Progesterone is a sex hormone made by the body. It is synthesized from cholesterol, and its production and regulation are under the control of complex processes in the endocrine and reproductive systems. The adrenal glands produce small amounts of progesterone at a relatively constant rate. Additional amounts, secreted by the ovaries, influence menstruation and pregnancy. Progesterone is not present in any food. However, there is research indicating that some foods -- such as fermented soy products and foods containing vitamins C and E -- might promote the body's production of progesterone.
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Micronutrients Boost Progesterone Production
A mature egg is released from the ovary during each normal menstrual cycle, leaving behind a structure called the corpus luteum. This structure produces progesterone during the second half of the menstrual cycle, known as the luteal phase. A condition called a luteal phase defect, or LPD, is associated with low progesterone levels, which may contribute to infertility or miscarriage. Ample blood flow through the corpus luteum helps ensure normal progesterone production, and reduced blood flow may diminish progesterone levels. Micronutrients that enhance blood flow to the corpus luteum seem to improve progesterone production in women with LPD related to poor blood flow.
L-arginine and Vitamin E
Japanese researchers conducted a small pilot study to determine if certain nutrients might improve progesterone production in women with LPD and reduced corpus luteum blood flow. Results published in January 2009 in the "Journal of Ovarian Research" showed that 67 percent of women taking daily vitamin E had improved peak luteal phase progesterone levels, as did 71 percent in the group taking L-arginine, an amino acid. By comparison, only 18 percent in the untreated control group showed improvement. Vitamin E sources include wheat germ, sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts and peanut butter. High concentrations of L-arginine are found in low-fat sesame seed flour, unsweetened gelatin and pumpkin seeds.
Preliminary evidence suggests that a contributing factor in LPD may be an overabundance of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that can damage cells and disrupt body functions. Antioxidants, like vitamin C, help neutralize free radicals. In a study of 122 women with LPD and a fertility problem, blood progesterone levels increased with daily supplements of 750 mg of vitamin C. The report, published in the August 2003 issue of "Fertility and Sterility," showed a significant improvement in progesterone levels and a higher pregnancy rate in the women who took vitamin C, compared to women not supplemented. Vitamin C sources include orange, grapefruit and tomato juice, broccoli, guava, kiwi and sweet pepper.
Progesterone levels decline dramatically after menopause but continue to affect long-term health and postmenopausal symptoms. Study findings reported in the February 2013 "Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition" showed a significant rise in progesterone levels among a group of 31 postmenopausal women who included fermented soy in their diet for 6 months, compared to 29 women in the control group who were restricted to unfermented soy. Converting soy to a fermented state involves soaking and boiling soybeans, followed by the addition of bacteria and incubation for several days at room temperature. Miso, natto and tempeh are examples of fermented soy foods.