The hormone progesterone may reduce the frequency and severity of hot flashes and night sweats, according to the results of a new study published in the journal Menopause.
Menopause is a normal change in a woman’s life that marks the end of the reproductive phase. A woman is considered to have completed menopause when she has experienced one year with no menstrual bleeding; however, menopausal symptoms may begin six months to 10 years before your last period and continue for months or years after.
For many women, the hot flashes and night sweats associated with menopause and post-menopause are uncomfortable and sometimes downright intolerable. In the past, estrogen has been a popular form of hormone therapy; however, estrogen carries an increased risk of stroke and cancer. Progesterone has been used in addition to estrogen in women who still have a uterus (in order to prevent abnormal uterine thickening), but few studies have evaluated the effects of progesterone when used alone.
This recent study included 133 healthy women age 44 to 62 who were one to ten years past final menstruation. The women were randomized to receive progesterone or placebo. The women recorded the frequency and duration of their hot flashes and night sweats for four weeks prior to the study and then 12 weeks during the study.
Prior to the study, the women taking progesterone reported experiencing an average of seven hot flashes and/or night sweats per day. After 12 weeks of progesterone, they reported an average of four per day. In fact, the women in the progesterone group reported twice the reduction in symptoms compared to the women in the placebo group. Furthermore, the women in the progesterone group reported that their symptoms were less severe after taking the pills.
The researchers aren’t sure how or why progesterone works to relieve menopausal symptoms—it may widen the body’s temperature zone or it may work as a sleep aid. Research will likely be ongoing to continue to evaluate the risks and benefits of hormone therapy with progesterone.
Hitchcock CL, Prior J. Oral micronized progesterone for vasomotor symptoms-a placebo-controlled randomized trial in healthy postmenopausal women. Menopause. Published early online: March 26, 2012. doi: 10.1097/gme.0b013e318247f07a