Progesterone is a hormone that stimulates thickening of the uterine wall and plays a major role in regulating a woman’s menstrual cycle. It is also a significant hormone associated with fertility.
An increasing number of younger women seek medical advice when they are unable to conceive. They are most often given Clomid, a drug used to stimulate the release of hormones for ovulation. Technically, Clomid affects FSH, a hormone that increases follicle development but it doesn’t always impact the LH surge. LH is the luteinizing hormone that works with FSH to cause ovulation and the release of estrogen and progesterone. In order for a woman to ovulate and conceive, she must have a surge of LH luteinizing hormone and a subsequent increase in progesterone. LH is responsible for the release of an egg, which is mandatory for fertilization to occur. When a woman is still unable to conceive after taking Clomid, an egg may be inserted into her, and then she is given hormone therapy to hold the baby. This process can be very expensive and invasive.
Many young women who are having difficulty conceiving actually have very low progesterone levels, but normal estrogen. Often times they are less than 0.5 progesterone, which is a menopausal number. As more and more women wait until their late 20s or 30s to conceive, they have already had a significant drop in progesterone levels. It is unclear what is causing such a dramatic decrease in this essential hormone, but it could be from taking birth control pills (which suppresses progesterone production) or from stress. Adrenal glands produce progesterone, and dealing with stress diverts the body away from this production. Progesterone is an essential hormone that assists in holding the pregnancy. If Progesterone levels drop, either infertility or miscarriage can occur.
Herbs can also be used to stimulate ovulation. Vitex is a plant found in Asia and in Mediterranean countries that has been traditionally been used for a range of female conditions including infertility. Taking Vitex for four to six months increases progesterone by stimulating release of the LH hormone and regulating the menstrual cycle. It also is used to treat symptoms of PMS, for acne associated with the menstrual cycle, polycystic ovarian syndrome, fibrocystic breasts and for menopausal symptoms. It may be used in combination with Clomid, using the drug to produce the eggs and the herb to release them.
Another herb that is sometimes used to treat infertility is Tribulus. This herb has been used in traditional medicine in Asia and India for centuries to treat infertility. Tribulus works to increase LH and estrogen.
Low levels of progesterone also contribute to menopausal symptoms. Older women who are placed on bio identical progesterone and estrogen find much needed relief from menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes or insomnia due to a racing mind.
The treatment for infertility and menopause is different for everyone. Some women may need to take bio identical progesterone, herbs or Clomid, separately or in some combination with each other. This therapy may be coupled with stress management treatments or with adrenal support depending on the needs of the patient.
By: Dr. Tricia Pingel, NMD
About Dr. Pingel: Dr. Tricia Pingel is a naturopathic medical doctor located in Scottsdale, Ariz. She treats a variety of conditions, including menopausal symptoms with bio-identical hormone replacement, infertility, thyroid disorders, anxiety/depression, gastrointestinal concerns, such as, gas/bloating, food allergies, celiac disease, IBD and more!