Correcting Short Cycles, Hormones, & the Luteal Phase
Menstrual cycle balance and successfully achieving pregnancy go hand-in-hand. Which is to say, a balanced, regular cycle will abet your chances of conceiving - as well as your odds of maintaining a pregnancy during those first critical weeks after an egg is fertilized. This article will explore the relation between cycle regularity, hormonal balance, and fertility and offer a range of suggestions for helping you promote balance during your monthly cycle. (Note that natural fertility supplements, like FertilAid, are effective at normalizing a menstrual cycle to help achieve pregnancy.)
A clockwork menstrual cycle lasts, on average, of about 28 days. However, while a 28 day cycle is considered "typical", many women have regular cycles that are either shorter or longer than 28 days - while other women experience irregular cycles that may erratically oscillate between the long, the short, or the typical.
For women who have erratic cycles or particularly long or particularly short cycles, the odds of successfully achieving a pregnancy can be sharply affected. Let's briefly look at how the timeline of a menstrual cycle works to get a better understanding of the issue.
The menstrual cycle is divided into two phases - the ovulatory phase and the luteal phase. The ovulatory consists of the first two weeks (based on a 28-day cycle) leading up to ovulation. During this phase, reproductive hormones prepare the body to ovulate, or release an egg. At the same time, circulation increases to the reproductive organs in order to build the uterine lining (endometrium) for the implantation of a fertilized egg. Following ovulation (around cycle day 14), other hormones kick in that support a "fertile environment" for the egg, that maintain the integrity of the endometrium, and that warm the body to nurture/sustain a newly-achieved pregnancy. The second half the cycle is called the luteal phase. If a pregnancy does not occur, these hormones eventually subside, the endometrium begins to disintegrate and shed, and a woman experiences menstruation around cycle day 28. And the process repeats itself...
The first two weeks of the menstrual cycle are governed by the hormone estrogen. Following ovulation, estrogen decreases and the hormone progesterone (which is secreted by the corpus luteum) increases to support and "maintain" a possible pregnancy. The balance between the two hormones is key for predictable ovulation and overall cycle regularity.
Short Cycles and Luteal Phase Problems
While hormonal imbalances can impact both phases of the menstrual cycle, a common issue is related to "short cycles". For women who experience irregular (or regularly short) menstrual cycles, the primary issue may relate to problems with the luteal phase. Which is to say, possible shortcomings in progesterone production during this post-ovulatory time frame.
As indicated above, an average cycle lasts around 28 days. Therefore, the luteal phase "should" have a duration of about two weeks (approximately 12 - 16 days). If you are bbt charting and can determine the day you ovulate (by using a basal thermometer), then you can determine the length of the luteal phase. If this second phase has a regular duration of 10 or 11 days or less, you may be experiencing luteal phase issues relating to imbalances in the hormone progesterone. Women who have luteal phases that are regularly short may be experiencing what is called "luteal phase defect", or LPD. (Again, natural fertility supplements, like FertilAid, are effective in addressing luteal phase issues in trying-to-conceive women.)
The problem with a "luteal phase problem" is that a short second half of the cycle can compromise the integrity of the endometrium. This has a few possible consequences. First, if the uterine lining is not yet properly developed ("built-up" with secretory endometrial tissue) than implantation of a fertilized egg may not be successful and pregnancy cannot be achieved. Second, even if implantation does in fact take place, maintenance of a pregnancy over the next few days may fail and early menstruation may ensue.
Now, while luteal phase defect may result from issues with progesterone during the second half of your cycle, pinpointing "the cause" of the issue may be more complicated than simply attributing "progesterone deficiency" to the corpus luteum. First, while the luteal phase represents the second half of the cycle, luteal phase problems may have their origin during the first phase. Issues may in fact stem from problems with another hormone called FSH, which stimulates follicle production during the first days of the cycle. In short, deficiencies in progesterone may evolve from earlier hormonal imbalances with FSH (and perhaps, consequently, with the estrogens). At-home FSH tests can be used to determine if this may be an issue for you.
In almost all respects, reproductive hormones and processes do not "work" as discrete functions, but rather as a complex network of interactive and mutually-dependent operations. Thus with luteal phase defect, it is not possible to just point at one function (progesterone production) without taking into account other dependent factors. In fact, other unique variables relating to the estrogens may equally impact progesterone production.
Today, home FSH tests are available for female fertility screening. High FSH levels may indicate struggling follicle production and therefore the possibility of imbalance issues that may impact progesterone production of the corpus luteum. To clarify the relation, the follicle - which contains the developing egg - becomes the corpus luteum following ovulation. If you receive a positive result on an FSH test, you are advised to talk with your doctor about possible implications and corrective treatments or lifestyle changes. A positive on an FSH test does not mean you are infertile, only that the body is "stressed out" in its attempt to develop a mature egg.
In summary: If you are experiencing a short cycle (and in particular, a very short luteal phase) than you may want to consult with a doctor regarding tracking down the issue or pursuing possible treatment options. As a first step, you may consider taking FertilAid to encourage optimal hormonal balance.
Among naturopathic or health and wellness options, its almost needless to say that, above all, a healthy menstrual cycle resolves from a healthy diet, proper weight/fitness, and a "fertile" lifestyle. Hormonal balance is dependant on balance in other spheres of health and wellness. Acupuncture and yoga are also excellent options for bringing the cycle into balance.
In addition to these concerns, other options may include fertility supplements that integrate herbs like vitex. Vitex has been shown to be helpful in bolstering cycle balance and bringing the hormones into phase - particularly progesterone.