Do you ovulate?
Ovulation is the release of an egg from your ovary and is an important event because it's how you progress through all the menstrual cycle phases. It's also how you make progesterone.
Progesterone is a steroid reproductive hormone that is produced by the corpus luteum in your ovary after ovulation, during the luteal phase. A healthy period requires progesterone, and therefore requires ovulation.
During the follicular phase of your menstrual cycle, which can last from 7 to 21 days, your follicles are racing to ovulation (their lifespan is actually much longer than these 2-3 weeks; they've been growing and maturing for months).
At the end of the follicular phase one of these follicles swells and then ruptures to release an egg. This release of the egg is ovulation. The swelling takes several hours, while the rupture lasts only a few minutes. The ruptured follicle turns into a corpus luteum, a temporary endocrine gland which makes progesterone. Your luteal phase is determined by the lifespan of the corpus luteum, and usually lasts between 11-16 days. At the end of your luteal phase your corpus luteum will shrink, your progesterone levels will drop, stimulating your uterus lining to contract and shed it's lining.
So how do you know if you ovulate?
If you use an app to track your period, that's not enough. Period apps assume you ovulate, they don't know for sure. The two ways to know for sure are by using the Fertility Awareness Method or testing your progesterone levels. You can use the Fertility Awareness Method and track your your basal body temperature first thing in the morning throughout your cycle (progesterone will increase your body temperature). You can also test your progesterone levels mid-phase or throughout your entire cycle (the DUTCH dried urine test is what I use with my clients).
What happens if you don't ovulate?
An Anovulatory cycle is when you do not ovulate. Since you do not ovulate, your body does not form a corpus luteum and therefore you do not make progesterone. You can still bleed during an anovulatory cycle because your uterine lining will have to shed after being thickened by the estrogen your follicles made. An anovulatory cycle is like a long follicular phase with bleeding in between. Anovulatory cycles are normal to have every once in a while. When they occur cycle after cycle they become a problem.
You can also have a short luteal phase, which results in less progesterone. Short luteal phases lasts less than 11 days (you can determine this by taking your basal body temperature and/or counting the days between ovulation and when you get your period). Stress is the most common reason for a short luteal phase.
What happens when you have an anovulatory cycle or short luteal phase?
A short luteal phase will result in low progesterone and estrogen excess which, over time, can result in heavy periods, fibroids, hair loss, acne, period pain (cramps), PCOS, perimenopause, premenstrual bleeding, and early periods.
An anovulatory cycle can cause heavy bleeding, prolonged periods (lasting longer than 7 days), late periods, early periods, abnormal timing of fertile mucus, mid-cycle bleeding, premenstrual bleeding.
So as you can tell from the list of symptoms above, progesterone is super important when it comes to having a healthy period.
Remember at the start of this email when I said your follicles have been growing and maturing for months? Your follicles have a hundred day journey to ovulation, which means anything that affects your follicles during this time period will affect your cycle later - resulting in low progesterone. You need healthy follicles in order to have a healthy ovulation, healthy corpus luteum and an optimal amount of progesterone.
Over those 100 days there are several different things that can affect your follicles. Every body is different and my recommendations for each client will never be the exact same - but here are some general lifestyle changes you can make in order to support your follicle health.
Reduce inflammation in the body - one way this can be done is by reducing inflammatory foods (this differs for everyone, but if you know you are sensitive to certain foods it's super important to eliminate them from your diet). Less inflammation = better ovulation = more progesterone. Less inflammation will enhance the sensitivity of your hormone receptors in your cells.
Reduce alcohol. Alcohol reduces the soothing effect of progesterone.
Reduce stress, or work to offset it. Adrenaline will block progesterone's receptors (yikes). Over the long term stress will deplete progesterone levels (yes, that means if you are super stressed now, it can affect your period in a few weeks or next month).
There is SO much more I can say about progesterone and what you can do to increase levels, but for the sake of not making this blog too long I'll stop here for today.
Next week I'll be talking about estrogen in more detail and the follicular phase of your cycle. Having estrogen dominance (which can mean an excess of estrogen or a normal amount of estrogen but low progesterone) can also cause issues such as heavy periods, breast tenderness, short cycles, PMS and fibroids. For an overview of why PMS is common, NOT normal check out last week's blog here. And if you want to get my newest content before I publish it on my blog, hop on my email list here.