How to Increase Your Luteal Phase Naturally

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How to Increase Your Luteal Phase Naturally

The luteal phase in women starts after ovulation and ends the day before your period. It is during this phase that the uterine lining (endometrium) transforms and thickens to allow a fertilised egg (embryo) to implant.

As you can imagine, any disruption to this process will potentially affect a woman’s fecundability.

How Long is the Luteal Phase

Generally, the luteal phase lasts between 11 to 17 days (mean 14.2 days), however it is not uncommon for women to experience a short luteal phase (≤ 8 days).

In fact 18% of women experience a shorter than normal luteal phase (≤ 11 days) occasionally, however only 3% of women have recurring episodes.

Does a Short Luteal Phase Cause Infertility

A short luteal phase indicates your body did not produce enough progesterone that cycle. However a short luteal phase does not necessarily mean you are infertile. This is because successful embryo implantation produces human chronic gonadotrophin (hCG) which sustains corpus luteum and progesterone production until the 8th week of pregnancy.

In fact, the only thing experts agree on so far is that an insufficiently developed endometrium will cause embryo implantation failure, and that the minimum number of luteal phase days required for proper endometrial development varies greatly. This is why studies to date which investigated the impact of luteal phase lengths, on IVF outcomes, found no difference in live birth rates.

Overall, the occasional short luteal phase in a womans cycle is not a cause for concern.

Causes of a Short Luteal Phase

The predominant cause of short luteal phase in women is a failure of the corpus luteum to secrete enough progesterone.

One explanation for insufficient progesterone secretion by the corpus luteum, is when a smaller than normal follicle is developed during the follicular phase of the cycle. This results in a smaller than normal corpus luteum that naturally secretes less progesterone and has a shorter lifespan.

However short luteal phases can also be caused by other conditions such as:

  • Endometriosis
  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Hyperprolactinema
  • Premenstrual Syndrome
  • Anorexia
  • Excessive exercise
  • Stress
  • Dieting

Symptoms of a Short Luteal Phase

  • Shorter than normal menstrual cycles
  • Miscarriage (chemical pregnancies)

Although low progesterone levels, on day 7 after ovulation (or cycle day 21) may indicate a short luteal phase, there is no clearly defined minimum level required due to a lack of quality evidence.

Natural Short Luteal Phase Treatments

According to the latest research, the following natural treatments may increase your luteal phase:

  • Ascorbic acid
  • Vitamin E
  • Folate
  • Antioxidants
  • Vegetable Protein

Ascorbic acid

Ascorbic acid (also known as Vitamin C) is a natural water-soluble vitamin that is not stored by your body. This essential vitamin and potent antioxidant can significantly increase progesterone levels (and estradiol) in women with luteal phase defect.

In one study, women taking vitamin C supplements (750 mg/day) for just 3 weeks, had significantly improved progesterone levels in 53% (40/76) of women. These women then continued supplementation for 6 months, whilst trying to conceive naturally. Overall, 25% (19/76) become pregnant compared to only 11% (5/46) in the control group.

In a more recent study, ascorbic acid levels among normal women were found to be inversely associated with BMI. This means overweight and obese women are more likely to be deficient in vitamin C.

Foods rich in vitamin C include guavas, bell peppers (capsicum), kiwifruit, strawberries, oranges, papaya, broccoli, tomato, snow peas and brussel sprouts.

Lower concentrations of ascorbic acid and α-tocopherol was observed in women with spontaneous abortions linked to luteal phase defect.

Source: Vural P, et al. (2000)

Interestingly, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (supplementation) of vitamin C is 75 mg, or 110 mg for smokers, not including food sources. The Tolerable Upper Intake Level for vitamin C is 2000 mg however absorption of vitamin C decreases significantly above 1000 mg as the body’s tissues become saturated.

SUMMARY: HOW MUCH VITAMIN C FOR LUTEAL PHASE DEFECT

Women diagnosed with luteal phase defect should take 750 mg of vitamin C a day to supplement their dietary intake. Luteal phase progesterone levels improves in the majority of women after only 3 weeks of vitamin C supplementation.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is an essential fat-soluble vitamin, which can be stored in the body’s fatty tissue and liver. This natural antioxidant has several forms, however only α-tocopherol can reverse vitamin E deficiency.

Interestingly, α-tocopherol levels are significantly higher in the follicular phase, and lower in the luteal phase among healthy women. This suggests the body’s metabolism of vitamin E changes across the menstrual cycle.

Studies show that α-tocopherol levels increase moderately with age among health women. While in adolescent girls, α-tocopherol levels decease linearly according to BMI.

Foods rich in vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, peanuts, brazil nuts, avocados, spinach, kiwi fruit and broccoli.

However the consumption of nuts and seeds is also linked to an increased risk of anovulation. Most likely related to the other form of vitamin E (γ-tocopherol).

Source: Kim K, et al. (2021)

This suggests only sunflower seeds, almonds and hazelnuts are most likely to improve your α-tocopherol levels and not interfere with ovulation.

Alternatively, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (supplementation) of vitamin E for women trying to conceive is 15 mg, not including food sources.

Folate

Folate is a natural water-soluble form of vitamin B9. This means it is not stored in the body and must come from your daily diet. However daily intake of vitamin B9 is low among the general population.

Folate plays several roles in the human body predominately via the one-carbon metabolism pathway. One key role involves regulating homocysteine levels which is elevated among many female specific disorders.

Interestingly, low levels of folate (21.2-41.4 nmol/L) within the normal range (21.2-78.5 nmol/L) is significantly associated with decreased levels of progesterone, during the luteal phase, in otherwise healthy ovulatory women according to one study.

Further statistical analysis by the authors revealed that for every 1 nmol/L increase in folate levels, women’s luteal phase progesterone levels increased by 1%.

This finding correlated directly with improving homocysteine levels, from 11.2 to 2.7 μmol/L, which is still considered within normal range (<13 μmol/L).

Foods rich in folate include green soybeans, beef liver, lentils, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, avocados, mangos, lettuce and kidney beans.

Although folic acid, the synthetic form of folate, is better absorbed by our bodies (85% vs. 50%).

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (supplementation) of folate for women trying to conceive is 500 mcg, not including food sources. However your Doctor may recommend up to 1000 mcg (Tolerable Upper Intake Level) depending on your individual circumstances.

Antioxidants

Antioxidants are substances that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different substances that act as antioxidants.

However, this does not mean they all behave the same and are interchangeable. Each antioxidant has a unique chemical structure, behaviour and biological properties.

Which means they all play slightly different roles in the complex biological systems of the human body.

For this reason, combinations of antioxidants (or substances) is sometimes more effective than the individual substances on their own.

One such combination, marketed as a supplement to optimise female fertility and reproductive health, includes chasteberry, green tea extracts, L-arginine, vitamin E, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folate, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium.

In a 3 month placebo controlled trial, this combination restored normal cycle lengths and raised mid-luteal progesterone levels, from 8.2 to 10.4 ng/mL, among women who had unsuccesfully tried to conceive, between 6 to 36 months, prior to the trial.

This lead to a higher pregnancy rate in the treatment group versus the placebo group (26% vs. 10%) after only 3 months.

However the diverse range of women and variety of antioxidants used in this trial make any definitive conclusions difficult.

In general, antioxidants are proven to have a moderate effect on inflammatory conditions which indirectly improves hormone levels in many cases.

However, they do not treat the cause of the condition, hence why only 32% (17/54) of women were pregnant after 6 months of treatment.

Foods rich in antioxidants include walnuts, blackberries, blueberries, pomegranates, goji berries, artichokes, raspberries, plums, cauliflower and strawberries.

Vegetable Protein

A study in 2008, evaluating the dietary intake of 18,555 women trying to conceive, was the first to report that the consumption of vegetable protein significantly lowered the risk of ovulatory infertility.

A more detailed study published this year using a new group of women confirmed the original findings. It also reported that women with low intake of vegetable protein (16.4 ±4.4 g/day) had significantly reduced levels of progesterone (-18%) during the luteal phase.

Further statistical analysis according to individual food types revealed that the intake of legumes, was associated with higher progesterone levels (22.3%), compared to no intake.

This suggests boosting your vegetable protein levels to at least 21.0 ±4.7 grams with legumes could significantly increase your progesterone levels.

A Tip From Fertility Science

Your luteal phase is intrinsically connected to your follicular phase. Try to minimise any stress, excess excercise or dieting during your cycle. Not just in the second half.

At the same time, eating the right kind of foods can definitely help lengthen your luteal phase.

Overall, the best food types to increase your luteal phase are:

  • Berries
  • Nuts
  • Green vegetables
  • Legumes

However please remember that consecutive (and recurring) short luteal phases are not normal if you are otherwise happy and healthy.

Please speak to your Doctor and get checkout for peace of mind.

References

Kim K, et al. (2021). Low Intake of Vegetable Protein is Associated With Altered Ovulatory Function Among Healthy Women of Reproductive Age. https://doi.org/10.1210/clinem/dgab179

Practice Committees of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, (2021). Diagnosis and treatment of luteal phase deficiency: a committee opinion. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2021.02.010

Zhang X Y, et al. (2021). Serum vitamin E concentration is negatively associated with body mass index change in girls not boys during adolescence. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12519-021-00454-9

Bull J R, et al. (2019). Real-world menstrual cycle characteristics of more than 600,000 menstrual cycles. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41746-019-0152-7

Pfister A, et al. (2019). Association between diminished ovarian reserve and luteal phase deficiency. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2019.03.032

Roomruangwong C, et al. (2019). Lowered Plasma Steady-State Levels of Progesterone Combined With Declining Progesterone Levels During the Luteal Phase Predict Peri-Menstrual Syndrome and Its Major Subdomains. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02446

Reljič M and Knez J, (2018). Predicted luteal phase length has no influence on success of vitrified-warmed blastocyst transfer in natural cycle. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13048-018-0436-6

Crawford N M, et al. (2017). Prospective evaluation of luteal phase length and natural fertility. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2016.11.022

Michels K A, et al. (2017). Folate, homocysteine and the ovarian cycle among healthy regularly menstruating women. https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dex233

Mumford S L, et al. (2016). Serum Antioxidants Are Associated with Serum Reproductive Hormones and Ovulation among Healthy Women. https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.115.217620

De Souza M J, et al. (2010). High prevalence of subtle and severe menstrual disturbances in exercising women: confirmation using daily hormone measures. https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dep411

Chavarro J E, et al. (2008). Protein intake and ovulatory infertility. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2007.06.057

Westphal L M, et al. (2006). Double-blind, placebo-controlled study of Fertilityblend: a nutritional supplement for improving fertility in women. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17211965/

Henmi H, et al. (2003). Effects of ascorbic acid supplementation on serum progesterone levels in patients with a luteal phase defect. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0015-0282(03)00657-5

Schweiger U, et al. (1991). Menstrual function and luteal-phase deficiency in relation to weight changes and dieting. https://doi.org/10.1097/00003081-199103000-00021

Lenton E A, et al. (1984). Normal variation in the length of the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle: identification of the short luteal phase. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-0528.1984.tb04831.x


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