Progesterone, also known as the “pregnancy hormone,” is vital in preparing the uterus for and supporting a healthy pregnancy. As such, many women trying to conceive or maintain a healthy pregnancy are looking for foods to help implantation and ways to naturally increase their progesterone levels. You’ve may have asked yourself, “what are the best progesterone-rich foods for pregnancy?”
Well, as with most things related to nutrition. The answer is complex.
Although there are no natural progesterone foods, certain foods contain nutrients that may help boost progesterone production in the body. This article will discuss progesterone foods for pregnancy and ways to increase progesterone naturally.
What is Progesterone? Why is it Important?
Progesterone is a sex hormone released by the corpus luteum in the ovaries after ovulation. The primary role of progesterone is to prepare the uterine lining for pregnancy after ovulation. It initiates the thickening of the endometrial lining to accept a fertilized egg.
Progesterone also prevents muscle contractions in the uterus that could cause your body to reject an egg. As long as your body is producing high amounts of progesterone, you will not ovulate. If you do not become pregnant, the corpus luteum breaks down, decreasing your progesterone levels. This change is what initiates a period.
If you become pregnant, progesterone levels continue to rise until the 32nd week of pregnancy. Once you are about 12 weeks pregnant, the placenta will start to make progesterone to support a healthy pregnancy. Progesterone levels will remain elevated during pregnancy, preventing the body from producing more eggs. It also plays a role in preparing the breasts for milk production.
According to studies, low progesterone levels can be caused by:
- Poorly functioning ovaries
- Not eating enough fat
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Thyroid disorders
- Nutrient deficiencies
Symptoms of low progesterone levels include:
- Weight gain
- Mood changes
- Irregular periods
- Early labor
- Heavy periods
- Menstrual cramps
- Night sweats
Additionally, low progesterone levels can lead to estrogen dominance, a term used to describe low progesterone and elevated estrogen occurring together.
You should speak with your healthcare provider for proper testing and treatment if you suspect you have low progesterone levels. While your doctor may prescribe medications to boost your progesterone levels, getting optimal amounts of certain nutrients may help.
What Foods Increase Progesterone During Pregnancy?
Here are 15 progesterone-rich foods for pregnancy that may naturally boost progesterone production in your body.
Citrus fruits, such as lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruit, are high in vitamin C. One study found that women with a luteal phase deficit (shortened time between ovulation and menstruation) who took 750 milligrams of vitamin C per day significantly increased progesterone levels and pregnancy rate.
Pumpkin seeds highly nutritious and rich in antioxidants. They’re also high in zinc, which may also help increase progesterone levels. Although research is limited, some studies suggest zinc helps the pituitary gland release follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which stimulates ovulation and signals your ovaries to produce more progesterone.
Zinc also plays a vital role in fertility and proper growth and development during pregnancy.
Studies suggest that flax seeds may lengthen the luteal phase and decrease the number of anovulatory cycles ( a menstrual cycle where the ovaries do not release an egg). Flax seeds may also help optimize progesterone-to-estrogen ratios, which signals a healthy ovarian function.
Salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids, a type of healthy fat known for reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. According to animal studies, diets high in omega-3 fatty acids can also help boost progesterone secretion and enhance early embryonic development. However, other studies report no difference.
Quinoa is rich in magnesium, which supports hormone balance. Magnesium is also involved in several vital processes that allow your body to produce estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
One cup of quinoa provides 28% of the Daily Value for magnesium.
Dark chocolate is another good that may help naturally boost progesterone production because it’s high in magnesium.
One ounce of dark chocolate contains 15% of the Daily Value for magnesium. According to studies, dark chocolate also contains other essential nutrients, including flavonoids which help fight inflammation and reduce your risk of chronic disease.
Almonds are rich in vitamin E, which studies suggest may help improve luteal blood flow and increase progesterone in some women.
They’re also high in magnesium, which, as mentioned above, can help increase progesterone levels.
Lean beef is high in L-arginine, an amino acid necessary for producing nitric acid. Nitric acid relaxes your blood vessels and increases blood circulation. This can help ensure that your corpus luteum, ovaries, and other organs are in good working condition.
Lean beef is also reasonably high in zinc, which is essential for reproduction. It’s important to note that red meat should be consumed in moderation. According to the World Cancer Research Fund International, red meat consumption should be limited to three weekly portions (less than 12-18 ounces).
Turkey and Chicken
Poultry, including turkey and chicken, may also help naturally boost progesterone production. This is because they are high in vitamin B6, which is known to support a healthy reproductive system. Studies also suggest it may help improve premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, including moodiness, irritability, forgetfulness, bloating, and anxiety.
Although more research is needed, one older study found that B6 supplementation decreased estrogen levels and increased progesterone levels.
Leafy greens, including collard greens, Swiss chard, broccoli, Romaine lettuce, and spinach, are rich in calcium and magnesium, which support progesterone production.
One study found that, compared to calcium intake over the daily recommended allowance, calcium intake below 1,000 milligrams was associated with decreased progesterone levels.
Another 2020 study noted that magnesium plays a significant role in the normal functioning of various hormones, including progesterone and estrogen.
Oats are high in fiber and other important nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, selenium, B vitamins, and manganese.
In addition to supporting healthy bowel movements, studies suggest that a high fiber intake may support healthy sex hormone levels by decreasing estrogen absorption and increasing fecal excretion of excess estrogen.
Lentils are high in fiber, folate, potassium, and protein. They’re also a good source of L-arginine, which studies suggest may support progesterone production.
Brazil nuts are one of the most selenium-rich food sources. One 2018 study published in the journal Molecules noted that selenium could increase progesterone, estradiol, and T4, all of which play an essential part in a healthy pregnancy.
Brazil nuts are also high in vitamin E, magnesium, and healthy fats, all of which are needed to support progesterone production.
Bananas are high in vitamin B6, which, as previously discussed, can decrease estrogen production and increase progesterone.
They also contain other good-for-you nutrients like potassium, fiber, and vitamin C.
Shellfish, including shrimp, oysters, and lobster, are lean proteins. They also contain zinc, which promotes ovulation and increases estrogen and progesterone production.
If you’re pregnant, always make sure your seafood is fully cooked!
Other Tips on How to Increase Progesterone During Pregnancy
Although there’s no particular way scientifically proven to significantly impact your progesterone levels, certain lifestyle modifications may help.
Here are remedies to naturally boost your progesterone levels.
- Maintaining a healthy weight can help you keep your hormone levels balanced. According to one recent study, maternal obesity (obesity during pregnancy) is associated with low progesterone levels during the first trimester of pregnancy. It’s also linked to miscarriages.
- Performing moderate physical activity can help lower levels of stress hormones, including cortisol. When cortisol levels increase, progesterone decreases. It’s important not to overdo it, though. Overexercising puts constant stress on your body, which causes an increase in cortisol levels.
- Reducing stress levels by reading a book, meditating, listening to music, or journaling can help lower cortisol levels and balance your sex hormones.
- Getting at least seven hours of sleep can support healthy progesterone production because insufficient sleep is linked to increased cortisol levels and may cause other hormonal imbalances.
What About Over-The-Counter Progesterone?
Chances are, if you’re trying to increase your progesterone levels, you’ve likely run across several supplements to increase progesterone in pregnancy. While some products available over the counter contain herbs that may boost progesterone naturally, they should not be used without approval from your healthcare provider.
Additionally, you may see products made from wild yams or soy. These products contain a chemical called diosgenin, which can be isolated and converted into progesterone in a lab. However, diosgenin cannot be converted to progesterone in the human body. It must take place in a lab. As such, wild yam and soy alone or in products would not increase progesterone levels.
You may also find natural progesterone, which is often available as a cream. However, the amount of progesterone in these products significantly varies. While some studies suggest these creams may improve progesterone levels, it is essential to use them with caution as they may cause your progesterone levels to become significantly elevated.
At this time, there are no studies that examine the effect high progesterone levels have on a fetus.
Most doctors do not recommend OTC progesterone and prefer to prescribe prescription-grade products to ensure you get optimal amounts of progesterone.
If you choose an OTC progesterone cream, always buy from a trustworthy brand and select a product tested by a third party to ensure that what is on the label is inside the product.
Where there are no progesterone-rich foods for pregnancy, some foods contain nutrients that naturally support progesterone production. However, it is essential to note that we need more research before routinely recommending any foods to increase progesterone levels.
With that said, keeping your nutrition on point and eating a well-balanced diet can ensure that you get optimal levels of nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, healthy fats, vitamin B6, and vitamin C, which are essential for progesterone production. Following a healthful diet can also help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, which can also balance your sex hormone levels.
Although OTC progesterone supplements are available, there is insufficient evidence to show their benefits and risks. If you suspect you have low progesterone levels, scheduling a visit with your healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment is essential.
How can I increase my progesterone levels to get pregnant?
Follow a healthy diet with foods rich in the following nutrients: magnesium, selenium, zinc, healthy fats, L-arginine, and vitamins, C, E, and B6. You also want to ensure you sleep enough, maintain a healthy weight, and avoid over-exercising. Your healthcare provider may also recommend prescription progesterone to increase your levels.
How can I naturally increase progesterone?
The best way to naturally increase your progesterone is by following a balanced diet that includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, lean protein, and healthy fats and maintaining a healthy weight. You can also perform moderate physical activity, eliminate stress, and get at least seven hours of sleep each night.
What produces the most progesterone during pregnancy?
Progesterone is produced by the corpus luteum during the first ten weeks of pregnancy, followed by the placenta in the later stage.