Don’t get me wrong, periods are amazing. As a women’s health coach specializing in hormonal health, I’m a huge fan. But sometimes, we get so caught up with our monthly bleed that we forget about the most important aspect of our cycle.
We only experience a true menstrual cycle after ovulation, and this is only possible when our endocrine and reproductive systems are working properly. This is why anovulatory cycles (a bleed that occurs without ovulation) are an early warning sign of an underlying health problem.
Ovulation usually happens mid-cycle, except for ladies on hormonal birth control. Women on birth control do not ovulate nor have a period; instead they experience what is called a “withdrawal bleed.” The exception to this is sometimes the Mirena IUD, as 85% of women using the Mirena will ovulate by the second year.
Some women who do not take hormonal birth control can still experience anovulatory cycles due to various hormone imbalances caused by factors such as diet, lifestyle, and stress.
Side Note: If your cycle is longer than 36 days, you likely either experienced delayed ovulation, or did not ovulate at all.
3 Reasons Why Ovulation is Critical
You can’t get pregnant if you don’t ovulate, so if pregnancy is on your agenda, ovulation is a necessity! Even if you aren’t planning for a family now (or maybe ever), you should still want to be fertile because it's an indicator of good health.
Side Note: I recommend the Fertility Awareness Method (no it’s not the Rhythm Method!) for both pregnancy planning or avoidance. The Daysy thermometer is an excellent device for women not yet fully confident in their charting skills. If you’d like to learn more about charting, then pick up Lisa Hendrickson-Jack’s new book “The Fifth Vital Sign.”
2. Healthy Periods
Each month when you ovulate, a corpus luteum is created and it grows on the surface of your ovary. This is where all of your progesterone is produced.
Progesterone is responsible for lightening your periods, as it counteracts the effects of estrogen. If you are not ovulating, you won’t experience this surge in progesterone, and will most likely be in a state of estrogen dominance, which is a big culprit of heavy and painful periods.
Adequate levels of progesterone are also needed for a healthy luteal phase, and low levels can result in a Luteal Phase Defect (a luteal phase of 10 days or less). Oftentimes, this phenomenon is caused by stress and/or nutrient deficiencies. Stay tuned for some ways to boost progesterone later in the article!
3. Healthy Body and Mind
Progesterone is the calming hormone that helps us stay resilient against stress and also helps us sleep well. This is why women who don’t ovulate (especially women with PCOS) can often suffer from anxiety.
Progesterone is literally nature’s chill pill, so trust me, you want this!
Calming you down is not all that this super hormone can do! Progesterone nourishes our hair and nails by reducing androgens (male hormones), as well as boosts energy by stimulating the thyroid and the metabolism. And recent research has found that women who don’t ovulate experience bone loss at a faster rate than women who do ovulate, so progesterone is also a crucial component of preventing osteoporosis.
Signs of a Progesterone Deficiency
So how can we boost progesterone?
First of all, by ovulating! But in the meantime, read on for some effective strategies to boost progesterone naturally.
5 Tips to Boost Progesterone
1. Vitamin C
I usually recommend 1,000 mg a day to my clients. Not only has Vitamin C been shown to increase progesterone levels, but it has also been shown to reduce stress, which lowers cortisol. High cortisol will rob the body’s ability to make progesterone, so we really want to keep cortisol and stress levels balanced.
2. Healthy Fats
We need adequate amounts of healthy fats in our diets because all steroid hormones are formed from pregnenolone, which is made from cholesterol. Ideal sources are pastured eggs, coconut oil, grass-fed butter, wild caught salmon, and grass-fed animal protein.
Healthy fats also decrease inflammation, which in turn decreases the release of harmful chemicals in our bodies which can increase cortisol levels and inhibit ovulation.
Bonus: Healthy fats will make your hair and skin glow!
3. Eat Your Greens
We need B-complex vitamins as they are essential for hormone regulation. Leafy greens are high in these B-complex vitamins, so aim to get 2-4 cups of cooked and raw greens into your diet daily. Great options include spinach, watercress, broccoli sprouts, kale, dandelion greens, bok choy and arugula.
4. Vitex (Chasteberry)
Vitex is an herb that promotes ovulation by protecting your hypothalamus gland from stress and preventing your pituitary gland from making too much prolactin. Basically, it increases your levels of dopamine, which lowers your levels of prolactin. This ultimately makes your luteinizing hormone go up, which then makes you ovulate and produce progesterone!
A note of caution about Vitex: Please do not use vitex until you’ve been off of hormonal birth control for at least three months. I recommend 1,000mg a day as a single dose first thing in the morning before breakfast. Stop taking it on days 1-5 of your cycle, and then start again. Discontinue use after six months.
5. Seed Syncing (Seed Cycling)
Seed syncing is an ancient technique that can be used to bring back the balance of estrogen and progesterone. This method of seed rotation works by boosting estrogen levels in the first part of the cycle and progesterone levels in the second part.
The high contents of zinc in sesame seeds and vitamin E in sunflower seeds have been shown to stimulate progesterone production. By adding two tablespoons of sesame and sunflower seeds per day (found in Phase 2 of Food Period's Moon Bites or Moon Seeds!) in the luteal phase, we can naturally support our body’s ability to produce more progesterone.