Updated: Mar 12, 2022
After ovulation, the follicle that contains the egg that was released is recycled by your body. It becomes a temporary endocrine gland known as the Corpus Luteum, which secretes progesterone & causes it to rise, while estrogen declines. This part of your cycle is known as the Luteal Phase. It lasts 10-18 days, & during this time, estrogen is low & progesterone takes the wheel as the dominant hormone in your cycle. When a woman is pregnant, progesterone continues to rise…. But in a typical cycle, at the end of the luteal phase, progesterone lowers & menstruation begins, which starts your 21-35 day cycle all over again.
The Luteal Phase comes with a common challenge for about 90% of the female population: this is the part of your cycle when PMS happens.
If you suffer from PMS symptoms like increased stress, irritability, mood swings, lack of focus, bloating, cramps, breast tenderness, hormonal acne, or spotting before your period, or you want to begin assessing the health of your cycle, here’s what you need to know about your Luteal Phase:
The Power of Progesterone
Despite the bad reputation of PMS, progesterone is actually an AMAZING & vital hormone! First of all, it’s absolutely necessary for a healthy pregnancy because it maintains the uterine lining, allowing for implantation to occur & creating the first home for a future baby. Equally as important though, progesterone improves our health in so many ways! It has a balancing & normalizing effect to the way that estrogen proliferates or grows many systems of our body, for example…
Estrogen grows many tissues in the body, such as breast tissue, & progesterone normalizes it.
Estrogen aids in the formation of bones, while progesterone aids in maintenance & longevity.
Estrogen stimulates brain cells, then progesterone heals & maintains brain cells. Healthy progesterone levels also have many PMS-fighting benefits. It can be a natural mood stabilizer, a natural diuretic (shedding water weight), a natural muscle relaxer, & even increases your resting metabolism.
The Luteal Phase is more stable than The Follicular Phase
While the Luteal Phase is between 10 and 18 days long, your personal Luteal Phase remains very steady & doesn’t fluctuate more than about 1-2 days typically. Once you’ve identified how long your Luteal Phase is, the countdown is on until your period begins.
On the other hand, your Follicular Phase & ovulation can vary a lot! Your period arrives based on when ovulation occurs, followed by a stable luteal phase. That means that if you think your period is early or late, it actually means that the timing of ovulation is likely what changed. As a Fertility Awareness Educator, I teach women how to map their hormonal activity & understand the phases of their cycle with a standardized, objective approach. This means that you can learn how to monitor the health of your cycle & potential for fertility (to either avoid or achieve pregnancy) from the comfort of your own home! My clients are always instructed to measure & keep track of the length of their Luteal Phase as an important sign of health. This gives them the power to make proactive decisions about their health & fertility!
No Ovulation? No Luteal Phase
Women on hormonal birth control or with missing ovulation due to PCOS, hypothalamic amenorrhea, or other conditions do not have a Luteal Phase. This is because unless ovulation occurs, the Corpus Luteum cannot be formed. Missing ovulation– for any reason– stops your cycle & suppresses important hormonal activity. Without the ruptured follicle that happens during ovulation, the Corpus Luteum cannot be formed & therefor, there is no rise in progesterone or Luteal Phase. Many women with missing ovulation still have a bleed that resembles a period, but is actually a breakthrough bleed or a withdrawal bleed caused by low hormonal activity.
Luteal Phase Defects Can Signal Health Problems
Luteal Phase defects are problems or deficiencies in the Luteal Phase that can involve a wide variety of symptoms, such as….
Short Luteal Phase or significant change in length
Spotting between or before your period
Struggles with fertility or maintaining pregnancy
Insomnia or poor sleep/ recovery
These defects can be caused by stress, nutrient or hormone deficiency, thyroid disease, PCOS, overexercise, or low energy availability. By learning to chart your cycle with a standardized Fertility Awareness Based Method, you can become proactive about identifying & seeking support for Luteal Phase defects.
The Most Important Nutrients For Your Luteal Phase
There are a few fundamental ways to nourish your body during the Luteal Phase & encourage healthy progesterone levels. They’re easy to find & incorporate into meals intentionally to support hormonal health!
Healthy Fat: Sex hormones, including progesterone, are made from cholesterol. Including healthy fat in your meals & snacks helps you produce progesterone, stabilize your blood sugar, & keep you fuller & more satisfied longer. These include foods like avocado, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, & ghee.
Protein: Progesterone requires amino acids & because progesterone is slightly catabolic, which means it can break down protein faster than estrogen, it’s time to up your protein intake! Eat meat, fish, eggs, & legumes, working on getting an extra serving of protein every day– especially on days you exercise!
Vitamin C: Women who eat Vitamin C rich foods have better progesterone levels! Vitamin C is not only important for immunity, but also for fertility & recovery from stress. Whole food Vitamin C is best found in citrus, kiwi, bell peppers, broccoli, & spinach.
Magnesium: Magnesium supports many functions in the body! From mood, to digestion, to sleep, muscle recovery, & more, this important nutrient is vital for our cycles, especially in the Luteal Phase. Increase your magnesium intake with foods like dark chocolate (over 70% cacao), nuts, sweet potato, whole grains, banana, & avocado.
A Healthy Luteal Phase
So how do you know if your Luteal Phase is healthy or not? The normal length of a Luteal Phase is 10-18 days, but 12-15 days is most optimal. A healthy luteal phase will have no spotting before your period begins & little-to-no PMS symptoms (ideally completely PMS free). Your cervical mucus will be dry, or seemingly non-existent on most days (you may notice some towards the end), & will have a sustained rise in basal body temperature compared to pre-ovulatory & ovulatory temperatures. During this time, you might have a mini "nesting phase" & feel like cleaning, organizing, or rearranging. Work should feel focused, but you may not be as social or collaborative. Your attention to detail improves & you feel a healthy appetite increase. All of these signs indicate that you're not only healthy in this part of your cycle, but that your hormonal activity was likely very healthy earlier in your cycle as well! If you're struggling with your Luteal Phase, want to learn to chart your hormonal activity & cycle accurately, & want to improve your health as a woman, book a FREE 30-minute discovery call with Audrey S. Geyer to learn more about her services & offers.