News & Perspectives

Progesterone Creams for Menopause

Many women swear by natural progesterone creams. Rubbed into the skin, these hormone creams are said to relieve the hot flashes and mood swings of menopause and perimenopause, building bones along the way. But are they truly safe and effective?

According to Dr. Susan Love, "Natural progesterone cream is natural in that, compared with hormone replacement drugs, it's more like the hormone your body makes, but it's still produced in the laboratory." So the only truly natural progesterone is that from women’s ovaries.

The progesterone found in creams such as Pro-Gest or Progonol is made in the lab from Mexican wild yams or soybeans. The hormone is believed to pass through the skin and then circulate through the body. Compounding pharmacies, which customize prescriptions, sell this form of progesterone in oral capsules.

Stronger bones?
Studies are mixed on whether these creams protect against osteoporosis. A 1990 trial by John Lee, M.D., author of What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Menopause, showed that progesterone creams increase bone mass. Yet the patients in the study also exercised regularly and took calcium; some even took estrogen, making it difficult to interpret results.

The cancer question
Whether the creams protect against cancer, as some claim, is also in question. Synthetic progestins used in conventional hormone replacement therapy help guard against uterine cancer, but there is no evidence progesterone creams offer similar protection. Recent studies suggest that progestins may even increase breast cancer risk. However, the amount of progesterone present in the creams is scanty by comparison. The creams appear to be safe and are unlikely to affect overall cancer risk one way or the other.

Taming hot flashes
Studies indicate the creams do seem to help curb hot flashes. In a 1999 trial at St. Luke's Hospital in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, progesterone creams reduced or eliminated hot flashes in 83 percent of the healthy postmenopausal women tested, compared with only 19 percent of those who used placebo creams. Although studies are lacking, the WHMD Advisor's chief medical consultant, David Edelberg, M.D., and other doctors at American WholeHealth clinics, report that many of their patients find progesterone creams effective for relieving such symptoms of PMS and menopause as well as mood swings and breast tenderness.

Suggested dose: Massage one quarter to half a teaspoon of cream onto the skin of the palms, belly, or shoulders twice a day.

Date Posted: 07/19/2001

Date Published: 07/18/2001
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