Stress Hormones and Heart Disease: Increase Progesterone and decrease Cortisol

There are several ways to increase progesterone, one of which is to decrease stress hormones such as cortisol, ACTH and CRH. However, we can also directly improve progesterone production.

Progesterone is made from pregnenolone, the mother of all hormones, while pregnenolone is made from cholesterol. Cortisol is indirectly made from progesterone or more precisely from its metabolite, known as 17-OH progesterone.

This makes progesterone an essential precursor to mineralocorticoids such as aldosterone and glucocorticoids such as cortisol.

When you are exposed to stress, the body increases secretion of cortisol and adrenaline. When this happens, progesterone decreases since it is used to produce cortisol. This makes it important to control stress response, in order to increase progesterone levels.


Progesterone is vital hormone for the immune system, bone strength, healthy nervous system and heart function. Although, there are several  studies with progesterone and estrogen and their benefits for preventing heart disease, few new studies have concluded that mainly progesterone is responsible for this beneficial effect.

It seems that progesterone may even have an effect on size of the cardiac muscle, not just on stress hormones and heart disease.

On the other hand, this powerful hormone regulates cardiac repolarization. Cardiac repolarization is important part of your natural heart pacemaker rhythm which regulates contractions of the heart muscle and speed of the heart beat. However, having too low or too high progesterone may lead to arrhythmia.


Some women experience irregular heart beats, during their menstrual cycle. The body tends to increase progesterone and estrogen which makes it difficult to balance out these two.

On the other hand, risk of stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure and heart disease is much higher in post-menopausal women, when progesterone production drops to near zero.

One study monitor women that have been pregnant four or more times. They found out these women had much lower risk of stroke and heart disease as opposed to women that didn't give birth or were pregnant only once. Scientists are not sure what causes this fenomenon but they assume hormones may have something to do with it.

I personally believe that hormones are most likely responsible for this fenomenon, more accurately progesterone. During pregnancy, placenta produces mega doses of progesterone since it is necessary for the mother and especially for the fetus.


Progesterone can lower blood pressure by "opening" the blood vessels since it counteracts angiotensin 2 which is the natural substance in the body that constricts blood vessels. It also lowers blood pressure, by blocking the calcium from entering into the cells which also relaxes and expands blood vessels.

It can even lower cholesterol and triglycerides, by normalizing use of fat stores for energy. So, if we increase progesterone within normal limits, we can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and heart attack.

Progesterone also regulates collagen synthesis in the body. Collagen is the glue that holds us together which helps repair microfractures in the tissue, during sleep.


Cortisol is a complete opposite of progesterone. Elevated levels of cortisol may lead to osteoporosis, weight gain, adrenal fatigue, high blood pressure, faster heart rate, diabetes, hypercortisolism, insomnia, reduced collagen synthesis, weaker immune system and it may even damage the heart muscle and blood vessels.

On the other hand, acute stress and certain amount of cortisol is beneficial. Cortisol has a role in fight or flight reaction, homeostasis and it possesses anti-inflammatory properties. So, not only that we need to increase progesterone but we also have to balance out these two.


Hypothalamus, the master endocrine gland, is linked to our nervous system. When we are exposed to any kind of stress, we experience nervous reaction which signals the hypothalamus to produce CRH or corticotropin releasing hormone.

CRH signals the pituitary gland to produce ACTH, also known as adrenocorticotropic hormone. ACTH signals the adrenal glands to produce cortisol and adrenaline.

If long-term chronic stress is causing this, overactive hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis may deplete progesterone and lead to adrenal burnout.


Hypothalamus and nervous system are connected via the limbic system. The limbic system consists of several parts which play a role in fight or flight response as well as heart rate and blood pressure.

The most important part of the limbic system is amygdala. Amygdala is responsible for processing short term memory and emotional reactions, triggered by stressful situations. Basically, it controls fight or flight response which affects cortisol levels.

In order to increase progesterone and lower CRH, ACTH and eventually cortisol, you have to start from the source which is the limbic system or more precisely, amygdala. By strengthening amygdala as well as limbic, nervous and endocrine system, you will lower CRH, ACTH and cortisol.

The body will also become more efficient at establishing homeostasis. By reducing cortisol, more progesterone will be left circulating in the blood which will help improve function of the cardiovascular system.


Meditation and other relaxing techniques can help manage stress hormones and heart disease related problems, by reducing cortisol which can increase progesterone.

Ashwagandha and Rhodiola are two most effective adaptogens for improving hypothalamus and pituitary gland function. On the other hand, Bupleurum and Rehmannia are also able to boost secretion of progesterone, by improving the function of adrenal glands.

Relaxing herbs such as Kava Kava, Peony and Passion Flower can help calm the nervous system, while lowering cortisol. There are also some herbs such as Vitex, Coleus Forskohlii and Maca which can directly increase progesterone production.

On the other hand, long distance running such as marathon increases cortisol and lowers progesterone, in a similar way as chronic stress does. This is one of the reasons why long distance runners often get sick after the race.

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