Progesterone and Stroke

Progesterone helps rats recover better from a stroke and likely does the same for humans.

progesterone_stroke.jpgWe’ve known for years that giving progesterone to people with head trauma helps them recover better, but new research is showing that progesterone may also help stroke victims, and likely protects against stroke.

Progesterone Improves the Outcome of Head Trauma
Human studies, originally done at Emory University by Dr. Donald G. Stein, were based on the observation that females recover better from head injury than males. Emergency room doctors at Emory began to give head injury patients, men and women, injections of progesterone. Tracking the progress of these patients clearly showed that they recovered more quickly and completely than their non-treated counterparts. Subsequent research by others has confirmed this.

The human studies inspired further research that looks more deeply into how progesterone affects the brain on the cellular level. It was discovered not only that progesterone affects the brain, but that it’s made in the brain and in the central nervous system, and plays a key role in maintaining the protective myelin sheath that covers nerves. Other research has shown that progesterone is produced in the brain’s glial cells and neurons, probably from cholesterol.

Progesterone and Stroke Research
Two studies published in the past year studied the effect of progesterone given to rats in whom strokes were induced. In both, the rats treated with progesterone had less brain damage and better recovery than those not treated. In one, cellular analysis showed that rats treated with progesterone had a healthier blood brain barrier, and higher levels of brain biochemicals that reduce inflammation and swelling. One of these studies was co-authored by Dr. Stein, who did the original progesterone and brain injury research, and we can only hope he is now moving on to human research with progesterone and stroke!

Progesterone, Vitamin D and Stroke
Another intriguing rodent study co-authored by Stein showed that vitamin D-deficient rats did worse after a stroke, with or without progesterone, but that giving them vitamin D and progesterone shortly after the stroke improved recovery dramatically.

This Does Not Apply to Synthetic Progestins!
It’s important to note that these findings do not apply to the synthetic progestins such as medroxyprogesterone acetate, aka Provera. In fact, evidence suggests that progestins increase the risk of stroke, and increase the damage done by a stroke.

The Bottom Line
Yes, if a loved one had a stroke, I would rub progesterone cream on them for days. That’s the bottom line.


Cekic M, Cutler SM, Vanlandingham JW, Stein DG, “Vitamin D deficiency reduces the benefits of progesterone treatment after brain injury in aged rats,” Neurobiol Aging 2009 May 29.

Ishrat T, Sayeed I, Atif F, Stein DG, “Effects of progesterone administration on infarct volume and functional deficits following permanent focal cerebral ischemia in rats,” Brain Res. 2009 Feb 27;1257:94-101.

Nilsen J, Brinton RD, “Divergent impact of progesterone and medroxyprogesterone acetate (Provera) on nuclear mitogen-activated protein kinase signaling,” Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2003 Sep 2;100(18):10506-11.

Wang J, Jiang C, Li X et al, “The protective mechanism of progesterone on blood-brain barrier in cerebral ischemia in rats,” Brain Res Bull. 2009 Aug 14;79(6):426-30.

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