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Can Over-the-Counter Progesterone Cream Prevent a Miscarriage?

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Updated May 15, 2014

Progesterone Cream

Many people make claims that over-the-counter progesterone creams can prevent miscarriage, but there is little evidence to support this claim and many creams do not even contain progesterone.

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Question: Can Over-the-Counter Progesterone Cream Prevent a Miscarriage?

Some researchers theorize that low progesterone could cause miscarriage in some women, particularly those who have had recurrent miscarriages. But does that mean that you should run out and buy progesterone cream from your local health food store?

Answer: Don't rush to take your wallet out.

If you don't already know, progesterone is a hormone associated with the menstrual cycle. Levels of progesterone rise after ovulation and fall just before you get your period; in pregnancy, the progesterone level should stay elevated.

Progesterone works to maintain the uterine lining and thus indirectly nourish the developing baby, so one theory is that low progesterone could mean an insufficient uterine lining. For this reason, some doctors prescribe progesterone supplements to women who have had miscarriages in the hopes that the supplements might reduce risk of miscarriage. The jury is still out on whether progesterone supplements actually work to prevent miscarriage.

Progesterone Creams

You may have seen progesterone creams on health food store shelves, or read online that they can boost your progesterone levels. These creams are available over the counter, thus circumventing the need to find a doctor who is onboard with prescribing progesterone supplements.

There's a ton of material on the Internet about progesterone creams, ranging from claims that they are the greatest thing since sliced bread to accusations that progesterone creams are absolutely worthless and a waste of money. (The creams are often marketed as a way to balance hormone levels for women who are facing menopause.)

So that raises the question...

Do Progesterone Creams Work?

For women considering progesterone because of miscarriages, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Some so-called progesterone creams are indeed absolutely worthless and a waste of money. Creams derived from wild yams do not contain any progesterone; they merely contain a chemical that can be converted to progesterone in a laboratory but that is not converted to progesterone in the body. It is not a good idea to buy wild yam cream with the idea of boosting your progesterone and preventing a miscarriage. It will not work.

Other progesterone creams on the market actually do contain real progesterone that can be absorbed by the body. However, these creams are highly variable in the amount of progesterone they contain. Some doctors have reported patients using the creams ending up with extremely high progesterone levels, some even 10 to 100 times the normal level found in the body. Other creams contain much smaller amounts, but with a lot of variability in how well it is absorbed. No studies have looked at how a baby might be affected if a mother has an extremely high progesterone level in pregnancy while using an unregulated progesterone cream.

Using over-the-counter progesterone creams is clearly something of a gamble. It's either worthless or potentially dangerous, and progesterone supplementation really should only be attempted with a doctor's approval. If you are working with a doctor, the best solution is to get a prescription for pharmaceutical grade progesterone so that you know the dose you are taking and you can have reasonable expectation that the progesterone is actually being absorbed.

The effectiveness of this, of course, is still contingent on whether or not progesterone supplements can make a difference at all -- a concept that is not proven to be fact. Although a few women may ultimately benefit from progesterone supplements if they have a problem in their ability to produce progesterone naturally, remember that the majority of one-time miscarriages and a significant number of recurrent miscarriage cases involve chromosomal abnormalities in the developing baby and other factors that would not be affected by low progesterone levels.

Sources:

Gorski, Timothy, "Wild yam cream threatens women's health." Nutrition Forum May 1997. Accessed 8 Mar 2008.

Hermann, Anne C., Anne N. Nafziger, Jennifer Victory, Robert Kulawy, Mario L. Rocci Jr, and Joseph S. Bertino, Jr., "Over-the-Counter Progesterone Cream Produces Significant Drug Exposure Compared to a Food and Drug Administration–Approved Oral Progesterone Product." Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 2005. Accessed 7 Mar 2008.

Oates-Whitehead, R.M., D.M. Haas, and J.A.K. Carrier, "Progestogen for preventing miscarriage." Cochrane Reviews Aug 2003. Accessed 8 Mar 2008.

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