June 4, 2021 | By: Melissa Dean and Dr. Patti Haebe, NMD
While your goals may be to get pregnant as fast as possible, or to avoid pregnancy, ovulation itself is actually considered to be a sign of health! So no matter what your goals are, understanding whether or not you are ovulating is an essential pillar of health.
When you first start using a fertility or period tracking app like Premom, chances are you will be asked about your cycles: How long is your cycle? How long does your typical period last? Are your cycles regular or irregular?
But what exactly is a regular cycle?
Generally, we think of our “cycle” as our period or menstrual flow.
However, your full cycle is considered the beginning of your period through the day before your next period starts. What happens during your cycle? In the beginning of a healthy ovulatory cycle there is an increase in FSH levels that leads to the development of ovarian follicles. Increasing estradiol levels cause a midcycle gonadotropin surge that results in the LH peak you see with ovulation tests. This peak is necessary for ovulation to occur, as the follicle cannot rupture, and the egg cannot be released for fertilization without the peak.
After the egg is released from the ovarian follicle, progesterone is secreted. Without fertilization, progesterone secretion ceases, and estrogen and the withdrawal of these hormones leads to menstruation.
Ovulation is a naturally occurring phenomenon in women. Except during times of pregnancy, breastfeeding, puberty, perimenopause and menopause, ovulation should be occurring regularly.
What if I am not ovulating?
If ovulation is absent, this might be a sign of inadequate endocrine and/or gonadal function. This, in turn, may make it more difficult for you to conceive in the future, as well as indicate more serious health issues that should be addressed as soon as possible.
Dr. Haebe, an integrative physician, weighs in on the topic of ovulation’s positive correlation with overall health:
“Ovulation is considered to be a sign of good health. When you are not ovulating, it lets your healthcare provider know that your body is in some sort of distress or imbalance, whether it’s your thyroid, adrenals, underlying inflammation, illness, stress or even an autoimmune disorder.
Think of it this way: your body ovulates when all things are in balance; the body perceives safety. But for example’s sake, let’s imagine you’re being chased by a tiger -- pretty stressful right?
Your body, while you’re running from this “tiger” is focused on getting you to safety at all costs; you produce stress hormones to get you to safety as soon as possible. Reproducing at this time is the last thing your body cares about, and ovulation gets shut down. In today’s world, while you may not be running from a literal tiger, your body can perceive work stress, financial insecurity, family issues -- or very commonly illness -- as that dangerous “tiger” shutting down your ovulation.
So in a typically healthy woman, we’d expect to see regular cycles with consistent ovulation, demonstrating that her body feels safe, her hormones are in balance. This is why when ovulation is absent, as a physician, we see it as a red flag and it’s our job to get to the root of why you are not ovulating. What is out-of-balance that’s causing your body to halt your fertility? Is it your thyroid? Insulin levels? An autoimmune disease? Stress?
This is why using ovulation prediction methods -- like using ovulation predictor kits and tracking cervical mucus -- provide such good insight into health, even for those who aren’t actively trying to conceive. Monitoring your menstrual cycles is essential to ensure maximum health and vitality, and all women should strive to see regular ovulation for optimal health.”
The ovarian continuum is a process that occurs throughout the lifetime of a woman, beginning at intrauterine life with fertilization and ending with menopause, and can be affected by a variety of factors, such as changes in hormonal levels, stress, and illness.
What can irregular cycles tell me about my health?
The most common causes of irregular menstrual cycles associated with ovulatory dysfunction are hormonal abnormalities.
Hypothalamic disorders can delay the increase of FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) levels and can be caused by such factors as excessive exercise, stress (which can lead to hypercortisolemia), anorexia, and nutritional imbalances.
Thyroid disorders can impact the maturation of a follicle, and women who suffer from thyroid issues can experience menstrual abnormalities like hypomenorrhea or even miscarriage.
Adrenal and/or ovarian disorders can also cause ovulatory dysfunction. PCOS can cause irregular menstrual cycles and result in irregular cervical mucus patterns. Unfortunately, PCOS is also associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and various types of cancer. Most women are diagnosed with PCOS in their 20s or 30s; however, symptoms can begin as early as after their first menstrual period.
As is with the case of PCOS, ovulatory dysfunction often begins early in a woman’s life. Identifying, diagnosing, and treating this dysfunction is essential if she wishes to (hopefully) prevent her symptoms from worsening in adulthood.
In light of this, it is essential that all women track their menstrual cycles and monitor/confirm ovulation.
How can I monitor my cycle health?
Fortunately, with the help of the Premom app and easy@Home’s ovulation predictor kits (ovulation test kits) and basal thermometers, you can monitor your cycles to ensure that you’re ovulating. Start tracking your ovulation today to evaluate your health status!
Not ovulating? Consider chatting with a provider through the Premom app’s virtual consultation feature. Learn more about Premom's consultation services.