There is a whole body of work done on natural progesterone that shows how important it is for overall health at menopause and to help prevent serious illness. Unfortunately little is done in the United Kingdom, but other countries are actively looking to see what benefits women can get from having good hormone balance and strong levels of natural progesterone.
Lessons from France
The first benefit is outlined by Dr Michael Schumacher of the Kremlin-Bicêtre hospital in Paris who reported: “There is evidence that progesterone has beneficial effects on the breast tissue, on blood vessels and for strengthening bones, although more research needs to be done.” His key comment was:
“Many of the benefits of progesterone comes from the fact that while oestrogen stimulates cells, progesterone calms them down.”
As a result, one striking claim for progesterone is that it might lower your risk for dementia. In the brain, oestrogen and progesterone combine to protect cells, while progestins (as found in HRT) reduce this protective effect. He also found that:
“There is strong evidence that the ageing nervous system remains at least to some extent sensitive to the beneficial effects of progesterone.”
It was originally the study done by the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) that showed that combining progestins with oestrogen slightly raised the risk of strokes and breast cancer. However, Schumacher’s work goes further and explains how progesterone (not progestins) can lower these dangers.
“Oestrogen combined with progesterone could make for a safe and effective form of HRT. Although such an option may not be very attractive for the pharmaceutical industry.”
The reason for this is that progesterone is not patentable, precisely because it is a natural substance, and so it won’t be a big money spinner. Many women coming off HRT find that a combination cream such as 20-1 which contains bioidentical progesterone and two natural oestrogens is an excellent replacement without any of the side effects or health risks associated with conventional pharmaceutical HRT.
Progesterone and breast cancer
The claim that progesterone may protect against breast cancer is backed up by a big ongoing French study of 54,548 menopausal women, comparing what happens to those who take progesterone with their HRT with those who have a progestin.
The latest report has found that after eight years, while those on progestins have a raised risk of breast cancer, those on progesterone don’t.
As a result of this research there has been a change in prescribing in France. “After the WHI study, many women had stopped taking oestrogen pills,” says Dr Virginie Ringa of the French Institute for Health and Medical Research, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, Paris. “Now they are taking an oestrogen patch together with progesterone.”
Can progesterone reduce stroke risk?
Meanwhile in America, Dr Schumacher’s claim that progesterone can protect blood vessels and cut down the risk of strokes has just been supported in two small trials at Texas University.
Researchers gave a progesterone cream or a placebo to 30 post-menopausal women for eight weeks. Not only did the cream improve their symptoms but there was no rise in various markers in the blood that make strokes more likely, such as inflammation and a tendency to form clots.
Dr Kenna Stephenson, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at The University of Texas Health Center, reported: “We also found similar beneficial results when we gave a cocktail of individualised bio-identical hormones to 75 patients and compared the results to regular HRT.” She further comments:
“Our 12 month data would suggest that bioidentical hormones are safe and effective for peri/post-menopausal women when high quality creams are used.”