Hormones in Your Menstrual Cycle
For much of my menstruating life I wasn’t aware of the hormonal symphony going on in my body. All I understood was that my periods brought horrible pain.
When I was 17, I got on birth control pills, with little thought to how they actually worked. I had no idea that they were literally messing with my brain.
This lack of knowledge became a problem later in life when I was trying to conceive and was unaware of how that actually happened. In my mind it was a simple as: have sex, get pregnant. What else did I need to know? Ha.
What Happens When You Don’t Ovulate?
First and foremost, if you don’t ovulate then there’s no chance for pregnancy.
But even if you are not trying to conceive, it still benefits your body to ovulate, especially if you have endometriosis.
(*Please note the following info is only relevant if you are not taking birth control pills. See a previous post I did on how birth control works here.)
When ovulation doesn’t occur, progesterone is not produced. Instead, your ovaries continue to produce estradiol, the stimulating form of estrogen that feeds growths such as endometriosis.
As estradiol continues to pump out from your ovaries, this causes an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone, resulting in estrogen dominance. This is usually the case with endometriosis.
If you do not ovulate, then you may still experience bleeding that is often mistaken for menstruation. This anovulatory bleeding will be irregular, varying in flow, duration and schedule.
Without ovulation and resulting lack of progesterone to balance the effects of estrogen, your uterine lining continues to thicken. If this is the case, you may experience a delayed or unusually heavy period. This anovulatory bleeding is known as estrogen breakthrough bleeding.
What Prevents Ovulation?
#1. Low Estrogen
In the case of anovulation and low estrogen, your endometrium will be thin. If you have low estrogen in your follicular phase, your body will not receive the proper messages to ovulate. If this is the case, you may experience spotting between periods, light, frequent or short menstruation.
The conventional treatment options for endometriosis are estrogen suppressing drugs and birth control pills. Both of these options mess with your pituitary gland, stopping the signal to your ovaries to release estrogen. Once you turn off this signal, it takes time for your body to re-group and find homeostasis again, if that’s even possible.
Another reason for low estrogen is adrenal fatigue. Your adrenals produce pregnenolone, a precursor to both estrogen and progesterone. When your adrenals are tired, or you’re dealing with a lot of stress (internally or extrenally) then this precursor shifts instead to stress hormones.
#2. Ovarian Cysts
Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can form on your ovary. These can become obstacles for normal ovulation.
Follicular cysts are a pretty normal occurrence. Prior to ovulation, your ovaries produce follicles, which are like little cysts that contain an egg. This is usually small and bursts when your body releases the egg during ovulation. If they don’t burst then they continue to grow.
With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) cysts happen when eggs mature within sacs on your ovaries, but are not released. These cysts continue to grow with subsequent menstrual cycles causing irregular periods and infertility.
#3. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
New research suggests that NSAIDs inhibit ovulation and reduce progesterone levels. NSAIDs prevent the ovarian follicle from rupturing so it cannot release an ovum to be fertilized.
Examples of NSAID’s include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, etc. If you are taking these consistently then your chances for ovulation dramatically decreases.
#4. Low Thyroid Levels
Your thyroid hormone helps the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) released from your brain do its job. We need adequate T3 levels for ovulation to occur.
If you have an underactive thyroid then your basal body temperature is likely lower than it should be. This increases the risk of early miscarriage.
#5. Your Age
Perimenopause is a time when hormonal fluctuations happen. This can start in your thirties. As your sex hormones start to slow ovulation can cease or skip.
How Do You Know if You Ovulate?
The best way of detecting ovulation is to chart your menstrual cycle via daily morning basal body temperatures and natural fertility signs, including cervical fluid.
I’ve been charting my cycle via the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) for about five years. This practice helps me to see if my body is ovulating and it also helps me to predict when my period is coming (always a good thing to know!)
I wish that this method was taught to all women from an early age. There is great power in connecting to and understanding the ebb and flow of your menstrual cycle and hormonal symphony involved.
On the Positive Side?
Charting your menstrual cycle puts the power back in your hands to understand your body and its natural rhythms. Your charts will also help alternative practitioners or savvy gynecologists detect where your cycle needs support.
Do you want to learn how to chart your cycle? You’re in luck! I’ve put together a free video series to help walk you through the process. Sign up here.
Are you charting your cycle? Do you know if you’re not ovulating? Are you struggling to conceive?
I’d love to hear from you.