One subject that comes up regularly with preconception and fertility clients is a Luteal Phase Defect (LPD) also known as a shortened luteal phase. It is vitally important that if you are trying for a baby to get your luteal phase to a decent length to maximise your chances of conception.
However, it is also important for your health to ensure that your body is getting enough progesterone which is essential for long term health including hormonal health, bone health, heart health and breast health.
What Is Luteal Phase Defect?
Your Luteal Phase is the phase between ovulation and menstruation (find out more about your menstrual cycle in this post). It should be around 14 days long, with 12 being the minimum length in the healthy range. This is because your progesterone levels need to rise enough to ensure the egg will survive until a placenta has grown.
If your luteal phase is shorter than this, your progesterone levels may not be high enough to the implanted embryo alive. Progesterone tells the thyroid to ramp up metabolic activity and increases your Basal Body Temperature (BBT), and matures the womb lining (endometrium) which can are both necessary for the early days for the developing foetus.
And as your progesterone is important for optimal thyroid, bone, heart and breast health, it is important that even if you are not interested in having a baby or having more children, that you still ensure you have good progesterone levels for the full amount of time.
What Can You Do About Luteal Phase Defect?
There are number of things that can help with lengthening the luteal phase. Here are a few below:
1. Reduce or Offset Your Stress
This is the most important of all the things you can do. If you do not get your stress hormones such as cortisol in check, this will create a problem with all your other hormones. High cortisol causes blood sugar instability, it blocks your progesterone receptors and decreases progesterone production. It also increases inflammation in the body which in turn stops us from absorbing our nutrients in our food properly.
We often say that we can’t do much about stress but, there are a lot of things you can say no to and you can also offset stress by doing nourishing activities. You can find out more about how stress affects your cycle in more detail in this post.
2. Balance Your Blood Sugar Levels
We need to ovulate regularly in order to create enough progesterone each cycle. It is thought between 5% and 10% of women of reproductive age have Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and the number of women who have blood sugar instability is likely to be higher still.
When we have blood sugar instability, it does a number of things, causes a stress response (as mentioned in point 1 above), triggers cravings for all the wrong foods, and yes we have all been there, 3pm chocolate cake anyone? It can also lead to higher blood insulin levels, which in turns to our ovaries producing more testosterone instead of oestrogen. Think increased facial hair, thinning hair, acne and lack of ovulation in the long run.
If you aren’t sure whether your blood sugar levels are stable, then ask yourself this: how soon after eating are you hungry again? You should be able to make it through the morning or afternoon without a snack to pick you up. And of course you can start charting your blood sugar levels too, which is by far the most accurate way of knowing.
If you think you need to balance your blood sugar levels, then you can start on the following tips: stick to lower glycemic index foods in (anything in the range below 55). And limit the mid ranges of the moderate range (56-70 on the index). Glycemic Index (GI) is a measure of how quickly your body breaks down carbohydrates. The higher the GI number, the more it is likely to cause you a blood sugar issues. I like this chart as it is traffic lighted to give you a quick idea of what foods are lower and moderate GIs.
Ensure you eat enough protein, fat and good quality fibre with your meals to keep you full and satiated for longer.
3. Get Your Oestrogen Levels In Check
One of the biggest issues isn’t that your progesterone levels are too low, it is more likely that your progesterone to oestrogen ratio is low, which leads to oestrogen dominance. Check out more about oestrogen dominance here, but do any of these sound familiar?
- Heavy periods
- Painful periods
- Anxiety/Depression/Mood swings
- Sore breasts
- Brain fog
If you have a number of these symptoms it maybe worth looking at getting your oestrogen levels in check. The quickest way you can do this with diet and lifestyle is to exercise regularly and eat at least two portions of leafy green vegetables a day (cooked if you have thyroid issues).
4. Check Out Your Thyroid
Your thyroid health is essential for your progesterone and menstrual health and your progesterone is essential for your thyroid health. It’s a bit of a vicious circle. It is worth getting your thyroid health checked if your primary care physician will do so and get copies of your test results.
A functional practitioner can help you see the difference between clinical sub thyroid issues (the point at which you are diagnosed) and optimal ranges that show your thyroid is working at its best levels.
But if you suspect your thyroid may be an issue, it is worth getting it tested and starting to cut out inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy and soy. Which brings us nicely onto number 5.
5. Love Your Gut
Our gut is essential for health and hormonal balance. One of the key things we can do for nearly every single health issue is look after our gut. Most of our serotonin (up to 90%) is manufactured in the gut and also around 20% of our T4>T3 (thyroid hormone conversion happens in the gut).
Gut health issues can lead to auto-immune thyroid problems such as Hashimotos thyroiditis, digestive issues and re-absorbing hormones such as oestrogen leading back to oestrogen dominance.
There are a number of things you can do to improve your gut health such as drink plenty of water throughout the day, each plenty of vegetables throughout the day, introduce fermented foods into your diet, get an abdominal massage such as Fertility &. Womb Massage Therapy. And most importantly: cut out inflammatory foods (the more processed the more inflammatory is a good rule of thumb).
6. Consider Vitamin C Supplementation
Vitamin C is the only vitamin known to increase progesterone levels and lengthen the luteal phase. Vitamin C can be found in guavas, kiwi fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, oranges, papaya, broccoli, tomato, mangetout (snow peas) and kale.
You can also supplement with Vitamin C, I like supplements derived from camu camu berries and in my training we were taught to look at supplementing around 1000mg a day but obviously, do your own research and see what you feel is best for you.
So there you have it, six ways to improve luteal phase defect and help you reach hormonal harmony and more manageable menstruation.