Allergies exist when our immune system mistakes a harmless substance for a toxin or pathogen. For instance when we get hay fever, it’s because our immune system is treating the pollen as though it were a bacterial infection and thus increasing the production of histamines to the point where we get swelling, muscle contraction and itching. There are countless allergies as well as intolerances (in which a food simply contains something that our body is sensitive to) and identifying them can often shed light on unexplained symptoms and thus change our lives for the better.
The problem is identifying these allergies when we consume so much and come into contact with so many other substances – and at the same time scientists are constantly discovering new allergies any of which might explain any symptoms. And to make matters more difficult recent research is now suggesting that we may even be able to become allergic to our own hormones and if you are a woman who has experienced itching and skin problems in conjunction with pregnancy or your menstrual cycle then it’s possible you could be suffering from a progesterone allergy. Read on for more information.
What Is Progesterone?
Progesterone, also referred to as P4, is a steroid hormone that plays a role in the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and embryogenesis (the formation of embryos). This hormone is produced in the ovaries (and in the corpus luteum after ovulation) and in the adrenal glands and placenta during pregnancy. It is also stored in fat tissue (adipose tissue). During pregnancy amounts of progesterone increase and this is first of all from the corpus luteum (which is saved when there is a presence of human chorionic gonadotropins from the conceptus), and then after week 8 from the placenta. Cholesterol is used as the substrate and it then enters the maternal circulation and fetal circulation. Progesterone is also found in milk products, and after consuming milk there is more bioavailable progesterone. Progesterone can also be consumed in pill form in order to prevent miscarriage and to encourage fertility.
Roles of Progesterone in Pregnancy
During pregnancy extra progesterone is produced for several reasons and is mostly effective in conjunction with estrogen.
- Firstly it causes the endometrium to develop and secrete fluid.
- It also maintains the functions of the placenta and fights off unwanted cells around the womb.
- It keeps the endometrium thickened.
- It stops the uterus from making sudden movements.
- It prevents lactation (so that it occurs only after birth).
- It strengths the mucus plug that covers the cervix thereby preventing infection.
- Strengthens the pelvic muscles.
- Stops contractions in the uterus.
Once the pregnancy ends, the levels of progesterone drop off and this is what gives the body its cue to begin contractions and start child birth.
There are unfortunately some negative side effects of progesterone and these can include constipation, heart burn, running nose, higher chance of kidney infection, poor eyesight, headaches, anemia, bloating, fatigue, vomiting, vaginal dryness, breast pain, nervousness, excessive urination, irritability and depression among others – though these are significantly more likely when consuming progesterone as a supplement.
Another unfortunate potential side effect from progesterone is allergy. This is also known as ‘autoimmune progesterone dermatitis’ in its most recognized form. Here the allergy is actually an allergy to the combination of hormones caused in pregnancy and the menstrual cycle. Until recently researchers had written off the possibility that someone could be allergic to their own hormones as it was believed the molecules were too small to be identified by the autoimmune system. However more recent studies have demonstrated that the combination of the estrogen and progesterone makes the molecules large enough to be mistaken for toxins.
The main symptoms are a generalized rash and this tends to occur in the perimenstrual period or after the use of progesterone supplementation. This rash might appear as urticarial papules, deep lesions, eczema eruption often with burning or pain.
Interestingly however it is not universally agreed that autoimmune progesterone dermatitis is in fact caused by allergy to the progesterone – and it has been proposed that it could instead be a result of leukocytes having progesterone receptors (leukocytes regulate allergic responses) meaning that the progesterone could simply increase other immune responses.
Progesterone allergy is something that has been discovered relatively recently and so research is still being done into potential cures. One obvious solution where the problem is linked in to the menstrual cycle is to use contraceptive methods in order to control ovulation and thereby suppress progesterone. Likewise in pregnancy it is advisable not to use progesterone supplementation where possible. Conjugated estrogens have also been used with some success, as has prophylactic treatment with the androgen danazol. Of course you should also limit your consumption of milk which increases the amount of bioavailable progesterone in the body. The product ‘Singulair’ may be useful as it can reduce the action of leukocytes – note though that this may have effects on the mood, and you should consult with your doctor before starting any medication.
In conclusion, if you are suffering from a rash that seems to tie in with your menstrual cycles, pregnancy or the use of progesterone supplementation then you may be suffering from a progesterone allergy or intolerance. If possible, then try to reduce your intake of progesterone and consider going on the pill – but make sure to consult with your doctor before you make any major changes to your diet or medication.