per the NLM.

HRT is also more likely to cause dense breasts, which can lead to abnormal mammograms and false-positive tests, per BreastCancer.org. (A false-positive refers to a test that incorrectly suggests the presence of a particular condition or attribute.)

There are also side effects to HRT, including headache, breast tenderness, fatigue, acid reflux and anxiety, per the NLM.

Warning

If you experience sudden headache, vomiting, partial or complete loss of vision, speech problems, dizziness, weakness or numbness, chest pain, coughing up blood, sudden shortness of breath or calf pain after taking progesterone, call your doctor immediately or visit your nearest emergency room, per the NLM.

Other Ways to Increase Progesterone Without Gaining Weight

While progesterone (especially the synthetic version, progestin) may inadvertently cause weight gain due to its side effects of increased hunger and fatigue, there are other types of progesterone you can consider that may not lead to weight gain.

Keep in mind these options don't necessarily work the same way as progesterone medication, and you should talk to your doctor about which option might be right for your situation.

Warning

Don't stop taking prescription progesterone without talking to your doctor first. Similarly, don't start any of the following options without speaking to your doctor.

1. Creams

Good Evidence

Your doctor may recommend a progesterone cream, which, when applied to the skin, can enter the bloodstream quickly and efficiently. These creams are less likely to cause side effects that lead to weight gain.

2. Food

Some Evidence

While there aren't any foods that necessarily contain progesterone, there are some healthy foods you can eat that help support your body's natural progesterone levels — without weight gain that often occurs with eating highly processed foods. These include the following, per the Cleveland Clinic:

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3. Avoiding Over-Exercising

Some Evidence

As mentioned above, over-exercising can lead to spikes in cortisol levels (i.e., your stress hormone), which has been linked to reduced progesterone levels, per the Cleveland Clinic.

Some common signs you're over-exercising include needing longer periods of rest during workouts, getting overuse injuries, feeling anxious or depressed, losing weight quickly and having trouble sleeping, per the NLM.

Talk to your doctor about your exercise habits and work together to develop a personalized exercise plan if you want to maintain a healthy hormone balance along with a healthy weight for your body type.

4. Reducing Stress

Some Evidence

When you are under significant stress for long periods of time, your cortisol levels increase, which can lead to side effects like weight gain (especially in your face and abdomen), muscle weakness in your upper arms and thighs, high blood sugar, high blood pressure and more, per the Cleveland Clinic.

If you want to keep your cortisol levels in check (which will help keep your progesterone levels steady), aim to reduce stressors in your life and practice stress-reducing techniques like getting quality sleep and doing regular yoga or meditation, per Harvard Health Publishing.

Getting regular exercise can also help reduce stress and cortisol levels, per Harvard Health Publishing. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio (think: walking, biking) or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio (running, hiking) each week, along with strength training twice a week.

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When to See a Doctor

Bottom line: Taking progesterone does not directly cause weight gain, but it may cause side effects that lead to weight gain. Underlying conditions or the stage of life you're in (such as menopause) may instead be behind your weight gain when taking progesterone.

If you're experiencing weight gain while taking a progesterone pill or supplement, talk to your doctor. They can help you determine the cause of your weight gain and find solutions when necessary.

And if you're taking progesterone and experience serious side effects such as a sudden headache, vomiting, partial or complete loss of vision, speech problems, dizziness, weakness or numbness, chest pain, coughing up blood, sudden shortness of breath or calf pain, call your doctor right away or go to the nearest emergency room.

FAQ

1. Does Progesterone Make It Harder to Lose Weight?

There's not enough evidence to show that progesterone makes it hard to lose weight or that it can cause you to gain weight.

It may, however, thwart your weight loss plans by making you hungrier and more tired, causing you to overeat and/or skip exercising.

2. Which Hormone Helps You Lose Weight?

The hormone leptin, also known as the fullness hormone, can help you maintain a healthy weight over a long period of time. It's directly related to how much body fat you have, per the Cleveland Clinic.

While leptin can't directly cause you to lose weight, it can help regulate your hunger/fullness cues, helping you maintain proper food portions.

3. Why Do You Take Progesterone at Night?

Turns out, progesterone has a mildly sedative effect, which can cause you to feel drowsy, per Yale Medicine. This is why it's advised to take your progesterone medication at night, so it can help you sleep and also keep you from feeling fatigued during the day.

Those who are going through menopause may also experience sleep disturbances, including night sweats and hot flashes, so taking progesterone at night could help relieve these symptoms, per an August 2018 study in ‌Climacteric.

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