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Everything You Need To Know About Progestogens, Progestins and Progesterone

When we talk about hormones, estrogen often is the focus due to it’s impact on our whole health. Progesterone, however, is just as important when it comes to our hormone balance. In fact, progesterone is our most protective hormone – it provides many beneficial effects for women; from our brain, bone, uterine and breast tissue. It’s also a natural antidepressant and can decrease the risk of breast cancer and heart attacks.

But it’s not just progesterone that we need to understand. In fact, there are three ‘P’s – progesterone, progestogens, and progestins. Confused yet? Don’t worry – we’re breaking them down to understand the difference and how they all contribute to our hormone health and balance. 

Progesterone: The Natural Hormone

Progesterone is a natural hormone produced primarily by the ovaries, adrenal glands, and, during pregnancy, the placenta. It is a crucial player in the female reproductive system, responsible for regulating the menstrual cycle, preparing the uterus for implantation, and maintaining a healthy pregnancy.Progesterone has a wide range of functions beyond reproduction, including:

  • Maintaining bone health
  • Regulating mood and sleep
  • Supporting brain function
  • Protecting against certain types of cancer
  • Improving cardiovascular health

Progesterone is considered a “bioidentical” hormone, meaning it is chemically and structurally identical to the progesterone produced naturally by the body.

Progestogens: a broader category

Progestogens is a term that encompasses both natural progesterone and synthetic progestins. Progestogens are a class of hormones that share similar chemical structures and functions to progesterone.Natural progestogens, such as progesterone, are produced by the body and have the same molecular structure as the progesterone made by the ovaries. Synthetic progestogens, on the other hand, are man-made compounds that mimic the effects of natural progesterone, but may have different chemical structures and properties.

Progestins: Simply, synthetic progestogens

Progestins are a type of synthetic progestogen, designed to mimic the effects of natural progesterone. These compounds are often used in contraceptive pills, hormone replacement therapies, and other medical treatments.

Progestins can be classified into different generations based on their chemical structure and properties. Some common examples of progestins include:

  • First-generation progestins: Norethindrone, norethynodrel
  • Second-generation progestins: Levonorgestrel, norgestrel
  • Third-generation progestins: Desogestrel, gestodene
  • Fourth-generation progestins: Drospirenone

While progestins are designed to have similar effects to natural progesterone, they may not always behave the same way in the body. Progestins can have varying degrees of progestogenic, androgenic, estrogenic, and anti-estrogenic activities, which can lead to different physiological responses.

Key Differences Between Progesterone and Progestins

  1. Chemical Structure: Progesterone is a natural hormone with a specific molecular structure, while progestins are synthetic compounds that may have different chemical structures.
  2. Biological Activity: Progesterone has a well-defined set of biological activities, including its role in the menstrual cycle, pregnancy maintenance, and other physiological processes. Progestins, on the other hand, may have a broader range of activities, some of which may differ from those of natural progesterone.
  3. Receptor Binding: Progesterone binds to specific progesterone receptors in the body, triggering a cascade of cellular responses. Progestins may bind to these same receptors, but they may also interact with other hormone receptors, such as androgen or estrogen receptors, leading to different physiological effects.
  4. Metabolism: Progesterone is metabolized by the body through various enzymatic pathways, while the metabolism of progestins may differ, potentially leading to different metabolic byproducts and effects.
  5. Side Effects: Due to their different chemical structures and receptor interactions, progestins may have different side effect profiles compared to natural progesterone. Some progestins have been associated with an increased risk of certain health conditions, such as venous thromboembolism, while progesterone is generally considered to have a more favorable safety profile.

Why is it important to understand the difference?

Recognizing the distinctions between progesterone, progestogens, and progestins is crucial for women’s health, as these hormones play a significant role in various aspects of our well-being. Understanding these differences can help healthcare providers make more informed decisions when prescribing hormone therapies, contraceptives, or other treatments that involve these hormones.For example, women who are considering hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for menopausal symptoms may benefit from understanding the differences between natural progesterone and synthetic progestins. Choosing a therapy that incorporates bioidentical progesterone may offer a more favorable risk-benefit profile compared to progestin-based HRT.Similarly, women using hormonal contraceptives should be aware of the specific progestin used in their birth control method, as different progestins may have varying effects on the body, such as changes in mood, libido, or metabolic parameters.

So what are the benefits of progesterone for our health?

Progesterone provides a wide range of benefits for women’s physical and mental health, from regulating the menstrual cycle to supporting bone density and reducing cancer risk. Understanding the importance of this natural hormone is crucial for women’s overall wellbeing. Here are some of the key benefits of progesterone for our health:
Relief from PMS Symptoms: Progesterone therapy has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) such as depression, irritability, anxiety, mood swings, abdominal bloating, sleeplessness, and breast tenderness.

Better Sleep: Progesterone has a calming effect that helps women sleep better. It can decrease the prevalence of sleep disturbances, sleep apnea, and memory impairment in postmenopausal women.

Improved Bone Health: Progesterone stimulates bone-building cells and helps prevent bone loss, making it effective in reversing osteoporosis.

Supports Fertility and Pregnancy: Progesterone is essential for embryo implantation, early fetal development, and maintaining a healthy pregnancy. It helps prevent miscarriages.

Reduces Cancer Risk: Progesterone has been shown to protect against endometrial and breast cancer. It can suppress the growth and spread of certain cancer cells.

Eases Menopausal Symptoms: Progesterone therapy can significantly reduce hot flashes, night sweats, anxiety, and insomnia in postmenopausal women.

Can we naturally boost progesterone levels?

There are several natural ways to help boost progesterone levels. Eating a diet rich in healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, and olive oil, can provide the building blocks for progesterone production. Engaging in regular exercise, managing stress, and getting enough sleep can also help support the body’s natural progesterone synthesis. Additionally, certain herbs and supplements, like chasteberry (Vitex) and magnesium, have been shown to help increase progesterone levels in some women. Topical supplementation, such as Glow by Hormone University’s Period SOS, and Super Rich Magnesium Body Lotion can also help to balance hormones and ease symptoms.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the distinctions between progesterone, progestogens, and progestins are crucial for women’s health and well-being and will help you to make more informed decisions about your hormonal health, leading to better outcomes and a higher quality of life. If you have any further questions or concerns about your hormonal health, always speak to your doctor.

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