Ladies, I want you to know something, it can be completely normal for your menstrual cycle to vary in length slightly from month to month! Ovulation may come a day before or a day later even in normal some cycles. We actually expect to see natural variations between menstrual cycles. Early ovulation can be concerning, however, when/if it consistently happens. Early ovulation causing a shortened follicular phase is a concern we sometimes hear about. But what does it really mean for your fertility health? In this guide we’ll cover the causes and effects of early ovulation and a shortened follicular phase; and how to encourage balanced menstrual health naturally including fertility herbs, lifestyle changes, stress management and how to support optimal egg health.
What is the follicular phase?
The average menstrual cycle lasts 24 to 36 days. Day 1 of your cycle is the first day of your period and the beginning of the follicular phase
During this phase, fluctuations in hormones (low estrogen) cause an increase in FSH levels (follicle stimulating hormone), which triggers follicles to grow in the ovary. Around 10-20 follicles start to develop, but only one (usually) will become an egg.
For optimum fertility, the follicular phase needs 12-15 days in order for the selected follicle to grow and develop into a healthy egg to be ovulated and then fertilized.
What happens if you ovulate too early in the follicular phase?
If your follicular phase lasts 12-14 days, there is generally no reason to be concerned. However, if you chart your basal body temperature or use OPK’s, and know you’re ovulating on day 11 or earlier, the follicle may not have developed enough to be fertilized. At this point in the cycle, you may not have enough friendly cervical mucus to move sperm to the fallopian tube to reach the egg. Additionally, your endometrial lining may not be sufficient to support the life of a fertilized egg.
What causes early ovulation and a shortened follicular phase?
Researchers are still learning about what causes early ovulation and a shortened follicular phase. In some cases, it appears to occur randomly. In others, it may be related to:
- fluctuations in hormones caused by stress, or disruption in the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. High stress and problems in the hypothalamus and pituitary gland trigger a surge in luteinizing hormone (LH), causing the ovaries to release the egg before it’s mature.
- having had past miscarriages. According to researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, of 201 women, those who had previous pregnancy loses had on average a 2.2 day longer follicular phase compared to those who hadn’t experienced pregnancy loss.
- long-term birth control use, or those who stopped birth control use within the 90 days of testing.
- the aging process. As egg supply is naturally reduced with age, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) rises higher causing the body to select a dominant follicle for ovulation earlier. However, as long as the follicular phase lasts at least 12 days and the rest of the phases of the menstrual cycle are balanced, this is not a problem.
- smoking, heavy alcohol use and excess caffeine consumption have been linked to causing a short follicular phase and overall menstrual cycle.
What about a long follicular phase? Is fertility affected by a long cycle?
If your follicular phase lasts longer than 20 days, you may have a problem with ovulation or a hormonal balance. If you ovulate later than day 20, some experts suggest egg quality can deteriorate, increasing the risk for chromosomal problems involved in miscarriage.
Encouraging Balanced Menstrual Health Naturally
In the medical world, doctors use birth control and hormone medications as temporary measures to normalize the cycle and encourage follicle health. In the natural world, we use diet, herbs, stress management and lifestyle therapies to support a healthy menstrual cycle and egg quality.
Top Tips for Maintaining Menstrual Cycle Balance
1. If you smoke, make a plan to quit! Smoking is linked to premature ovarian failure, problems with ovulation, increased risk of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, decreased follicle count, and DNA damage in the follicles. Smoking is bad news for your fertility and may be tied to a shortened follicular phase.
2. Reduce alcohol and caffeine. While working to build your fertility, definitely cut back on these stressor foods. Both alcohol and caffeine disrupt hormonal function, may lead to early ovulation and increase pregnancy risks. Consider switching to Red Raspberry Leaf (Rubus idaeus, spp) tea or a Conceptions Tea blend.
3. Learn more about fertility herbs:
- Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) is an amazing tonic for female fertility. Dong quai helps increase blood flow to the reproductive system and encourages a healthy uterine lining. It works especially well for older women wanting to extend fertility and for situations of stagnation in the body (like fibroids, cysts, and endometriosis). Note: Avoid Dong Quai during your period if you have very heavy cycles.
- Vitex (Vitex agnus-castus; Chaste Tree berry) has a balancing effect on all phases of the menstrual cycle. Vitex helps regulate pituitary gland activity, supporting the “hormonal feedback loop” involved in hormone secretion and ovulation. For best results in supporting ovulation, use Vitex all month long for 6 months or more.
- Tribulus (Tribulis terrestris) is a fertility-enhancing herb that helps encourage normal ovulation. Aviva Romm, MD, shares of one study in her book Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health of 36 women who were not ovulating, 67% of participants shifted to normal ovulation after 2-3 months of consistent Tribulus use.
4. Focus on supporting egg health. If you’re concerned about early ovulation or egg quality, consider a 90 day program to support egg health. Egg health can be supported by following a Fertility Diet, using antioxidants and through Self-Fertility Massage.
5. Reduce and manage stress. If you’re under a lot of stress, it can affect your menstrual cycle and ovulation patterns. Try stress management therapies like meditation, deep breathing, EFT or aromatherapy. You’ll feel better using stress-management therapies and you will also be enhancing fertility.
Having a normal menstrual cycle with ease…
An occasional short follicular phase is probably nothing to be concerned about. Most women have follicular phases that are long enough to support follicle development and a healthy environment for an embryo to implant. If your follicular phase is very short (less than 11 days), or you suspect it may be hindering conception, consult with a reproductive endocrinologist to help determine the cause.
A complete look into your fertility status can be enlightening and help to guide you in the right direction, especially if you have been trying to conceive for a long time. Further, natural therapies work to encourage a balanced menstrual cycle, regular ovulation and support egg health. Women who commit to natural therapies for a period of 6 months or more achieve the best results.
Too learn more about related subjects covered in this article, please visit the following links:
- Early Ovulation (2001-2016) Baby Med. Retrieved from: http://www.babymed.com/fertility-awareness/early-ovulation#
- Understanding Ovulation (2016) American Pregnancy Association. Retrieved from: http://americanpregnancy.org/getting-pregnant/understanding-ovulation/
- Klein, N.A., Harper, A.J., Houmard, B.S., Sluss, P.M., and Soules, M.R. (2002, August). Is the Short Follicular Phase in Older Women Secondary to Advanced or Accelerated Dominant Follicle Development? The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, Vol. 87, Issue 12. Retrieved from: http://press.endocrine.org/doi/full/10.1210/jc.2002-020622
- Rodriguez, H. (2016) How To Increase Egg Health In 90 days. Natural Fertility Info. Retrieved from: http://natural-fertility-info.com/increase-egg-health
- Rodriguez, H.(2016) Vitex: Fertility Super Herb. Natural Fertility Info. Retrieved from: http://natural-fertility-info.com/vitex
- Rodriguez, H. (2016) Dong quai: Uterine Tonic and Fertility Herb. Natural Fertility Info. Retrieved from: http://natural-fertility-info.com/dong-quai-fertility-herb.html
- Rodriguez, H. (2016) Natural Guide For Menstrual Health. Natural Fertility Info. Retrieved from: http://natural-fertility-info.com/natural-menstrual-health.html
- Barton-Schuster, D. (2016) Tribulus Terrestris: Fertility Herb for Both Men and Women. Natural Fertility Info. Retrieved from: http://natural-fertility-info.com/tribulus-fertility.html
- Barker, J. and Meletis, C. (2015, Sept.) Optimizing Female Fertility. Heart Spring.
- Tabakova P. et al., (2000) Clinical study of Tribestan in females with endocrine sterility. Cited in: Werbach, MR, Murray MT.Botanical Influences on Illness, 2nd edition. Tarzana, CA, Third Line Press Inc., 399.
- Jukic, AM. Z., Weinberg, C.R., Baird, D.D. and Wilcox, A.J. (2007, Nov.) LifeStyle and Reproductive Factors Associated with Follicular Phase Length. Journal of Women’s Health. Doi: 10.1089/jwh.2007.0354. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2834565
- Fenster, L., Quale, C., Waller, K., Windham, G. C., Elkin, E. P., Benowitz, N., & Swan, S. H. (1999). Caffeine Consumption and Menstrual Function. American Journal of Epidemiology, 149(6), 550-557. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a009851 Retrieved from: https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/149/6/550/215410
- Windham, G., Elkin, E., Swan, S., Waller, K., & Fenster, L. (1999). Cigarette smoking and effects on menstrual function. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 93(1), 59-65. doi:10.1016/s0029-7844(98)00317-2 Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/13372106_Cigarette_Smoking_and_Effects_on_Menstrual_Function
- Liu Y., Gold E.B., Lasley B.L. and Johnson W.O. (2004) Factors affecting menstrual cycle characteristics. American Journal of Epidemiology; 160(2):131–40. Retrieved from: https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/160/2/131/76508