As long as I’ve been reading and listening to the work of Ray Peat I’ve been hearing that progesterone has no side effects. Progesterone is “safe in large amounts (except…can be anesthetic if hundreds of milligrams are taken at once),” Peat himself said to me in an email.
I beg to differ.
The hot flashes that I’ve been experiencing for the last 2 months became troublesome for me. They were long, intense, and were paired with rage at times. I couldn’t understand why I was having them – doesn’t progesterone supplementation fool your body into thinking you’re not experiencing perimenopause (or real menopause, for that matter)? Things had been going well, and I was confused, so I asked Dr. Peat about it. His response:
Some things that reduce hot flashes for some people are supplementing pregnenolone, interrupting the progesterone each cycle, using cynoplus only in the evenings, increased salt, and coffee. The natural ovarian cycle gives the liver time to adjust its enzymes, and with continuous progesterone supplements, the liver enzymes excrete progesterone more quickly, and weaken its effects.
I thought that was interesting about liver enzymes….maybe I was having hot flashes because I’d been dosing every day instead of just the last 2 weeks of my cycle. I did this knowingly, attempting to reverse the hyper-estrogenation I’d inflicted on my body with the stupid and dangerous Wiley Protocol. Of course, taking hormones in a non-physiological way is likely to cause problems at some point, so perhaps that’s what was going on.
I stopped taking the progesterone for a few days. The hot flashes got worse. This led me to believe it WAS perimenopause I was dealing with. When the estrogen/progesterone ratio is too heavy in favor of estrogen, symptoms of menopause (or PMS, or other unpleasant things) occur. So I reversed course. I figured I’d take a LOT of progesterone, to get the hot flashes to stop. Then I’d taper down and find my new “normal” dose, after determining the threshold below which they broke through.
So a few days ago I decided to dose 3 drops every 1-2 hours, aiming for about 30 drops across the day. This would be 100mg of progesterone, about 5 times my normal dose, but according to Peat, still safe. By 5:00PM I didn’t feel very good – kind of tired and tense. I was in the habit of taking my blood pressure and pulse because I’d recently started taking beta blockers for my hypertension, which usually runs around 150/95. So I took my blood pressure and it was 165/105 – about 10 points higher than even my normally high BP, with heart rate around 105 (usually around 85). I checked periodically throughout the evening and it remained high, but the next morning was a bit lower again.
That next day I did the same thing – 3 drops of Progest E every 1-2 hours. My hot flashes seemed to be getting less intense, so it seemed like the right thing to do. Again, around 5PM I started noticing tachycardia. I took my blood pressure and it was 164/107. That’s when I started suspecting the progesterone had something to do with this, as I’d changed nothing else in the previous 2 days.
I hit Google and found this article about hypertension that occurs during pregnancy, which states the following:
In an article published in the July 7, 2000, issue of the journal Science, HHMI investigators Richard P. Lifton and Paul B. Sigler and colleagues at Yale University and Albert Einstein College of Medicine report that a mutation renders the mineralocorticoid receptor more sensitive to progesterone, a hormone that is produced in abundance during pregnancy. (…)
When the mineralocorticoid receptor is triggered by aldosterone, its normal binding partner, it switches on the cellular machinery that causes kidney cells to reabsorb more salt, ultimately raising blood pressure. Lifton’s group found that when women who have the faulty receptor undergo the hundred-fold rise in progesterone that occurs during pregnancy, progesterone overstimulates the receptor, causing salt retention, expansion of blood plasma volume and skyrocketing blood pressure.
So what this is saying is that some people have a protein mutation that makes them more sensitive to progesterone. In such a person, progesterone in high amounts (such as in pregnancy….or, say, when you’re me and desperately trying to make hot flashes disappear) can cause the kidneys to retain more fluid…raising blood pressure.
I should mention, when I was pregnant I developed hypertension (not pre-eclampsia), which led to my daughter being born by C-section 3 weeks before her due date. My blood pressure was so high she was in distress. Before that I had not had a problem with high blood pressure, and after the pregnancy my blood pressure returned to normal.
So after finding this article I went to the drugstore and bought some diuretic pills and took one. Within a few hours my blood pressure returned to it’s “normal” state of hypertension – 150s over 90s, and my pulse was back in the 80s. I stopped taking the progesterone at that point – I guess that was 3 days ago now. My hot flashes have almost vanished – just little reminders here and there. I guess I increased my progesterone level quite a bit and it’s not dropping quickly.
I wrote to Dr. Peat to share this story and the article I found, and to ask if he’s ever encountered anything like this in his research or practice. I haven’t heard back from him yet. I’m trying not to make that mean anything. He must know that everything he puts in print becomes fodder for the public so perhaps he’s choosing his words carefully. Or maybe he’s off researching the issue intently. Or maybe he just blew it off because it’s terribly inconvenient to have someone tell you that you were wrong and that in fact SOME people actually do have serious side effects associated with high doses of progesterone.
I developed high blood pressure while living in California, around December of 2012. At the time I was taking high dose progesterone and estrogen supplements, a la the Wiley Protocol. I did stop taking those in March 2013, and then there was a period of time when I wasn’t taking any hormone supplements at all, until I started with the Progest E in November 2013. Looking back at previous blog posts I see I’ve posted various blood pressure measurements over the past year or so:
- April 2013: 145/88
- June 2013: 135/83
- November 2013: 155/109 (had recently started Peat-inspired plan, had increased salt and fluids and was taking Progest E, at a pretty low dose.)
What if progesterone supplementation is behind my high blood pressure? I wasn’t taking progesterone between April and November, and during that period my blood pressure was lower (according to this blog, anyway), with the exception of the time I tried to drink 100oz of water every day.
I’m sure progesterone is safe for most people…but I’m curious how many people have this mutation?
Am I rare?
New plan: No progesterone supplementation for a while. If I find myself needing it I’ll take a few drops, but no more than 3 per day, and only during the last 2 weeks of my cycle. Also no more extra salt. I’m also drinking celery juice and taking Hawthorn because I understand these things can be helpful for lowering blood pressure. I’ve tried 3 different anti-hypertensive medications – 2 caused problematic side effects and one just didn’t work. I tried everything I’ve seen Peat recommend for high blood pressure (eating MORE salt, high dose vitamin K, bag breathing, more potassium, magnesium/epsom salt baths).
There will be other new plans too. Stay tuned.