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Understanding the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle & how to optimise it

Understanding the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle & how to optimise it

The luteal phase is the time of your menstrual cycle that begins after ovulation and lasts until the moment your period starts.

During the first part of your cycle (the follicular phase), your ovaries produce follicles. This is a predominantly oestrogen-dominant time of your cycle. Then, ovulation is triggered by follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH). This typically occurs between day 12 or 13 of a 28-day cycle, but it really depends on your natural cycle length, which on average is longer than 28 days. In other words, the exact timeline is unique to you.

After ovulation, we step into our luteal phase. This is when the follicle that released the egg closes up and forms this Corpus Luteum. Its primary function is to produce progesterone and to prepare the uterus for pregnancy and implantation of the embryo.

During the luteal phase, your progesterone levels are peaking, and your uterus is preparing for the implantation of an embryo and pregnancy.

Imagine the first half of the cycle as throwing clean sheets on the bed, and the second half of your cycle is actually making the bed (that's what progesterone does).

During this time you become slightly more insulin resistant, which means there's a higher level of glucose circulating through your blood, and your body temperature rises. You can find out if you're in your luteal phase by tracking your basal body temperature, meaning the temperature you are first thing in the morning, before you even get out of bed.

Typically, the luteal phase lasts between 12 and 16 days.

If pregnancy hasn't happened, then you will start your period. The first day you start bleeding is considered day one of your menstrual cycle, and is an indication that the whole process will begin all over again.

A short luteal phase is shorter than 10 days after ovulation and may be called a luteal phase defect. This can occur if progesterone levels don't peak, you have anovulatory cycles, or your body is not producing enough progesterone.

With a natural increase in progesterone, your body temperature may feel warmer. You may also feel more energetic, since your cells are slightly more insulin resistant during this time, causing an increase in circulating blood sugar.

To keep your blood sugar balanced, you'll want to be careful taking in any additional glucose or carbohydrates until the last few days of your cycle—i.e. before your period starts.

Some women will feel PMS symptoms during the luteal phase, especially if there are lower than optimal progesterone levels. Some may even experience symptoms of anxiety and depression, bloating, water retention, some brain fog, memory loss, mood swings, sleep disturbance, and a decrease in libido.

You typically get a peak in libido during ovulation and a decrease in libido during the luteal phase.

Fertility peaks at the time of ovulation, and sperm is viable starting 36 hours of the time of intercourse and up to five days in the genital tract. Considering the ovulation cycle, there's approximately a five-day period within the luteal phase that you can get pregnant.

There are several ways to optimise the luteal phase, from food to exercise and more.

Since your body is preparing for pregnancy during the luteal phase, it naturally has higher glucose levels and more cravings. Eat healthy, high-quality proteins. Healthy fats, like olive oil and avocado, and lots of dark leafy and microgreens to support the gut microbiota and hormone metabolism would also be beneficial. Filling up on protein, fats, and fibre will keep you fuller longer and may keep unwanted cravings at bay.

Since you may have more energy during the luteal phase, you might try high-intensity workouts. Other powerful workouts, like strength training, may also be ideal during this time.

That said, you'll also want to incorporate a stress-relieving activity, like yoga, because cortisol drains progesterone, which can put a strain on this hormonal phase.

During every phase, but in the luteal phase especially, you'll want to avoid increasing your cortisol levels. Meditative practice would be beneficial, continuing to focus on what you're grateful for, going for a long walk, and scheduling more play and pleasure time.

You'll also want to avoid high-carbohydrate foods and simple sugars, since your blood glucose will already be higher.

The Vintage Avenue Team x

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