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Normal, High, or Low Progesterone Levels & How to Increase

Written by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy) | Last updated:
Jonathan Ritter
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy) | Last updated:

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Progesterone Levels in Women & Hormonal Balance

Progesterone is a crucial sex hormone that sparked a controversy, with some popular authors claiming it can balance hormones in women and reduce “estrogen dominance.” This post focuses on the progesterone blood test and what may help naturally balance your levels if your progesterone is high or low (hint: it’s not progesterone creams!).

Disclaimer: This post is about the progesterone blood test and is solely informational. Please discuss your labs and medications with your doctor.

Progesterone Blood Test & Normal Levels

Post Breakdown

This post will cover:

  • The progesterone test and how to interpret results
  • Complementary approaches that may help balance progesterone levels

Progesterone Test

This test measures the amount of progesterone in the blood and is most commonly used to help monitor a woman’s health during pregnancy, diagnose pregnancy complications, determine the cause of infertility, or determine the cause of abnormal uterine bleeding [1].

If you are a woman, you need to know at what point you are of your menstrual cycle (period) or pregnancy to accurately interpret your results. Progesterone levels normal rise and fall over the course of your cycle. If they are not following this pattern, then you may not be ovulating or have regular periods, which may cause infertility [2, 3].

During pregnancy, progesterone levels also normally rise. If they do not, you may have an abnormal or unsuccessful pregnancy, or there may be problems with the fetus [2, 3].

In men, progesterone is produced at a much lower level than in women. Most men do not normally get their progesterone levels tested unless they are suspected to have an adrenal disease, such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). CAH is a group of disorders that limit hormone production in the adrenal glands [4].

This test measures your progesterone blood levels. You need to know where you are in your cycle before doing it since progesterone levels normally follow a pattern throughout menstrual phases.

Normal Levels

Lab results are commonly shown as a set of values known as a “reference range”, which is sometimes referred to as a “normal range”. A reference range includes the upper and lower limits of a lab test based on a group of otherwise healthy people.

Your healthcare provider will compare your lab test results with reference values to see if any of your results fall outside the range of expected values. By doing so, you and your healthcare provider can gain clues to help identify possible conditions or diseases.

Depending on the menstrual cycle phase:

  • First half: 0.02 – 1 ng/mL
  • Ovulation-2nd half: 2 – 30 ng/mL

Progesterone levels during pregnancy can widely range. The following are not strict ranges, the normal range will vary between labs and other factors. As a rough guide, during pregnancy progesterone levels can vary between [5, 6, 7]:

  • 8 – 48 ng/mL in the first trimester
  • 29 – 50 ng/mL in the second trimester
  • 99 – 342 in the third trimester

In postmenopausal women and in men, the normal range is : 0 – 1 ng/mL

Some lab-to-lab variability occurs due to differences in equipment, techniques, and chemicals used. Don’t panic if your result is slightly out of range – as long as it’s in the normal range based on the laboratory that did the testing, your value is normal.

However, it’s important to remember that a normal test doesn’t mean a particular medical condition is absent. Your doctor will interpret your results in conjunction with your medical history and other test results.

Have in mind that a single test isn’t enough to make a diagnosis. Your doctor will interpret this test, taking into account your medical history and other tests. A result that is slightly low/high may not be of medical significance, as this test often varies from day to day and from person to person.

High Progesterone Levels

In Pregnancy

Having a high progesterone level does not always indicate health problems [8]. Progesterone levels increase during pregnancy and are even higher in pregnancies that involve multiples (twins, triplets, quadruplets, etc.) [9].

Very high progesterone can damage the fetus [10].

Other Causes

Causes and symptoms shown here are commonly associated with high progesterone. Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.

High progesterone may be caused by:

High Progesterone Symptoms

  • Feeling stressed [11]
  • Low sex drive [15]
  • Depression [16]
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding [17]

Factors that Naturally Lower Progesterone

Most importantly, work with your doctor to treat any underlying conditions causing your high progesterone levels.

You may try the additional strategies listed below if you and your doctor determine that they could be appropriate. None of these strategies should ever be done in place of what your doctor recommends or prescribes.

  • Eat more fiber: Fiber intake might decrease progesterone levels [18, 19]
  • Exercise may also help reduce progesterone [20]
  • Stop smoking [13]
  • Reduce your caffeine intake [12]
  • Increase natural sun exposure or consider Vitamin D supplements [21]
  • Reduce stress

Low Progesterone Levels

Health Effects

In women, progesterone levels can increase and decrease throughout the menstrual cycle, so you should make sure that the levels correlate with your current menstrual cycle phase.

Low progesterone can potentially cause ovulation and fertility problems. Low progesterone may cause:

  • Ectopic pregnancy [22]
  • Miscarriage [23]
  • Toxemia (blood toxicity and high blood pressure) in late pregnancy [24]

Causes and symptoms shown here are commonly associated with this low progesterone. Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.

Symptoms of Low Progesterone

  • Headaches [25]
  • Bloating [25]
  • Mood swings [25, 26]
  • Insomnia [27]
  • Irregular menstrual cycle [25]
  • Depression [25, 26]
  • Infertility [28]

Causes

Low progesterone may be caused by:

  • Exercise [20]
  • Obesity [29, 30]
  • Menopause [31]

Factors that Naturally Increase Progesterone

When to See a Doctor

Most importantly, work with your doctor to treat any underlying conditions causing your low progesterone levels.

You may try the additional strategies listed below if you and your doctor determine that they could be appropriate. None of these strategies should ever be done in place of what your doctor recommends or prescribes.

Maintain a healthy body weight: Obesity and excess weight can cause low progesterone; losing weight can help prevent your progesterone levels from becoming low [32].

Nutrients & Supplements

The following supplements may also help:

However, supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. Supplements generally lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.

What about the “pregnenolone steal” and estrogen dominance?

Unlike some sources claim, stress does not “steal” progesterone. On the contrary, studies suggest that progesterone increases together with the stress hormone cortisol [11].

But, based on the existing evidence, chronic stress that can lead to chronic fatigue syndrome reduces cortisol. Progesterone may decrease or stay within the normal range [37, 38].

The “pregnenolone steal” theory claims that high levels of stress steal pregnenolone to produce more cortisol, reducing the amount available to produce progesterone. All of this is usually explained within the scientifically-unvalidated theory of adrenal fatigue.

Others talk about “estrogen dominance (ED),” a theory that can be traced to the late John M. Lee, MD.

Dr. Lee’s popular books claimed that everything from breast cancer to PMS and osteoporosis is caused by “estrogen dominance secondary to relative insufficiency of progesterone.” The truth is that this is another overly-hyped theory. Estrogen dominance is talked about a lot but it has been researched very little [39, 40].

An increased number of estrogen receptors, exposure to estrogen-like environmental toxins, and more rarely, high estrogen levels have been linked to poor health in some studies. Excessive estrogen increases the risk of cancer of the uterine lining and may contribute to obesity. But no studies support that estrogen can simply steal pregnenolone from progesterone [41, 42, 32].

Sex hormones undergo complex changes, especially in women who experience cyclical changes each month. It’s quite unlikely that these biochemical pathways can be deduced to an exclusive theory like estrogen dominance [39, 40].

We recommend against using progesterone cream that is sold as an over-the-counter product, as it is classified by the FDA as an unapproved new drug. Please discuss your symptoms with your doctor. He or she will recommend safe and approved therapies for your condition.

No valid scientific evidence supports the “pregnenolone steal” or “estrogen dominance” theories. Stress may lower progesterone and estrogen-like environmental toxins have been linked with health problems, but different mechanisms are likely involved.

Takeaway

The progesterone test measures your progesterone blood levels. Progesterone levels follow a specific pattern throughout the menstrual cycle and any abnormalities might signal fertility or other hormonal problems in women. 

Progesterone levels normally increase in pregnancy. Other potential causes of high progesterone might include stress, smoking, and drinking too much caffeine. 

In men, progesterone production is much lower than in women and less variable. 

Progesterone levels naturally fall in women after menopause, eventually reaching those of men. This is one of the culprits behind menopausal symptoms like mood swings, bloating, and insomnia.

Complementary strategies that might help increase progesterone levels include maintaining a healthy body weight and getting enough vitamin C and B6. Chaste Tree Berry (Vitex) might also help.


Further Reading

About the Author

Ana Aleksic

Ana Aleksic

MSc (Pharmacy)
Ana received her MS in Pharmacy from the University of Belgrade.
Ana has many years of experience in clinical research and health advising. She loves communicating science and empowering people to achieve their optimal health. Ana spent years working with patients who suffer from various mental health issues and chronic health problems. She is a strong advocate of integrating scientific knowledge and holistic medicine.

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