Two of the most common questions I get are “How do I lengthen my luteal phase?” and “How do I lengthen my cycle in general?” Great questions indeed because I am personally familiar with the issue of having a too-short luteal phase and the suffering it causes me and the people around me (hee hee).
How long should the Luteal Phase be?
The third phase of a woman’s menstrual cycle is known as the Luteal Phase – the time between ovulation and the start of your period. It is during this time that fertilization and implantation occurs (if one is trying to get pregnant). It’s the longest phase of your cycle and should be between 10-14 days. If it’s less than 10 days you may have what is called Luteal Phase Defect, which is a common cause of infertility for women. Luckily it is also an issue that can be addressed for most women through natural therapies.
A quick side note: If your luteal phase is longer than 14 days, you may not be ovulating regularly. This could be because of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or another issue that is causing anovulatory cycles. I’ll post more on this next week 🙂
Naturally, any disruption in your luteal phase can be cause for concern. Not only does it affect your menstrual cycle on a whole, it ultimately can affect your fertility. The reason for this is that a luteal phase less than 10 days does not give the uterus sufficient time to establish a cushy lining for a fetus and therefore will cause a miscarriage if fertilization does occur.
So, what causes a short Luteal Phase?
There are a couple of reasons behind a shorter than normal luteal phase but the most common is low progesterone. Progesterone is produced throughout the entire menstrual cycle but it’s levels peak during the luteal phase. It is needed for building and preserving the uterine lining during the luteal phase and maintaining a pregnancy during the first trimester. If progesterone does not elevate enough after ovulation or if it drops too soon before your period, you may have a luteal phase defect (LPD).
What are the main causes of low progesterone?
- Stress (oh yes!) – When we are chronically stressed, our adrenal glands produce too much cortisol. You might not think there is a connection between cortisol and progesterone but they are intimately linked. Cortisol’s production comes first before all other hormone production (in particular progesterone) and it blocks progesterone receptors. Double whammy!
- Low or no ovulation – after ovulation occurs, the follicle in the ovary produces progesterone. Essentially, ovulation is the catalyst for progesterone production so it’s safe to say that if you’re not ovulating regularly, there will be inadequate progesterone.
- Low thyroid – if your thyroid is not producing adequate thyroid hormone, you will not make enough progesterone. The reason for this is that you need a certain amount of thyroid hormone to make pregnenolone (the mother hormone to progesterone) which then makes progesterone.
There are other just as serious issues and conditions that are linked to low progesterone:
- Endometriosis – this condition affects approximately 10% of women in the United States and is the number one cause of pelvic pain. A study conducted in 1989 found that nearly half the participants with endometriosis had either progesterone levels or a short luteal phase.
- Anxiety and panic attacks – progesterone acts like a natural valium, in that it helps to keep us calm, so it makes sense that low progesterone may cause anxiety and even panic attacks in some women.
- PMS – this is of course related to #2, but PMS includes over 100 different physical and emotional symptoms that are debilitating for millions of women each month.
So, now that you are all in the know about low progesterone and short luteal phases, you probably want to know what to do about them!
Luteal Phase Defect/Low Progesterone Solutions:
Your diet is the foundation for optimal hormonal health so you always want to start there. Supplements and botanicals that are proven effective are another awesome addition to your health protocol. I’ve also mentioned some additional practices you can implement in addition to the food and supplements.
#1 Vitamin C – this is the only vitamin that has been shown to increase progesterone levels in women. Foods rich in vitamin C are bell peppers, broccoli, brussel sprouts, papaya, strawberries and oranges. The daily recommended dosage is a measly 75mg but you should be aiming for 750mg/day of this vitamin. If you choose to supplement, make sure you get a high quality product that is derived from camu camu berries (the highest source of vitamin c on the planet). Vitamin C is water soluble so any excess will be excreted.
#2 Eat your leafy green veggies – kale, collard greens, spinach, swiss chard and mustard greens should be an everyday indulgence! Leafy green vegetables are high in the B-complex vitamins which are essential for hormone regulation. They are also super high in magnesium and calcium, which helps with many physicalsymptoms associated with PMS & low progesterone. Focus on getting 2-4 cups of cooked and raw leafies into your diet each day. Trust me you will quickly see and feel a difference if you get this amount of greens into your life! 🙂
#3 Essential fatty acids – in particular, Omega-3 fatty acids. Good sources of omega-3’s are wild-caught salmon and halibut, sardines, walnuts and chia seeds.
#4 Adequate dietary cholesterol – All steroid hormones including progesterone, are synthesized from pregnenolone, which is derived from cholesterol. So you want to make sure you have adequate consumption of dietary cholesterol from foods such as organic grass fed animal protein, pastured eggs and grass-fed butter.
#1 Vitex (Chasteberry) – a native to Greece and Italy, vitex has been used for centuries to treat a wide range of female health conditions. Numerous studies show that it helps to restore normal progesterone levels by increasing the production of luteinizing hormone which prompts ovulation, ultimately increasing progesterone production. Vitex is available in capsules or tincture and the standard dosage is 1000mg/day. I like Fertility Blend, a proprietary blend of Vitex and other vitamins & minerals that has been proven to raise progesterone. You can read my blog post about Vitex here.
#2 Saffron – yes, the same spice that you use in the kitchen. Saffron has been found to be effective in addressing symptoms of low progesterone such as painful periods, PMS and even depression. All you need is just 15mg/day of this bright yellow beauty.
#3 Vitamin B6 – While the B-Complex vitamins have a profound effect on hormonal health, it is vitamin B6 that has been found to be most effective on the luteal phase. The suggested dose is 50-100mg a day, but no more than that as an excess has been found to cause nerve toxicity. I also suggest taking it in addition to a B-complex supplement since all the B’s work synergistically.
#1 Charting your period – I highly recommend using the Fertility Awareness Method to chart your cycle. This will show you how long your luteal phase is in each cycle and help you determine if there is an issue. You might also consider buying a product called the Lady Comp (expensive but worth it!) which can help you determine if your cycles are regular.
#2 Acupuncture – there are a number of reasons why acupuncture works to smooth out hormonal imbalances. Many women report regulated cycles and increased fertility after doing weekly acupuncture sessions. I recommend an acupuncture session once a week for at least three months to see if it works for you.
#3 Hang out with your girlfriends – spending time with your gal pals reduces stress and lowers cortisol levels. As I mentioned above, lowering cortisol is the key to boosting progesterone production. So make it a priority every week to get together with your peeps!
I recommend implementing foods, supplements and practices over a period of 3-6 cycles. You may notice changes sooner but on average, women require this amount of time to see positive effects. When progesterone is in balance all is well in the world. You have regular periods, your cycles are anywhere from 25-35 days, there is no spotting or flooding, your weight remains stable throughout your cycle, and you are naturally fertile. Yay!
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