The ovaries are the only organ in the female body that produce progesterone. When women hit the stage in life termed perimenopause, production of this calming hormone begins to decline marking, the inevitable march toward menopause. This process begins somewhere in the 3rd or 4th decade of life for most women and usually does not occur without noticeable symptoms. One of the most common symptoms I see in women is insomnia. I question every patient on their first visit about their sleep habits and I can count on a single hand the number of women who tell me they sleep well. The pattern I see with many women is that they slept well until around the age of 35 or so and then for some reason they start having difficulty sleeping, such as waking up frequently or having trouble falling asleep.
Progesterone is the calming hormone. In addition to it’s vital role in regulating the menstrual cycle, it helps to regulate sleep by calming the body and mind. Around this time, when progesterone levels begin to decline, we also see an increase in the diagnoses of anxiety and even panic attacks in some women. Often times this anxiety seems to come out of nowhere for women who have no history of anxiety and they often relate to me that they don’t believe they have high levels of stress in their life. Unfortunately, we also see an increase in the prescriptions written for drugs like Ambien® for sleep and Xanax® and Prozac® for anxiety around this same age group. This traditional approach to the treatment of women is one of the travesties of western medicine where instead of treating a hormone deficiency which can improve health, lower cancer risk and yes, even help a women sleep better, we treat with drugs that simply mask the symptoms and dull the senses. Additionally, physicians typically interpret low progesterone levels in perimenopausal or menopausal women as “normal,” and tell women the symptoms they are experiencing are, “just a part of aging.”
If you have read my prior blogs, you know that I frequently mention the importance of sleep in your anti-aging program. One of the most important things you can do for your health is to get the right amount of quality sleep. Poor sleep wreaks havoc on our bodies and is linked to many diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity. It is well established in the scientific literature that people who sleep poorly are more likely to be obese and have a much harder time losing weight. You need sleep to rest and repair the body. Growth hormone, one of the most powerful health promoting hormones, is produced during the deepest stages of sleep and is found in lower levels in those who sleep poorly. Lack of sleep increases cortisol and insulin levels which cause inflammation in the body and promote disease and weight gain. So you can see how important it is to make sure hormones are maintained at youthful levels, and how a deficiency in one hormone such as progesterone, can set off a series of biochemical and physiological events that can have serious health ramifications down the road.
Fortunately, more medical providers are recognizing the importance of maintaining youthful levels of hormones and a simple blood test can tell you if you need treatment. Options are using a topical or oral bioidentical progesterone that can restore and balance your hormones and restore your health.
Until next time, Stay healthy and Live well… Dr. Mike