Progesterone is a type of hormone that is produced in the body. In women, the purpose of progesterone is to regulate the menstrual cycle. Men also produce a small amount of the hormone, which is specifically useful for the production of other hormones. The primary reasons progesterone is prescribed, according to Medline Plus, are to treatment irregular periods and prevent endometrial conditions.
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While taking progesterone can lead to weight gain, it may not be a primary side effect. The most common side effects that can cause you to gain weight include increased appetite, depression, fatigue and weakness, all of which can lead to overeating and make exercising difficult. You might also experience bloating and swelling.
Progesterone is typically prescribed as a hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, in women who have already passed or are going through menopause, according to the National Institutes of Health. It’s used to treat symptoms of menopause and reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases. When prescribed along with other hormones, its purpose is to reduce the risk of developing endometrial hyperplasia, which is an abnormal thickening of the lining of the uterus and can lead to uterine cancer. Organizations like the Office on Women’s Health explain that taking progestins, which are synthetic or natural hormones and include progesterone, can cause weight gain. Women at this stage of life, which typically starts at age 51, are already at risk of gaining weight. According to MayoClinic.com, the most profound weight gain in a woman’s life often occurs in the years leading up to menopause.
Progesterone is prescribed for the treatment of menopause symptoms much less often in 2011 than in the past. Recently, experts have discovered that the risks of using HRT oftentimes outweigh the benefits. In 2002, the Women’s Health Initiative studied the effects of HRT versus a placebo on 10,000 women. Women on HRT were more likely to develop heart disease, breast cancer, stroke and blood clots. They were also more likely to have abnormal mammograms and false-positive tests. A false-positive refers to a test that suggests the presence of any kind of abnormality, but turns out to be normal. Women who took estrogen without progestin were less at risk for developing heart disease or breast cancer.
It used to be very common to prescribe progesterone to women for the treatment of symptoms associated with menopause. Due to the risks, doctors and patients are using much more caution when considering HRT. Less risky alternatives to HRT include exercise and diet changes, both of which can also help control weight gain that is common at this age. In 2008, researchers from Temple University found that exercise helped reduce anxiety, stress and depression in postmenopausal women. The Mayo Clinic reports that increasing vitamin E intake may reduce hot flashes.
- WomensHealth.gov; Endometriosis; November 2009
- MayoClinic.com; Menopause weigh gain: Stop the middle age spread; September 2010
- MayoClinic.com; Hormone therapy: Is it right for you?; February 2010
- "British Medical Journal"; Changes in Use of Hormone Replacement Therapy After the Report From the Women’s Health Initiative; Beverley Lawton; October 2003
- "Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise"; Effect of Physical Activity on Menopausal Symptoms among Urban Women; Deborah Nelson, Ph.D., et al.; January 2008
- Medline Plus: Progesterone