Progesterone – an alternative approach to the menopausal time

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Night sweats, hot flushes, anxiety, poor short-term memory and erratic sleeping patterns – if you’re in the menopausal time of life, chances are you’ve experienced some or all of these symptoms. In fact, let’s throw in a migraine or two and lacklustre libido for good measure.

Are these complaints simply to be expected as a woman ages? Felicity Sinden from Tauranga’s Patient Advocates says ‘No’.

Since 1999 she has helped more than 21,000 women resolve these kinds of unwanted symptoms, using bio-identical hormonal therapy. Women say they have found renewed energy and motivation and no longer endure the seemingly unreasonable symptoms of menopause. They feel better and sleep better – without having to throw off the duvet ten times during the night.

Treatment involves using natural progesterone cream to balance the body’s hormones. Felicity says progesterone cream is quite different from what we know as synthetic HRT – hormone replacement therapy. HRT uses synthetic formulations (progestins) which have been linked to increased rates of breast and uterine cancer.

Natural progesterone, on the other hand, is known as a bio-identical hormone because, even though it is made in a lab, it is biologically identical to the progesterone that our bodies make… or used to make!

The progesterone slide

From around our mid-30s, a woman’s production of progesterone begins to fall, and by menopause, in most women, it has tapered off to virtually nothing. Biologically, progesterone is just not needed anymore because its role in maintaining a pregnancy is complete. But because progesterone is the body’s main regulating hormone, when that tapers off, a lot of other hormones, such as oestrogen, DHEA and testosterone, are also affected, giving the wide range of symptoms experienced by so many women.

Ok, so we might have hit zero on the reproduction biological clock but we’ve still got a lot of living to go, and that’s why replacing the supply of progesterone helps to balance our hormone levels and make us feel like we are functioning normally again.

“We’ve had menopausal women who have experienced hourly hot flushes throughout the day and night, disrupting work, sleep and play,” says Felicity. “Since consulting with Patient Advocates, their flushes have reduced to occasional, and they’ve regained their confidence and sense of humour.”

Felicity established Patient Advocates in 1998 and now has a team of four others working with her – two other consultants, Pip and Frances, and two administrative staff. Patients do a saliva test to determine progesterone levels (this is sent off to a Christchurch Hospital lab) and then come to the clinic for a consultation and discuss progesterone therapy. The patient’s GP needs to write the prescription, which is then made up according to individual dosage by a compounding chemist in Auckland. Women apply the cream to different areas of skin which quickly absorbs the hormone into the body.

“So many women think they are the only ones going through this but they’re not. We help them to get their lives back, to regain that quality of life and get back the energy they once had. I take natural progesterone myself so I know how it’s helped. I feel better at age 61 than I did at 41. Every woman can benefit from this. Don’t accept your symptoms as normal, because it’s all related to hormones.”

Balancing life and balancing hormones

It’s not just a woman’s natural life-cycle that depletes our hormone levels (in fact, clients to the clinic range in age from 11 to 86). Felicity says synthetic oestrogens, found in oral contraceptives, and xeno-oestrogens, such as pesticides and other harmful chemicals, also play a role in hormonal imbalance, and, when added to the body’s intrinsic hormonal fluctuations, can contribute to the problem of ‘oestrogen dominance’. When high levels of oestrogen cannot be balanced by adequate levels of progesterone, menstrual and menopausal symptoms arise. Xeno-oestrogens have also been linked to the increasing rates of breast cancer, infertility in females and decreasing sperm count in males.

Progesterone is also our anti-stress and anti-anxiety hormone, and, just when our lives get busier and we really need that ‘hormone hit’, our progesterone levels naturally begin to fall.

Felicity says anti-depressants are not always the answer.

“As women we wear so many hats. We’re working in stressful jobs, dealing with family issues 24/7, not always eating the best nutritional foods, and often we’re not coping emotionally. Traumatic events can also lead to a hormonal imbalance. Women are often prescribed anti-depressants but these won’t do anything if the issue is related to hormone imbalance. We need to learn to de-stress and not be available round the clock.”

In 1995, Felicity, a registered nurse, began working with urologist Dr Fenton Bennett who introduced progesterone cream to New Zealand women. It was researched and developed by US medical practitioner Dr John Lee and Dr Katerina Dalton from the UK. When Dr Bennett passed away, Felicity was approached by local doctors to continue providing support and education for their patients who were using natural progesterone.

What is natural progesterone cream?

Progesterone can only be called ‘progesterone’ when it is biologically identical to the progesterone made in our bodies. Anything else – progestins and progestagens – is unlike natural, human-made progesterone and can have different, often harmful, effects on the body. 

Natural progesterone cream is made from an active ingredient called Diosgenin, which comes from the Mexican wild yam plant. Diosgenin is converted into the same molecular structure as the progesterone found in humans. Synthetic progestins (used in synthetic HRT) also originate from natural sources but have been chemically modified to become a completely different medication