When discussing the menstrual cycle, many people instantly think of a regular period as the main indicator of normalcy. But the part that comes before the shedding of the uterine lining plays an equally important role: ovulation. How does the ovulatory cycle affect women’s overall wellness, and why is it important we stay paying closer attention to it? Keep reading to learn more.
What Happens During Ovulation?
Ovulation is when a woman’s ovary releases an egg. If this egg gets fertilized by sperm, pregnancy is likely to develop. If the egg remains unfertilized, it will shed with the uterine lining through your period.
But just like the rest of the female reproductive cycle, there are hormonal factors that also come with ovulation. Ovulation and progesterone are directly linked, and both are vital factors in a woman’s health.
After ovulation, the ovaries produce progesterone, the hormone responsible for fertility and pregnancy. Progesterone is made by the corpus luteum. If there isn’t enough progesterone produced by the body, infertility and miscarriage can occur.
Because ovulation is the key contributor to natural progesterone release, a lack of ovulation means a woman is missing out on essential hormone levels her body needs.
Listen to Georgie Kovacs, Dr. Jerilynn Prior, and Dr. Lara Briden discuss why ovulation is critical for women’s health: click here.
Ovulation and Anovulation
Just as estrogen, the “female hormone”, needs to be in balance for a healthy cycle, so do progesterone levels. Estrogen and progesterone imbalances are quite common today, affecting 50% of women. Each of these imbalances poses different symptoms, which you can read more about here.
Women need to understand anovulatory symptoms just as much as ovulatory ones. Each affects your cycle and overall health.
Signs of Ovulation
What are the signs of healthy ovulation?
Regular cycles (periods are consistently 28-31 days apart).
Rise in basal body temperature (BBT).
Changes in cervical fluid (it becomes an egg-white consistency).
Higher sex drive.
Ovulation pain (discomfort or a slight twinge in an ovary).
There are at-home ovulation tests and trackers that can help you determine ovulation. If you have irregular ovulation or periods, talk to your doctor.
Learn more ovulation signs and cycle tracking tips from Fempower Health.
Anovulation Symptoms and Signs
Anovulation is when an egg doesn’t get released from the ovary in a cycle, and a woman therefore skips ovulation. It’s normal for many women to experience an anovulatory cycle on rare occasions, but it becomes a health concern when it’s frequent.
Many health professionals assume anovulation only happens in women with irregular periods, but women can experience anovulation with regular periods without knowing it. It’s important for women to know the signs:
Absence of periods but no pregnancy
Lack of cervical fluid
No increase in BBT during predicted ovulation time
Since the rise of progesterone causes BBT to rise 0.5 to 1 degree Fahrenheit for a sustained period of time, tracking body temperature is one key indicator of ovulation (or lack thereof).
The Importance of Progesterone
Progesterone drastically impacts the regulation of bone density, sleep quality, tissue differentiation, metabolism, heart health, and more. It also works to counterbalance the effects of estrogen in the body.
“Estrogen is important, but it’s powerful. It needs to be reined in by progesterone.” - Dr. Jerilynn Prior
It’s known that progesterone plays an important role in bone health. Estrogen slows bone loss; progesterone increases bone formation.
Regular progesterone helps the body produce sleep hormones, contributing to a more restful night’s sleep.
Progesterone is the hormone that prepares the endometrium (uterine lining) for pregnancy and helps the proper function of other vital tissues in the breasts, brain, and throughout the central nervous system.
Post-ovulation progesterone has an important impact on metabolism. It contributes to the change in appetite women experience the week before their period. Low progesterone, a hormone imbalance common in women’s healthcare today, can cause weight fluctuations.
While there’s still not enough research on how progesterone affects the heart, it’s been studied that natural progesterone aids in a healthy heart. Synthetic progesterone (progestin) can have a negative effect if it binds to different receptors.
Do Some Women Lack Progesterone?
For women with anovulation or hormone imbalances, it can be harder for their bodies to produce enough progesterone. There are several reasons why they may lack health levels of this hormone. These include:
Hormonal birth control
Underlying health issues (such as PCOS)
The body works hard to keep everything in balance. If a woman’s body is under stress or illness, it’s often unable to provide the energy or nutrients it needs to ovulate. Reproductive functions can get put “on hold” if the body senses it’s unsafe to conceive or survive.
“Women make estrogen easily. But progesterone is harder to make. And ironically, we need a much bigger amount of progesterone than we do estrogen.” - Dr. Lara Briden
Browse the Spotify Playlist with episodes featuring Women’s Foundations and health experts.
What does a Normal Cycle Look Like?
A healthy cycle lets a woman adapt and grow resilience in her environment. Starting from adolescence, ovulation can take up to twelve years to maintain normal consistency.
Signs of a normal menstrual cycle:
Regular signs of ovulation
No issues with conception
Pregnancy gives you a big dose of progesterone and is healthy
Navigating peri-Menopause in a safe way where you don’t have to lose your uterus
If there are any issues, get your hormones checked and talk with your doctor.
Want to learn more about women’s hormones? Listen to the Fempower Health episodes all about Hormones and Hormonal Health.
Visit the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research (CEMCOR) to stay up to date with Dr. Jerilynn Prior’s findings!