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Why ovulation is the star of the show

If you are trying to conceive or struggled to conceive in the past then I am sure you are familiar with what ovulation is, when it happens and why it is so important.


Spoiler alert, ovulation is when an egg is released from an ovary with the hope that it will be fertilised…or your bodies hope anyway.


If you are yet to conceive, then potentially you are vaguely aware that ovulation happens during your menstrual cycle, but you aren’t that fussed about it because your goal is not to get pregnant right now.

In this week’s blog post, I want to convince you that ovulation is more than just about getting pregnant and it really is the star of the menstrual cycle and needed for both your reproductive and overall health.


What is ovulation?

Ovulation is simply when an egg is released from an ovary. It happens right in the middle of your cycle after the follicular phase and before the luteal phase.


During the follicular phase multiple follicles start to mature in the ovaries which produce oestrogen, the predominant hormone in the follicular phase. About half way through this phase, one follicle is chosen to be ‘the one’ and that follicle becomes dominant over all the rest.


As oestrogen levels continue to rise, at their peak they trigger the release of luteinising hormone which sparks the follicle to burst open releasing the egg.


The egg is then ushered into the fallopian tube where your body hopes it will be fertilised by sperm (whilst you may not want to get pregnant, your body is always hoping for it to happen!). Either way the egg continues its travels down into the uterus. The egg then forms what’s known as a corpus luteum which produces progesterone during the luteal phase. Progesterone production starts to fade after about 10-15 days (unless the egg has been fertilised) and declining progesterone levels spark the start of the menstruation.


Why is ovulation the star of the show?

Ovulation is not only important for when you want to get pregnant. It also has many other benefits such as regular cycles, less PMS symptoms, lighter periods and a boosted libido, and studies have also reported it as a sign of good health (1).


Anovulatory cycles (a cycle with no ovulation) or ovulatory disruption have been linked with autoimmune diseases (2), cardiovascular disease (3), osteoporosis (4) and even ovarian cancer (5).


Whilst often our hormones carry negative connotations (because they can make you feel like crap right?) oestrogen and progesterone are vital for other functions in the body, and ovulation needs to occur for optimal production of both these hormones.


Oestrogen and progesterone are required for:

  • Good brain health and a balanced mood

  • A healthy heart

  • Optimal bone density

  • Sleep regulation


For clarity, if you are on birth control, then unfortunately you won’t be ovulating…because that is how many of the methods work! No ovulation = no pregnancy.


How to track if you are ovulating

Track your cervical fluid

During the follicular phase you may notice that you excrete little to no cervical fluid and there is no fluid on the toilet paper when you wipe. As you enter ovulation your cervical fluid should change to become slippery, viscous and stretchy, much like an egg white. After ovulation during the luteal phase, cervical fluid becomes more sticky, tacky or pasty in texture.


Chart your basal body temperature

Basal body temperature is your temperature upon waking and should be taken before getting out of bed after at least 3 consecutive hours of sleep.


Before ovulation, your waking temperature should be lower around 36.11 to 36.50 degrees Celsius. A couple of days after ovulation, your temperature should rise by at least two-tenths of a degree and stay elevated until your next period.


I would recommend using an app such as Natural Cycles to chart your basal body temperature to track your temperature patterns. It may take several months to see a clear pattern so it can be useful to use this method alongside tracking your cervical fluid to get a clearer picture of when/if you ovulated.


Using ovulation sticks

You can use ovulation sticks to track a rise in luteinising hormone which rises just before ovulation. You simply need to pee onto a stick each morning and then interpret the result using the product instructions. This can be quite an expensive method to track ovulation so tracking your cervical fluid and temperature are often easier options.


Test your progesterone

Testing your progesterone around 5-7 days after ovulation can help you to understand if you ovulated during that cycle. I recommend using the DUTCH test to understand your levels and you can also opt for DUTCH cycle mapping to help track your progesterone (and oestrogen) throughout your monthly cycle to get a clearer picture.


Use how you are feeling

You can also use how you feel for guidance on whether you are in the ovulatory phase. Most people experience a lift in mood, energy, motivation as well as sex drive during ovulation.


Just as a slight side note, very irregular periods can be a sign that you aren’t ovulating.


Why might you not be ovulating

Firstly, anovulatory cycles can occur from time to time for many reasons such as travel, increase in stress, illness or certain medications. Whilst this isn’t ideal and might affect your symptoms that cycle (think heavier periods, cramping, PMS - sigh!) when multiple cycles are affected you need to take a closer look at why.


Reasons include:

  • PCOS

  • Excessive stress

  • Under or overweight

  • Perimenopause

  • Thyroid conditions

  • Premature ovarian failure

  • Birth control and some other medications such as NSAIDs or antidepressants

  • High or low melatonin levels


If you aren’t already, the first step to understanding more about what is going on with your periods and ovulation is to track your cycles. If you are concerned about whether you are ovulating or not, suffering with period and PMS problems, please get in contact to understand how I may be able to help you.


References

1 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5730019/

2 - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17854745/

3 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4546331/

4 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4686368/

5 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6917033/

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