Menopause is often a dreaded time for women due to its many uncomfortable symptoms including the most reviled -- hot flashes. Honestly, who wants a semi-sleepless night of repeatedly tossing away covers after waking up drenched in sweat only to be reaching for those blankets minutes later when the hot flash passes? Beyond temperature changes, there are psychological effects and vaginal dryness. With all that, it's easy to see why many menopausal women are moody, emotional and distressed. Really, it's no wonder women experiencing these changes are often scouring the market for any product that might provide comfort and relief. That's where progesterone cream comes in.
When a woman is menopausal, certain hormone levels like progesterone start to decline. This imbalance sets off a whole list of reactions within the body. For those wishing to avoid pills that can come with a long list of possible side effects, they may want to check out alternatives such as progesterone cream. This cream is considered by many as a natural alterative to hormone replacement therapy, supposedly yielding less side effects than the synthetic pills [source: Chustecka].
Natural progesterone cream is most commonly made from an extract found in the Mexican wild yam. Reportedly, this extract can be converted into a molecule that takes on the exact same chemical form as a progesterone molecule. According to those who support this therapy, effective creams contain at least 400 mg of progesterone per ounce [source: Whole Health MD]. However, others contend that creams made from wild yam do not contain progesterone and therefore do not yield any of the purported benefits of topical progesterone therapy [Parks].
What does progesterone do after it's absorbed into you body? What are the good and bad effects of using a progesterone cream? And what can it do for menopausal women? Read on to find out. First up, let's take a look at progesterone at work in your body.
Progesterone at Work in Your Body
To understand what progesterone does inside the human body, you should recognize that the hormone is important for the processes of ovulation and menstruation. Beyond that, it plays a large role in preparing for and maintaining pregnancies and keeping sex drives high. The ovary releases progesterone roughly two weeks after a woman has begun a menstrual cycle. Its function is to trigger the release of proteins that are essential for the endometrium, or lining of the uterus, to handle pregnancy. These proteins make it possible for the endometrium to hold onto a fertilized egg [source: Healthy Women].
If a fertilized egg successfully implants, then the placenta produces more progesterone. Normally, a woman experiences about 20-25 mg of progesterone during her cycle, but during pregnancy, the levels increase to 10 times that [source: Progesterone, WebMD]. The body needs the increased amount of progesterone to both prevent the release of other eggs and foster the growth of breast-milk glands [source: Healthy Women].
Reportedly, progesterone creams have the same chemical makeup that the hormone progesterone has. Therefore, when we talk about what progesterone does in the body, manufacturers of progesterone cream want you to believe the same can be applied to their products. The only difference is how the cream and the hormone are sent through an individual's system. According to label directions, in order to work properly, the cream must be absorbed through the skin into the body [source: Whole Health MD].
Read on to the next page in order to learn about the benefits that you might see when you use progesterone cream.
Progesterone cream is said to create a balance where there might be a hormonal domination of estrogen. A balance between hormones is a key to better health. Some positive effects of such a balance are said to include defense against breast cancer, defense against endometrial cancer, an increase in sexual urges, an increase in bone health, stabilized blood sugar levels and a natural guard against depression [source: Mercola]. The cream is said to bring relief for PMS symptoms, endometriosis and menopause [source: Whole Health MD].
According to proponents of progesterone cream, in order for these benefits even to be a possibility, the progesterone cream user has to adopt a different lifestyle. It is said that if the cream is to be effective, the person using it must regulate her diet, sleep schedule and stress levels. Also, it may do some good for the patient to get an adrenal gland check up, since the gland is also known to produce progesterone [source: Health News Journal].
Ultimately, though, progesterone cream has not been through comprehensive, long-term studies like progesterone pills have, so you shouldn't rely on the purported benefits as certain outcomes.
It's not all balanced hormones and better bone health -- continue reading to learn about the potential side effects from progesterone creams.
Progesterone Side Effects
One of the main reasons progesterone cream was created is because women wanted an alternative to hormone replacement therapy. Many women found that taking progesterone pills caused too many side effects and interacted with other medications. Progesterone cream may allow you to reap the benefits without the side effects, but as mentioned previously, there is a lack of scientific and medical studies to back the product and these claims. Therefore, the cream isn't proven to be better than the synthetic pills [source: Better Health Channel].
One study found that progesterone cream didn't absorb well enough into the skin and therefore wasn't able to act in place of the woman's natural progesterone. Because of this, the conductors of the study said the cream couldn't defend the body against endometrial cancer [source: Better Health Channel]. Another researcher warns against too much progesterone cream because it creates excessive amounts of progesterone in the body. Too much progesterone over an extended period of time can affect the function of the adrenal glands [source: Mercola]. Remember, the goal is balance.
Progesterone is known for having a sedative-like quality. While this would be helpful for those having trouble sleeping, it's not ideal for women on the go.
As with trying any understudied product or dietary supplement, you should consult your physician before adding progesterone cream to your daily regimen. Also, pregnant or nursing women should take care to avoid progesterone.
Click to the next page to understand more about why progesterone cream might benefit someone experiencing menopause.
Progesterone Cream and Menopause
People who promote progesterone cream swear it has a multitude of purposes. Of these many functions, the most popular seems to be for women experiencing menopause. Menopausal women contend with depression, hot flashes, moodiness, night sweats, stress, vaginal dryness and weight gain. If only a cream could make all these symptoms go away.
After a woman's body enters menopause, progesterone levels are known to decrease. Because of this lower level of the hormone, supplements are often needed to compensate. While some women use a combination of estrogen and progesterone hormone replacement therapy, others opt for progesterone cream [source: Better Health Channel]. As we have mentioned previously, progesterone cream is thought to have less side effects than synthetic progesterone while still providing many of the same benefits.
The goal is simple: to provide relief against the uncomfortable symptoms of menopause. Some studies have found that women who use progesterone cream were able to reduce their hot flashes [source: Fries]. It's also said that progesterone cream may help bone density in menopausal women who are at risk for bone loss, but some studies disagree. One found that after a 12-month trial, the progesterone cream did not prevent bone loss and did not increase bone density [source: Chustecka].
To learn more about progesterone, visit the links on the following page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Better Health Channel. "Menopause and complementary therapies." 5/07. (Accessed 3/23/09) http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Menopause_and_alternative_therapies?OpenDocument
- Burch, Dr. Beth. "Natural progesterone cream helpful for alleviating menopausal symptoms." The Eclectic Physician. (Accessed 3/23/09) http://www.eclecticphysician.com/archive.php?action=Nbr&Nbr=185
- Chustecka, Zosia. "Topical progesterone creams ineffective against bone loss." Medscape. 5/27/04. (Accessed 3/23/09) http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/537795
- Fries, Wendy C. "8 Natural Ways to Ease Menopause Symptoms." WebMD. 11/1/06. (Accessed 3/23/09) http://www.webmd.com/menopause/guide/8-natural-ways-to-ease-menopause-symptoms
- Health News Journal. "Progesterone Cream Side Effects." (Accessed 3/23/09) http://www.healthnewsjournal.com/content/view/1332/75/
- Healthy Women. "Progesterone." 3/16/06. (Accessed 3/23/09) http://www.healthywomen.org/healthtopics/progesterone
- Martin, Dr. Sharyn, PhD. "Peanut (legumes), Nut and Shellfish Allergy and Potential Fatal Food Allergic Reactions (anaphylaxis) ASEHA. (Accessed 4/01/09) http://www.asehaqld.org.au/?q=node/103
- Mercola, Joseph. "Progesterone Cream Side Effects." Heart Spring. 9/7/07. (Accessed 3/23/09) http://heartspring.net/progesterone_cream.html
- Parks, Robin, MS. " Wild yam and natural progesterone creams." WebMD May 16, 2008 (Accessed 4/01/09) http://www.webmd.com/menopause/tc/menopause-and-perimenopause-other-treatment
- Progesterone. "Progesterone-Its Uses and Its Effects." (Accessed 3/23/09) http://www.progesteronefaqs.com/
- Whole Health MD. "Natural Progesterone Cream." 4/20/05. (Accessed 3/23/09) http://www.wholehealthmd.com/me2/dirmod.asp?sid=&nm=Reference+Library&type=AWHN_Supplements&mod=Supplements&mid=&id=F46ACE9B48CB4762B13A6D235CC6C60B&tier=2