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What Is Progesterone?

Progesterone is a key hormone involved in a woman's menstrual cycle and is important for preparing a woman's body for pregancy.

Couple holding an ultrasound scan

In this article we look at progesterone and the role it plays in female fertility as well as overall wellbeing.  We also explain how you can improve your progesterone levels.

The Role Of Progesterone in The Body

Progesterone is a hormone which has an important role in preparing a woman’s body for pregnancy alongside other female hormones. The hormone is usually produced by the body during ovulation.[1]

Progesterone levels fluctuate during the menstrual cycle, so it’s important that the level is calculated at the right time during your cycle.  

Every month the lining of the womb, called the endometrium, grows and replenishes thanks to the release of the hormone, oestrogen. An increase in luteinising hormone causes an egg to be released from an ovary. Following this, a small mass of cells called the corpus luteum forms at the location where the ovary released an egg. The corpus luteum then starts to produce progesterone. The progesterone prevents the growth of the womb lining in preparation for egg implantation and pregnancy. Under normal circumstances, progesterone levels peak on day 21 of the menstrual cycle.

If fertilisation of the egg doesn’t occur then the corpus luteum disintegrates, progesterone levels decrease and menstrual bleeding ours. However, if an egg is fertilised, the corpus luteum will carry on producing progesterone. A few weeks into pregnancy, the placenta takes over as the main source of progesterone. The placenta produces high amounts of the hormone for the duration of a normal pregnancy.

How Does Progesterone Affect My Wellbeing?

To obtain an accurate level of progesterone, the test should be taken at the correct time of the menstrual cycle.

If the levels of progesterone don’t rise and fall monthly, it could indicate that ovulation is not taking place. If the levels do not rise during pregnancy could be ectopic or failing.

High levels of progesterone will naturally occur during pregnancy. They will be naturally higher if it is a multiple pregnancy i.e. twins.

How Can I Improve Progesterone Levels?

A healthy lifestyle can help to keep your periods regular and your menstrual cycle efficient.


Eating a healthy and balanced diet can help with your menstrual cycle. However, your period results in blood loss which can cause a loss of iron. You should attempt to replace this loss of iron to prevent any adverse medical effects.

Good sources of dietary iron include:

  • Red meat – beef, lamb and pork
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Dark green leafy vegetables – spinach, cabbage and broccoli
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Pulses[2]

Plant-based sources of iron such as dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seed, pulses and fortified cereals may be absorbed better in the presence of vitamin C.[3] Try eating fortified breakfast cereals alongside a glass of orange juice or swap chips for a jacket potato with a side of green leafy veg – be sure to eat the skin of the potato.

You should also refrain from drinking tea with your meals as this can affect iron absorption. Instead, you should drink it between meals to ensure you absorb iron effectively.[4]


Exercise can help to improve the pain and discomfort experienced by some individuals during their menstrual cycle.[5]

Exercise is also beneficial for mood changes too. Physical activity can release endorphins which can increase your mood. During your period you and go through hormonal changes which can affect the way you feel. By participating in exercise, it is possible to overcome these feelings and improve your social life.


  1. Lab Tests Online UK. (2018). Progesterone Test. Available at:
  2. British Dietetic Association. (2017). Food Fact Sheet: Iron. Available at:
  3. Lane, D, J, R and Richardson, D, R. (2014). The Active Role of Vitamin C in Mammalian Iron Metabolism: Much More than Just Enhanced Iron Absorption. Free Radical Biology and Medicine: 75, pp 69-83.
  4. Zijp, I, M., Korver, O and Tijburg, L, B, M. (2000). Effect of Tea and Other Dietary Factors on Iron Absorption. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: 40(5), pp 371-398.
  5. Abbaspour, Z., Rostani, M and Najjar, S, H. (2006). The Effet of Exercise on Primary Dysmenorrhea. J Res Health Sci;6 (1), pp 26-31


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