Your Luteal phase is the part of your menstrual cycle from when you ovulate to your period. In healthy cycles, It should last around 13-14 days and is governed by progesterone production from your ovaries. Around ovulation, (usually cycle days 12-15) you should get a spike in your progesterone and it should remain elevated until your body signals that it is not pregnant, then a drop in your progesterone will trigger the shedding of your lining. If you are pregnant, your progesterone levels will stay elevated.
Now, if you are trying to conceive, and most of your cycles are shorter than 26 days, and you are ovulating on cycle day 14, your luteal phase could use a little support. During this phase, you need substantial progesterone to help secure your uterine lining to help promote implantation. Progesterone not only stabilizes the lining but along with estrogen, helps to thicken it. If you notice that your cycles are consistently shorter, specifically from ovulation to your period, then its time to address some underlying issues that may be affecting your luteal phase.
In Chinese Medicine, the uterine lining is VERY important to help support conception and a healthy baby. It’s where the embryo is first exposed to nutrients from the lining so it’s important to keep a healthy diet and be on a good prenatal. (Another blog on this coming soon)
The first and most important thing I have noticed clinically, is that managing your stress is one of the first and most important steps you can take. Stress lowers your production of progesterone and can be a huge factor in getting your progesterone in balance. So that goes without saying, stick to the basics of stress management: 8 hours of sleep, acupuncture, deep breathing exercises, and orgasms (yes- I said it and no, your husband didn’t tell me to write that), all can help lower your cortisol.
Although a full health assessment should be done before adding supplements to your routine, Chaste Tree Extract or Vitex have also been shown to help rebalance progesterone and lengthen luteal phases with little to no adverse reactions. We also know, that elevated levels of cortisol and prolactin have been shown to decrease the LH spike, and estrogen levels post-ovulation which would affect the endometrial growth. Like I said before, we love a thick and nutrient-dense uterine lining in Chinese Medicine, so these things could potentially impair an embryos ability to implant.
Lastly, exercise is a great way to lower your cortisol, but how much is too much? There is such thing as over-exercising which puts more stress on your body. It is no coincidence that I have a lot of marathon and cross-fit athletes in my practice who are actively trying to conceive with short luteal phases. Its important that you are doing the right amount of exercise for your condition and not over doing it. For instance, studies have shown that 30 minutes of HIIT workout may be really beneficial for PCOS patients, but that same 30 minutes of HIIT work out might be too much for my anovulatory patient who is under consuming calories.
These are all things that a seasoned health care provider can help you navigate and be sure to talk to them before starting or adding any supplements to your routine.
Dr. Lindsay Fox