Five Ways to Naturally Induce Ovulation and Regulate Your Cycle
Ovulation is a sign of health. The regular monthly release of an egg is a sign that your hormones are at optimal levels and, for the most part, balanced. Not ovulating (anovulation)–although you still might bleed each month–often means that something is awry. Here is what you need to know about delayed ovulation or anovulation, and ways that can help fix these common cycle issues and naturally induce ovulation.
What are the signs of anovulation?
Most commonly, the “something awry” with your cycle causing anovulation has to do with stress. But you shouldn’t ignore signs of anovulation just because “it’s just stress.” Anovulation can also mean that there are imbalances in estrogen and progesterone levels that could increase your risk of bone loss (osteoporosis), early heart attack and even breast cancer. There really are so many reasons that women actually need to ovulate and have periods!
A new study shows that “silent anovulation”—cycles that appear normal but in which no egg is released—is more common than we may think. In this particular study, 37 percent of the pre-menopausal women studied over the course of a single menstrual cycle had an anovulatory cycle. This led researchers to conclude that anovulation in a random population occurs in over a third of clinically normal menstrual cycles. While this study has some major limitations, including inaccurate timing of progesterone testing, it raises serious concerns for women’s health.
The classic anovulatory woman has irregular periods, long cycles, or even no cycle at all. Indeed, 20% of anovulatory women are amenorrheic, lacking periods. She may also have signs of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition in which cysts (unruptured follicles) build up in the ovary.
If you think you are having trouble ovulating, charting the signs of ovulation would help you discover what hormonal imbalances may be causing the issue.
What are the signs of ovulation?
How do you know if you’re ovulating? There’s lots written on the Internet on this topic, but it’s not always accurate. Best practices for predicting ovulation without the help of a medical doctor include: charting cervical fluid and/or basal body temperature and confirming a “peak day” with the help of a qualified fertility awareness method (FAM) instructor, testing for a surge in luteinizing hormone (LH), and documenting Mittelschmerz and/or breast pain. We encourage women to learn a proven fertility awareness method (or method of Natural Family Planning, or Fertility Awareness-Based Method) with an instructor who can help them learn to read their unique charts–even if they’re going to use an app to predict ovulation.
But how do you know if you’ve actually ovulated?
While predicting ovulation is vital when trying to conceive or tracking your cycle, confirming that you did in fact ovulate is just as important—especially after we’ve seen how common anovulatory cycles can be!
So how can you confirm ovulation? By tracking progesterone.
Progesterone is the hormone produced by the empty follicle (or corpus luteum) after ovulation occurs. It’s progesterone that is responsible for stabilizing the uterine lining and preparing it to receive an embryo. Progesterone must stay elevated throughout the entire implantation window (days 7-10 after suspected ovulation) to allow for ovulation to be considered “healthy,” meaning the ovulatory event allowed for the best possible chance at conception. Without enough progesterone, it can be more difficult to successfully conceive.
There are several ways to confirm ovulation, including body basal temperature (BBT) tracking, cycle day 21 progesterone blood tests, and progesterone metabolite (PdG) tracking.
A shift in BBT will tell you if you’ve ovulated, but it falls short of offering any information surrounding post-ovulatory progesterone levels. It’s also easily influenced by factors such as room temperature, poor night’s sleep, snuggling a loved one, or even alcohol consumption.
A cycle day 21 progesterone blood test will give you an accurate progesterone level, but this only shows your levels at that particular point in time. Since progesterone needs to remain elevated for a long enough period of time after ovulation, a one-time blood test doesn’t always accurately represent progesterone levels over the whole implantation window. Plus, serum progesterone can fluctuate up to 30 times in just one day.
PdG tracking, however, offers non-invasive ovulation confirmation via urine testing. After progesterone cycles through the bloodstream, it’s metabolized by the liver into urine. Studies show that progesterone in blood directly correlates to PdG in urine. Using a PdG test, such as Proov, on days 7-10 after suspected ovulation, can confirm that healthy ovulation did in fact occur.
If you’re using a PdG test like Proov, ideally you’ll want to see four positive test results during the testing window to confirm healthy ovulation. Anything less than four positive results may be a sign that PdG (and therefore progesterone) levels aren’t adequately elevated and could be preventing you from successfully conceiving.
This illustration of fertilization from Wikipedia (below) shows nicely the process of ovulation.
Factors to address to help naturally induce ovulation
If you suspect that your cycles may be anovulatory, consider addressing some of the following factors that may be causing your anovulatory cycles. Some of the most common but overlooked factors contributing to ovulatory dysfunction include:
- Low body weight
- Poor diet, i.e. lacking in essential vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and fats
- Excessive athletic training
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Stress (as mentioned above)
- Hormone imbalances
Five simple changes to help your body ovulate naturally
1. Increase your body weight.
First, determine your BMI. If it’s low, then gradually increase your caloric intake to achieve a slightly higher body mass.
2. Swap low carb for slow carb.
If you’ve been skipping grains, fruit and starchy vegetables, gradually add back some whole grains, delicious fruits and veggies like sweet potatoes and peas that contain sugars that release slowly into your bloodstream. Bonus: Your ability to cope with stress may improve!
3. Add some good fats–including animal fat.
Steak? Yes, please. Preferably grass-fed for an optimal fatty acid profile. Keep eating the avocados, oily fish, and nuts and seeds, but don’t forget the occasional serving of red meat! Balance in everything is key.
4. Improve your sleep: Not just the length, but the quality of your rest.
Easy changes to do so include making your bedroom darker (or using a sleep mask), regular bedtime and waking hours, and adjusting the room temperature. Also, avoid or reduce any caffeine intake or smoking at least six hours before bed. Add a bedtime routine that includes a time of meditation or prayer, a good read, and no digital screen exposure at least an hour before bed. More about sleep here and here.
5. Balance hormones naturally
There are several ways to naturally balance hormones and improve ovulation quality. Seed cycling involves eating certain types of seeds during certain phases of your cycle to promote a hormone balance. Eating flax and pumpkin seeds during the follicular phases promotes estrogen production, while sesame and sunflower seeds promote progesterone production during the luteal phase.
You can also make simple lifestyle changes to naturally boost progesterone and improve ovulation. For example, there are several foods that can help promote progesterone production, including broccoli, spinach, beans, and pumpkin, among others. Sometimes, herbal supplements or prescription medications can do the trick. If you’re interested in either of those options, we recommend consulting your doctor.
These are just a few broad suggestions for supporting a healthy, regular cycle, and for helping to naturally induce ovulation through your food and lifestyle choices.
If you have already made these changes effectively and your cycles are still not functioning normally, you need to consult a physician who will be able to understand the unique pattern of your cycles and hormonal levels and diagnose the root cause of this problem. Using contraceptives to regulate your cycle may reduce symptoms and hide such dysfunctions, but will NOT eliminate them.
For more healthy cycle resources, check out these links:
If you’re looking for a medical professional who will find the cause of anovulation and treat it, check out doctors trained in restorative reproductive medicine.
When this article refers to fertility awareness methods (FAM), or natural family planning (NFP), we are referring to Fertility Awareness-Based Methods, evidence-based methods of cycle charting which can be used as effective forms of natural birth control when learned by a certified instructor.
This article was originally published on June 18, 2016 as written by Emily Kennedy. It has since been updated by Natural Womanhood to offer more resources. Last updated September 12, 2020.