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Does lack of progesterone cause belly fat?

Belly fat is a common concern, especially for women as they go through hormonal changes. Many wonder if low progesterone levels can lead to increased abdominal fat. Progesterone is a key hormone involved in the female reproductive system and has important effects on body composition. This article will examine the evidence on the link between progesterone and belly fat, and provide an overview of progesterone’s role in the body.

What is progesterone and what does it do?

Progesterone is a hormone that plays a vital role in the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. It is produced mainly by the ovaries and placenta and helps regulate the reproductive system. Here are some of progesterone’s main functions:

  • Prepares the uterus for pregnancy – it thickens the uterine lining to support embryo implantation
  • Maintains pregnancy – it relaxes smooth muscle tissue to prevent uterine contractions
  • Regulates menstrual cycle – it works with estrogen in a monthly feedback loop to control the cycle
  • Supports development of breast tissue
  • May influence body fat distribution

Progesterone levels fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle. They are low during the pre-ovulatory phase, rise after ovulation, and peak in the mid-luteal phase about 7-10 days after ovulation if conception does not occur. If pregnancy does happen, progesterone levels stay elevated.

Falling progesterone signals the start of menstruation. When the corpus luteum breaks down, progesterone secretion declines, triggering shedding of the uterine lining.

What causes low progesterone?

There are several potential causes of low progesterone levels:

  • Normal aging – progesterone declines naturally as women approach menopause
  • Menstrual cycle disturbances – irregular cycles often involve inadequate progesterone secretion
  • Excess physical or emotional stress
  • Being overweight or underweight
  • PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) – prevents normal ovulation and progesterone release
  • Uterine or ovarian problems – fibroids, cysts, etc.
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Pituitary or adrenal disorders

If progesterone levels become too low, it can prevent normal menstruation and ovulation.

Connection between progesterone and body fat distribution

Emerging research suggests progesterone may play a role in body fat distribution in females. This may have implications for belly fat.

Studies have found that:

  • Women tend to accumulate fat in the abdomen and thighs, areas with a high density of progesterone receptors
  • Higher progesterone levels are associated with less abdominal visceral fat
  • Transgender women undergoing hormone therapy notice fat redistribution to hips/thighs with progesterone treatment

Progesterone is thought to possibly:

  • Promote fat storage in gluteal-femoral region
  • Inhibit accumulation of visceral abdominal fat
  • Boost lipolysis, or breakdown of fat

If progesterone drops too low, these effects may be reduced, potentially enabling increased belly fat storage.

However, more research is still needed on progesterone’s specific effects on body fat distribution. The mechanisms are not fully understood yet.

Animal studies

Animal studies also support progesterone’s role in body fat:

  • Ovariectomized rats (ovaries removed) accumulate more visceral fat, which is reversed with progesterone treatment
  • Mice without progesterone receptors develop more visceral fat over time

Again, this indicates falling progesterone enables abdominal fat gain.

Does lack of progesterone cause belly fat in premenopause?

Lower progesterone prior to menopause is not a proven direct cause of belly fat, but it may contribute in some women.

Here’s what the research says so far:

  • Women with PCOS tend to have excess tummy fat. Low progesterone is common in PCOS.
  • Obese women often have menstrual cycle irregularities involving low progesterone.
  • Weight loss in obese women raises progesterone and reduces belly fat.
  • Some studies see no link between progesterone levels across menstrual cycle and abdominal fat.

So the evidence is mixed. Low progesterone may be correlated to excess belly fat, but hasn’t been definitively shown to cause it.

Potential factors:

  • Low progesterone and belly fat could both be results of PCOS, obesity, and metabolic changes
  • Belly fat itself may disrupt menstrual cycles and lower progesterone
  • Other hormones like estrogen and cortisol may be involved
  • Genetics, diet, exercise and lifestyle affect where women store fat

Much more research is needed looking specifically at premenopausal women with regular cycles. Studies tracking progesterone levels, abdominal fat, and muscle mass throughout the menstrual cycle could shed light on this.

Progesterone and belly fat at menopause

Declining progesterone at menopause appears more convincingly linked to increased belly fat.

Multiple studies have found that the drop in progesterone at menopause is associated with:

  • Redistribution of body fat to the abdomen
  • Decreased thigh and hip circumference
  • Loss of subcutaneous fat underneath skin
  • Accumulation of visceral fat around organs

This abdominal fat pattern is considered less healthy than premenopausal distribution.

Some research shows hormone replacement therapy containing progesterone may help counteract the belly fat gain associated with menopause.

Progesterone therapy has been shown to possibly:

  • Reduce waist circumference
  • Lower abdominal fat on MRI scans
  • Improve insulin sensitivity

So the rapid drop in progesterone at menopause does appear to promote abdominal fat, which can be mitigated by exogenous progesterone.

Other hormones affecting belly fat

Besides low progesterone, other hormone imbalances may promote belly fat gain including:

Estrogen dominance

Estrogen works synergistically with progesterone during the menstrual cycle. When estrogen is high relative to progesterone, it can increase body fat including abdominal fat.


High cortisol drives fat accumulation around the organs. Cortisol dysregulation is common in women with low progesterone and may further increase belly fat.


Women produce small amounts of testosterone that support metabolic health. Too much or too little testosterone can shift body fat distribution.


Insulin imbalance and insulin resistance are linked with increased belly fat. Low progesterone is associated with reduced insulin sensitivity.

So rather than working alone, low progesterone often works together with these other hormonal issues to drive fat to the abdomen.

Should you get progesterone levels tested?

Since low progesterone may be tied to excess belly fat, testing can make sense in some women with these concerns:

  • Unexplained weight gain in the abdomen
  • Increased difficulty losing belly fat
  • Menstrual cycle irregularities
  • Symptoms of hormonal imbalance like low libido, sleep disruption, anxiety

Blood tests can check progesterone levels:

  • In the follicular phase – should be under 1-2 ng/ml
  • Mid-luteal phase – optimal 10+ ng/ml
  • Menopausal – very low

This can help identify abnormally low progesterone for your age and stage of menstrual cycle. Note that levels vary widely throughout the cycle.

Your doctor may also recommend testing other hormones like estrogen, cortisol, insulin, and testosterone to get the full picture.

How to raise low progesterone naturally

If progesterone is low, here are some natural ways to increase levels:

Improve metabolic health

Insulin resistance and obesity strain progesterone production. Losing belly fat through diet and exercise may help raise levels.

Reduce chronic stress

Stress raises cortisol which opposes progesterone. Try relaxing activities like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing. Get good sleep.

Eat progesterone-boosting foods

Foods like avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and dairy provide building blocks for progesterone. Consume healthy fats and protein.

Take a progesterone cream

Over-the-counter progesterone creams may help, especially in the latter half of the menstrual cycle. Effects are modest so testing is advisable.

Consider herbal supplements

Some herbs like chasteberry, vitex, and maca root may support progesterone. Discuss options with a health practitioner.

Make diet and lifestyle changes first before trying supplements. Seek medical advice to ensure herbs and creams are appropriate for your situation.

When to consider progesterone therapy

If progesterone is very low, a doctor may recommend progesterone replacement therapy. This may be delivered as pills, injections, inserts or suppositories.

Progesterone therapy is often used:

  • In fertility treatment to support conception and early pregnancy
  • To regulate severe hormone imbalance and menstrual irregularities
  • To offset estrogen and reduce endometrial hyperplasia
  • To alleviate severe menopausal symptoms

Progesterone therapy should only be used under medical supervision given potential side effects. It may help counteract fat gain related to progesterone deficiency but is not a weight loss solution.

Other ways to reduce belly fat

Aside from potentially optimizing hormones, utilize these effective belly fat reduction strategies:

Prioritize aerobic exercise

Do 150-300 minutes per week of moderate cardio like brisk walking, swimming, cycling, etc.

Include strength training

2-3 times per week for metabolism boost and muscle definition. Target abs, hips, back and thighs.

Cut back refined carbs

Limit sugar, processed grains, and high fructose foods that drive fat storage.

Up protein intake

Eat 0.5-1 grams of protein per pound of body weight to support lean muscle mass.

Manage stress

Chronic stress raises cortisol which deposits fat in the belly. Make time to unwind.

Optimize sleep

Aim for 7-9 hours per night. Poor sleep disrupts metabolic and hormone regulation.

Stay hydrated

Drink at least 64 ounces of water per day minimum to reduce bloating and fat accumulation.

Consistency with healthy lifestyle habits is key for long-lasting belly fat reduction. Avoid relying on unproven quick fixes.


In summary, emerging evidence suggests low progesterone may promote increased belly fat, especially at menopause. Normal aging, weight gain, stress, and conditions like PCOS can reduce progesterone and potentially shift fat storage patterns. However, the direct causal links are still being investigated.

Testing progesterone along with other hormones provides insight if a deficiency exists. Combining natural ways to raise progesterone with proper diet, exercise and stress reduction may help optimize hormones and combat abdominal fat storage. For some women, progesterone therapy under medical supervision may be appropriate. But a full lifestyle approach gives the best chance at long-term belly fat loss success.