“5 Tips on How to Lengthen Your Luteal Phase Naturally” is written by Laura Sans Duran and reviewed/edited by Jamie Adams, MS RD LDN. Laura is a second-career nutrition student, currently completing her MS-DPD in Nutrition and Dietetics at Meredith College in Raleigh, NC who exhibits a huge passion for functional/integrative nutrition, women’s health, and mind-body approaches to wellness.“
If you are trying to conceive, you know that having a healthy menstrual cycle is key to having the best chance at conception. If you are experiencing irregular periods, there is a chance that hormonal imbalances are affecting the luteal phase of your cycle, which can hurt your chances of conceiving. Here we’ll share 5 tips on how to lengthen your luteal phase naturally.
Many women who are trying to conceive experience short luteal phases and are unaware of this, resulting in months or even years of failed attempts at getting pregnant. If a short luteal phase is a concern for you, getting evidence based information on how to lengthen your luteal phase should be up on your priority list.
But before doing so, it’s important for you to understand what the luteal phase of your cycle is, and the different root causes that could potentially be making it shorter. While it’s incredibly important to address the root causes of luteal phase dysfunction in order to regulate your hormones and cycle, it’s also important to know that not all root causes or solutions will apply to everyone.
Your body is unique and so should be the treatments you use to regulate your hormones! Always reach out to a healthcare professional before you change anything in your diet or begin taking supplements.
Ready for this? Let’s take a deep dive! In this post you will learn:
- What the luteal phase is and its role in your menstrual cycle
- What a healthy luteal phase length is and why it matters
- Root causes of a short luteal phase
- Lifestyle changes and natural supplements that can help with how to lengthen your luteal phase naturally
Table of contents
- What is the luteal phase?
- What is a healthy luteal phase and why does it matter?
- What is a healthy luteal phase?
- What does a healthy luteal phase feel like?
- So, why does a healthy luteal phase matter?
- How to know if your luteal phase is too short or unbalanced
- What causes a short luteal phase
- Estrogen dominance
- Undereating, disordered eating and/or overexercising
- Poor egg quality leading to low progesterone production
- Lifestyle factors that produce a heightened stress response
- Other underlying systemic conditions
- How to lengthen luteal phase through lifestyle and supplements
Before we get started, feel free to grab your FREE checklist with 5 tips on how to lengthen your luteal phase today!
What is the luteal phase?
The luteal phase is referred to as the second half of the menstrual cycle. It typically starts around day 14, right after ovulation (when an egg is released from one of your ovaries) and lasts until around day 28 (right before your period begins).
Three main things happen during the luteal phase:
- The egg that was released during ovulation makes its way down your reproductive system, where it can potentially be fertilized by a sperm cell if sperm is present.
- The corpus luteum (the remaining bit of developed egg that was left behind in the ovary you ovulated) produces progesterone and some estrogen.
- The rise in progesterone and estrogen helps prepare your endometrial lining (lining of your uterus) for implantation if the egg is fertilized. The endometrial lining develops blood vessels that will ensure oxygen and nutrients can reach the tissues that will help sustain a pregnancy.
If no pregnancy occurs during that cycle, progesterone and estrogen will decline as the corpus luteum (in your ovary, remember?) degrades. Eventually, there will be no hormones left going around to sustain the complex endometrial tissue that builds up – so it sheds! And that, friend, is your period.
Pretty cool, right? In sum – a healthy luteal phase is crucial for the correct development of your uterus and other tissues that make a pregnancy possible. A healthy luteal phase helps make periods predictable, manageable, and healthy cycles, as well as create optimal chances to conceive.
What is a healthy luteal phase and why does it matter?
What is a healthy luteal phase?
It’s worth noting that a healthy luteal phase will look different for each woman. This is a time of intense hormonal activity! And hormones affect each woman differently.
However, when looking for tips on how to lengthen your luteal phase, you will want to know the optimal length – around 14 days. This is pretty universal. Why? Because it’s the right amount of time needed for estrogen and progesterone to build up the endometrial lining sufficiently for implantation to happen, and for a pregnancy to begin. Anything less than 10 days is too short for a successful implantation, otherwise known as a luteal phase defect.
In a healthy luteal phase, estrogen continues to rise for a few days after ovulation, as well as progesterone. These will drop and get to the lowest level right before your menstruation begins.
Additionally, cortisol – one of the hormones that regulates our stress response – is also higher during the luteal phase.
What does a healthy luteal phase feel like?
A healthy luteal phase will last between 12 and 14 days in length for most women. However, it’s hard to know the actual length of your luteal phase unless you track your natural cycle. You can do this through the fertility awareness method or other natural family planning methods.
Typically, you will have lots of energy to get things done and focus right after ovulation. Rising estrogen and progesterone will be behind this. Around mid-cycle, and a few days into your luteal phase, you will probably feel ready to get projects done, socialize, and take on heavier workouts.
You can expect your energy levels to drop as you get closer to your period, when estrogen and progesterone both decline. This drop in hormone levels towards the end of your luteal phase can lead to the set of symptoms known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It is typically common to feel or notice:
- Swollen, tender breasts
- Acne breakouts
- Bloating and weight gain (from fluid accumulation!)
- Generalized pain in your muscles and joints
- Cramping and abdominal pain
- Increased appetite and food cravings
- Irritability, mood swings, anxiety and/or sadness
However – the fact that these symptoms are common does not mean that they aren’t debilitating and have real impacts on your quality of life. In good news, however, a short luteal phase is not necessarily associated with more severe PMS symptoms.
So, why does luteal phase length matter?
As we’ve seen, a healthy luteal phase is key to getting pregnant because it prepares the endometrial lining and other tissues for implantation – and a healthy pregnancy!
Your luteal phase length is a crucial indicator of your fertility and your overall health. A healthy luteal phase indicates:
- That healthy levels of estrogen and progesterone have effectively built up a thick endometrial lining for implantation to happen.
- That your endometrium and hormonal levels are optimal to ensure that implantation can happen and that a pregnancy can be sustained – therefore helping prevent a miscarriage.
- That your egg quality is likely high (because the corpus luteum generates adequate levels of progesterone).
- That your hormones are in balance throughout your cycle (including the follicular phase, aka the first half of your cycle)
Now, some evidence questions whether short luteal phases and related hormonal issues are good predictors of conception. These studies suggest that experiencing a low progesterone (which as we’ve seen can be a cause of short luteal phase) is not necessarily related to reduced fertility.
However, if your luteal phases are constantly short, it means your body likely isn’t producing sufficient progesterone which is necessary to sustain a pregnancy. However, something that we see in our expert women’s health dietitian practice is that many women with low progesterone and short luteal phases go on to achieve natural pregnancies, or improvements in their cycle symptoms, by addressing the causes of their hormonal imbalance. For example, one study shares a unique example of a woman with low progesterone levels going on to have a successful pregnancy. Ultimately, this is a field of research where more data and knowledge are needed. That’s why working with a team of expert health professionals, such as an OBGYN, endocrinologist, and registered dietitian, is crucial to meet your unique needs.
Are you ready to balance your hormones and optimize your luteal phase? Grab your FREE checklist with 5 tips on how to lengthen your luteal phase today!
How to know if your luteal phase is too short or unbalanced
Many women experience short luteal cycles – often one week to 10 days. While this is common, it is not normal. As we’ve mentioned, your endometrium needs to be exposed to progesterone in order to develop enough for implantation to happen. So, you’ll want to watch out for symptoms of a short luteal cycle:
- A cycle that lasts less than 25 days
- Spotting and/or bleeding between periods
- Irregular and/or missing periods (without being pregnant)
- Signs of estrogen dominance such as unwanted hair growth (e.g. facial hair), and unwanted weight gain (more on that later)
If any of these sound familiar to you, you’ll likely benefit from more testing by your healthcare provider. The following root-cause explanations and strategies might be the starting point on how to lengthen your luteal phase.
What causes a short luteal phase
Estrogen dominance (i.e. the ratio of estrogen to progesterone)
Estrogen dominance occurs when the balance of estrogen to progesterone in your body is inadequate, because your ovaries produce more estrogen in relation to progesterone. This can happen due to high estrogen production (above normal ranges) even when progesterone is normal, or even when your estrogen production is normal but your progesterone levels are lower than normal.
Why does estrogen dominance happen?
- Genetics – some women are genetically more prone to high estrogen levels.
- PCOS – this is a metabolic condition that requires a whole other post to explore. Find a good one here.
- Insulin resistance – this often goes hand in hand with PCOS
- Carrying too much or too little body fat – for example, excess body fat , produces increased levels of estrogen in the body
- Low fat diet and/or cholesterol levels – cholesterol, which we partly get from our diet, gets a bad rap – but it’s an absolutely necessary building block for making progesterone
Undereating, disordered eating and/or overexercising
Many women today are struggling with missing periods due to undereating and overexercising – without even realizing. In fact, it’s likely that if you’re reading this article, you are one of many women who stays on top of her health, workouts, and diet. You probably enjoy eating “clean” foods, have probably gone on more than one diet to “lean down a bit”, and never miss a workout. And while taking care of your diet and fitness is not necessarily a bad thing, too much emphasis on it is likely affecting your chances at conceiving.
If this sounds familiar – just know that I see you. I myself have struggled with this before, and understand how hard it is to break the cycle.
Women struggling with eating disorders or disordered eating may experience higher rates of menstrual irregularities, as well as athletes. But you don’t need to fit into those populations to also experience these symptoms.
But why can under-eating and overexercising cause short luteal phases?
There can be various reasons:
- A negative energy balance (burning more than you are consuming) over a long period of time can cause irregular, short, or missing periods. This is called hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA). When your body is starved of energy, it shuts down all its “functions” that are not essential to basic survival – such as the reproductive function. Your body does not have the energy it needs to make the necessary hormones to sustain this function – such as estrogen and progesterone.
- A low body fat percentage can result in insufficient estrogen production, which is needed for healthy ovulation and maintenance of your cycle – and also for your body to feel “safe” enough to ovulate and get pregnant.
- Undereating and overexercising typically go hand-in-hand with micronutrient deficiencies, such as omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, iron and folate – which are all necessary for healthy reproductive functions and pregnancy.
The good news is that HA is reversible, and most women that are able to change their habits go on to conceive, have healthy pregnancies, and healthy babies without the need for fertility treatments. More on this later.
Poor egg quality leading to low progesterone production
If the eggs your ovary releases are poor quality, this may affect the amounts of progesterone produced by the corpus luteum. Inflammation and inflammatory conditions have been shown to negatively affect egg quality. So, addressing inflammation can be crucial to improving your egg quality. Diet and lifestyle choices can contribute to improving your inflammatory response.
Lifestyle factors that produce a heightened stress response
Psychological stress is also a factor associated with short luteal phase, and low progesterone – especially when this stress happens after ovulation. Similar to undereating and overexercising, psychological and emotional stress lead to high cortisol production (a stress hormone) – which tells our bodies that it’s not a great time to get pregnant. This has some negative impacts on progesterone production which (you guessed it) can lead to a shorter luteal phase.
Other underlying systemic conditions
Our bodies are made of beautiful, interconnected systems that work in balance and constant communication with each other. There are many more complex causes of short luteal phases that have to do with some functions and systems in the body not working properly. Addressing these holistically is key to restoring cycles. Some of these are:
- GI tract disorders e.g. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
- Thyroid disorders e.g. Hashimoto’s, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism
- Other autoimmune conditions
How to lengthen your luteal phase through lifestyle and supplements
So now you know lots more about what may be causing your short luteal defect. And you may be wondering – what can I do about it?
The answer, as with everything relating to our bodies, is “it depends”. There is never a one-size-fits-all approach to addressing reproductive issues. We all have different root causes to our hormonal imbalances, and different ways in which they can manifest as symptoms.
Below, we are sharing 5 tips on how to lengthen your luteal phase naturally. These are a great place to start, but remember they are not end-all-be-all medical advice. Please talk to your provider before making any changes to your diet and lifestyle, and use this info to do your own research.
Diet modifications to lengthen your luteal phase
Changing your diet may be one of the most important steps you can take to regulate your cycle. Dietary recommendations will depend on the root cause of your short luteal phase. Let’s look at some of them.
Increase your intake
If you are undereating or are in a negative energy balance you need to increase your intake. You heard me say it. Most women need to increase their intake for hormone balance. Yes, this will likely come with some weight gain. In this case, it’s important to remember your bigger purpose, as well as your long-term health. Working with a registered dietitian is a supportive way to walk through this journey. “No period, now what?”, by Dr. Nicola Rinaldi, is a great book and place to start.
Focus on well balanced meals
If you have PCOS or insulin resistance, reducing estrogen dominance by reducing insulin resistance is key. Focus on balanced meals and avoid eating processed carbohydrates on their own. Avoiding refined sugar and sugary drinks as much as possible will also contribute to more balanced sugar. For many women, these changes result in reverting PCOS completely – and getting normal cycles back. This detailed guide is a great place to start.
Eat an anti-inflammatory rich diet
If systemic inflammation is at the root of your short luteal phase, you should focus on anti-inflammatory, whole-food eating. Add in colorful foods (fruits and vegetables) and foods with lots of omega-3 fatty acids (such as fatty fish, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, seaweed…). Stay away from processed and refined foods, fast food, sodas, and alcohol. I know these are tempting, especially when period cravings strike. But these changes will make a difference!
Skip the diets and restrictions
If you are doing intermittent fasting or any form of fasting, please reconsider it. These eating patterns can increase cortisol production in the long run, and decrease reproductive hormones which you need to ovulate and maintain a pregnancy. Restriction of larger food groups can result in deficiencies of nutrients necessary for optimal hormone balance.
Additional ways to lengthen your luteal phase through foods
Are you looking for more guidance on optimizing your hormones and fueling your fertility? Check out my Guide to Fuel Your Fertility and Optimize Your Hormonal Health – Now Available!
Movement to lengthen your luteal phase
Exercise is crucial to our hormonal production, mental health, and physical wellbeing – but there can be too much of a good thing. If you are overexercising, consider reducing the volume, time and/or intensity of your workouts. For example, if you are doing HIIT classes 5 times a week, consider switching some up for yoga or pilates, or take an additional rest day. See how that affects your cycle and adjust accordingly.
Additionally, learning to sync your exercise to your cycle is key. Gentle exercise like yoga, pilates, walking, and light cycling are your best pick to support a healthy luteal phase (as they will ensure your cortisol does not go through the roof.)
As we’ve seen overexercising and increased stress can cause short luteal phases. The obvious antidote to these is REST! Some tips to add more rest and reduce your stress are:
- Sleep 7-9 hours per day
- Take rest days from the gym (real rest days! You may stretch and walk a bit, but hot yoga doesn’t count.)
- Engage in self-care activities
- Take up a meditation practice
- Seek a therapist if think you might need it
- Ask a loved one for help if you’re overwhelmed
Supplements should not be used instead of medication when necessary, nor are they a cure-all approach in place of diet, exercise and lifestyle modifications.
However, when tailored to your needs by an expert, supplements can be used strategically to help address the cause of your short luteal phase:
- Supplements can help correct – vitamin D deficiency and anemia (iron deficiency) are common among women with short luteal phases. Correcting these with a tailored supplement dose may help improve the length of your luteal phase. Taking a multivitamin with 400mg folic acid (or methylfolate), as well as taking a 1000-2000 IU vitamin D supplement every day is recommended for women who are trying to conceive.
- If the cause of your short luteal phase is estrogen dominance, or insulin resistance PCOS – protocols with D-chiro inositol or myoinositol may be beneficial to restore this balance and help you ovulate, thus increasing the chances of a healthy luteal phase. This article has more detailed information on how to use supplementation for PCOS.
- Vitex (chaste berry) – a natural compound traditionally used to improve the health of the luteal phase, and improve PMS symptoms. The recommended dose is between 20-40mg per day in capsule form.
There is no shame in needing conventional medicine approaches to regulate hormones, especially if TTC. In many cases, hormonal imbalances like short luteal cycles have a genetic component or a root cause that we cannot overturn using diet and lifestyle interventions alone.
However, know that we do not have enough evidence to support the use of some hormonal treatments for a short luteal phase.
If trying to conceive, and a few months have gone by since you made the appropriate lifestyle changes, talk to your doctor about treatments that may help you in your pregnancy journey.
- A healthy, 12-14 day luteal cycle is a crucial indicator of our reproductive health. Talk with your healthcare provider if you experience anything shorter than 10 days, especially if a regular occurrence.
- Finding the root cause of a short luteal cycle is crucial before starting to address it through diet, lifestyle, medications or supplements. Otherwise, you could be doing more harm than good.
- Always seek expert guidance and advocate for testing before treatment. Without thorough testing and diagnosis, you can’t be sure of the root cause of your short luteal phase and how to fix it. Your OBGYN or a women’s health-specialized registered dietitian can help you start this journey.
Are you ready to balance your hormones and optimize your luteal phase? Grab your FREE checklist with 5 tips on how to lengthen your luteal phase today!
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