PMS Symptoms Driving You Insane? You May Be Lacking This Crucial Hormone...

Quick question...

On the days leading up to your period are you...

a) Curled up in a blanket on the sofa, feeling exhausted, craving chocolate and crying at the drop of a hat?

b) Breaking out like a teenage boy and not wanting to wear a seatbelt or exercise because your boobs are SO SORE?

c) Feeling so irritable and moody, you want to lock yourself in a room so that no-one can annoy you?


d) All of the above

This may seem amusing to some of you, but let me tell you, PMS is common, but that doesn't mean it's normal!

The most common cause of PMS symptoms in women is low progesterone levels during the second half of their cycle.

We only create this magical hormone once we ovulate (release an egg). Ovulation occurs approximately half way through your menstrual cycle, (e.g day 14 of a 28 day cycle), however this can vary widely in each individual due to stress, conditions such as PCOS and our varying cycle lengths.

When an ovarian follicle releases an egg, the sac that is left behind becomes the corpus luteum. This structure is responsible for producing progesterone until either the placenta takes over (if we fall pregnant) or conception doesn't occur and this temporary gland breaks down, resulting in menstruation.

Women with PCOS often ovulate later than most women (even up to cycle day 25), if at all! This process can be disrupted by high insulin levels, androgens and inflammation.


What's so great about progesterone?

I like to think of progesterone as our calming, anti-PMS, 'everything's going to be ok' hormone.

You can also think of it as the YIN to oestrogens' YANG. They help to balance each other out.

An imbalance of these two hormones often results in symptoms such as heavy bleeding, insomnia, water retention, menstrual migraines and fertility challenges.

Progesterone is our pro-gestation (pro-pregnancy) hormone after all!

Don't want a baby any time soon? Don't worry, you still want all the amazing benefits progesterone provides!...

Here is a recap of a 'normal' menstrual cycle. As you can see, during the first half of the cycle oestrogen levels (red line) increase, whilst progesterone levels are low (blue line). Whereas during the second half progesterone peaks and is much higher than oestrogen.


Oestrogen should be dominant during the first half of our menstrual cycle (follicular phase) as it's job is to build up the uterine lining, ready for implantation.

After we ovulate mid cycle (hopefully), progesterone should then become the dominant hormone and it's job is to maintain and prevent excessive growth of the lining.


I like to think of it as a field of grass. Oestrogen sews the seeds, fertilises and waters the grass for growth. Progesterone acts as a lawnmower, keeping it trimmed, fresh and preventing excessive growth.


These days, many people focus on excess oestrogen (aka 'oestrogen dominance') as their main issue, however in the majority of these cases, it's actually low progesterone that's the problem.

It is possible to have high oestrogen levels, especially due to obesity, high alcohol intake, hormonal birth control use and environmental toxins, however more often than not, the issue is relative oestrogen dominance.

In layman's terms, this means that oestrogen isn't actually high, it just looks high in comparison to progesterone.

What are some common symptoms & related conditions?

Common symptoms of low progesterone levels include heavy bleeding, brown spotting or menstrual blood, clotted period blood, pelvic cramps, insomnia, headaches, anxiety that worsens premenstrually, low moods, aggression, irritability, weepiness, breast tenderness, water retention, sugar cravings, hot flushes and low libido. (I could go on!....)

Some of the associated conditions include Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), Endometriosis, Infertility, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), Fibroids, Hypothyroidism, Post-Birth Control Syndrome and Amenorrhea.


Causes of Low Progesterone...

Progesterone can be impacted by many modern day influences, including nutrient deficiencies from a poor diet or soil quality, environmental toxins (especially endocrine disrupting chemicals), a weak corpus luteum, being over the age of 35 and/or chronic inflammation.

Possibly the biggest factor when it comes to low progesterone levels is STRESS.

When I talk about stress, I don't just mean the mental, "oh my god, I cannot cope with my work load right now", kinda stress. Stress can also be emotional, physical, environmental and spiritual.

Here are some examples...

Psychological - Negative self talk, anxiety, relationship issues, financial worries, perfectionism, mentally draining job

Emotional - Not expressing emotions, loss of a loved one, social isolation, not feeling supported by friends and family

Physical - Over/under exercising, food intolerances, dehydration, over/under eating, nutrient deficiencies, excess alcohol intake, chronic infections, imbalanced blood sugar levels

Environmental - Exposure to heavy metals, air pollution, endocrine disrupting chemicals from skincare products, second hand smoke

Spiritual - Not having a purpose in life, misalignment with spiritual beliefs, unfulfilling work, lack of joy and happiness

The Negative Impacts of Stress

When our body is stressed, for whatever reason, this signals to the brain that the environment is dangerous and we are under attack.

10,000 years ago, the stressors we faced were a little different. They included famine, wars, life-threatening infections or being attacked by sabertooth tigers.

Our body adapted to these threats by shutting down reproduction. (Because who want's to have a baby when there's no food and we are about to be eaten by a grizzly beast?!)

The problem is, the body doesn't know the difference between the stress of 6pm traffic or a credit card bill and the actual life threatening stressors we faced back in the day.

This sense of constant danger and threat that our bodies consciously or unconsciously feel, can therefore impact not only our fertility and hormones, but also our immune system and digestive health.

Progesterone is the sex hormone that gets impacted most, when we are stressed. The brain is believed to down-regulate the communication signals to the ovaries and prevent ovulation, as a safety mechanism.

Another theory is that the body diverts the building blocks and cofactors away from making progesterone and instead sends them to create stress hormones like cortisol. However this mechanism known as the 'pregnenolone steal' may not be entirely accurate.


What tests can I run?

Although symptoms can indicate certain hormone imbalances, it is always better to test, not guess, when it comes to your health. This is especially true if you are trying to conceive or want to add some of the progesterone boosting supplements I share below.

Blood Test

Your Doctor should be able to check your serum progesterone levels, however the blood draw is commonly taken on the wrong day of your cycle.

Aim for days 19-21 if you have a typical 28 day cycle, shifting up or down if your cycle is longer or shorter. To be more accurate, try and identify your day of ovulation through fertility tracking, temperature or LH (ovulation) tests then go for the test 5-7 days after. Getting the correct timing is crucial when it comes to progesterone.

Urine Test

My favourite way to test hormones is through the DUTCH Test. This functional medicine urine test is done in the comfort of your own home, and analyses not just progesterone, but also oestrogen metabolites, androgens, stress hormones, oxidative stress and markers of nutrient deficiencies.

The amount of information and data you get from this is amazing. It is a must for anyone dealing with PCOS, endometriosis, abnormal cycles, PMS and infertility. Or those of you just wanting to maintain optimal health and prevent some of this conditions.

If you would like to run a DUTCH test to identify and address your hormone imbalances, you can click here to work with me.


Ways to Increase Progesterone Levels Naturally...

You didn't think I would end this post without giving you some tips, did you? 😉