Progesterone is a female sex hormone, and like many sex hormones it begins to decline when women reach the menopause. Although most menopause related problems are thought to be related to declining estrogen levels, women are encouraged to take a combination of estrogen and progesterone as progesterone protects the lining of the uterus and decreases the risk of endometrial cancer.
Although scientific research has not yet corroborated the theory, many people believe that menopausal symptoms are actually due to an imbalance in hormone levels, rather than simply a decrease in estrogen, and that using progesterone on its own could relieve this imbalance. This is particularly worth trying for women who avoid traditional HRT because of a family history of heart disease.
Taking progesterone transdermally (through the skin), as a cream, gel or patch seems to be a more effective way of absorbing the hormone into your blood than taking an oral pill. Taken orally, the progesterone has to pass through the liver, where it loses much of effectiveness. In theory taking progesterone transdermally requires a dose five to eight times smaller than taking it orally, to achieve the same results.
However, taking the hormone through the skin makes determining the dosage difficult because each person absorbs at a different rate depending on their skin type and temperature. Progesterone cream also needs to be applied very precisely in the right places to be really effective.
It is essential, when you are buying a cream, that you make sure it contains natural and not synthetic progesterone. Natural progesterone has exactly the same chemical structure as the hormone produced by the ovaries in menstruating women, by the placenta during pregnancy and by the adrenal glands after menopause.
While administering natural progesterone may affect the regularity of your cycle, synthetic progesterone has many more sinister side effects. As well as abnormal menstruation it can cause fluid retention, nausea and depression, and increase your cancer risk.
Cream containing natural progesterone should only be available on prescription. You may be offered an over the counter alternative containing diosgenin, which is a plant steroid found in Mexican yams. The belief is that the human body can convert this substance into natural progesterone, but there is no scientific evidence to support this, so the yam cream is best avoided!
As well as treating symptoms of the menopause, natural progesterone cream has also been used effectively to treat pre-menstrual syndrome. Some manufacturers and their customers believe these cream really address the root cause of PMS which is a hormone imbalance, rather than simply alleviating the symptoms.
They suggest a variety of other benefits for all women in using natural progesterone cream. These include achieving quality sleep, promoting thyroid hormone activity, reducing hormone related migraine, preventing water retention, decreasing risk of breast and uterine cancer, stabilizing blood sugar, and avoiding depression.