Ovulation Explained

Women's Health | December 12, 2017 | Author: Naturopath

women's health

Ovulation Explained

When an egg is released from one of the ovaries each month – this process is referred to as ovulation. It depends on a complex interplay of hormones and glands, such as luteinizing hormone and the pituitary gland.

Some women may have issues with ovulation, which may be erratic or not occur at all. Ovulation is a crucial process for fertility. When an ovum (egg) is fertilised with sperm in the fallopian tube a new life begins.

Structures involved in ovulation

Ovulation depends on the activity of various structures and their hormones, including:Structures involved in ovulation

  • Hypothalamus – a portion of the brain which uses hormones to communicate with the pituitary gland.
  • Pituitary – referred to as the ‘master gland’ of the hormone (endocrine) system. It is located at the base of the skull, and is connected to the hypothalamus by a thin stalk. It uses chemicals to prompt the ovaries to produce hormones.
  • Ovaries - the two almond-shaped glands located on either side of a woman’s pelvis that produce eggs. The ovaries make the two female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone.

The phases of the menstrual cycle

Here’s a breakdown of what occurs from day one to day 28.

Menstruation (days 1-5)

The endometrium (uterine lining) that has built up during the previous menstrual cycle is shed.  Menstruation is triggered by a drop in progesterone and other hormones when implantation of a fertilised egg doesn’t occur.

Follicular phase (days 6-13)

In response to oestrogen, the lining of the endometrium starts to thicken again. Low progesterone levels encourage the pituitary gland to secrete follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) which allows the ovary to begin selection of another egg for ovulation. Between 20-30 follicles begin to grow towards maturity.

By day 8 of the cycle, one of the follicles become dominant and develops an egg inside. This dominant follicle secretes oestrogen and inhibin—resulting in a decrease in the amount of FSH. The remaining follicles disintegrate, with the dominant follicle continuing to grow until ovulation.

The phases of the menstrual cycleOvulation (day 14)

During ovulation, oestrogen levels reach their highest.

The hypothalamus responds by secreting gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which in return triggers the pituitary gland to secrete luteinising (LH). This allows the dominant follicle, which has formed a blister bulge on the surface of the ovary, to release the ovum within 12-36 hours of this LH surge.

The secondary oocyte travels down the fallopian tube to the uterus via wave-like structures called cilia. Its life depends on a chance encounter with a sperm within 24 hours otherwise it will die.

The luteal phase (days 15-28)

During the last 2 weeks of the menstrual cycle the ovarian follicle, now called the corpus luteum, releases progesterone and attaches to the ovarian wall. Progesterone is important to maintain the lining of the endometrium to be conducive to pregnancy. However, if fertilisation doesn’t take place, the corpus luteum dies and the drop in progesterone and other hormones, stimulates the shedding of the thickened uterine lining.

Are you aware of your ovulation changes?

The female body shows several signs of ovulation. You may experience some or all of these signs, including:

  • Regular menstrual cycles - menstrual periods that arrive every 24-35 days are more likely to be ovulatory than periods that are frequent, delayed or non-existent.
  • Mucus changes – early in the fertile period cervical mucous will be sticky and opaque but as ovulation approaches it will usually change to a clear colour with a watery/stretchy consistency.
  • Abdominal pain - some women experience pain during ovulation. The pain may be general or localised to one side of the abdomen.
  • Premenstrual symptoms - ovulation may accompany premenstrual symptoms such as breast enlargement and tenderness, abdominal bloating and mood swing.
  • Temperature rise - women who use a natural family planning method of contraception will use temperature to identify ovulation. They will typically notice a small rise of .2 °C in their basal body temperature.

Predicting ovulation

Here are a few ways to predict ovulation, particularly if you are wanting to fall pregnant:

Predicting ovulationOvulation kits—most work by measuring the level of LH in the urine which rise 24-36 hours before ovulation. Others will use saliva to detect increased salt concentrations in the saliva due to a rise in oestrogen.
Temperature—take your temperature every morning before you get out of bed to chart your menstrual cycle. A small increase suggests that ovulation has occurred.
Cervical fluid—note the change in cervical fluid mid-cycle, usually it will change to the consistency of egg whites.

Having sex around the time of ovulation means that the sperm and ovum have a good chance of meeting in the fallopian tube.

Problems with ovulation

Women who experience any of the following may have problems with ovulation:

  • Obesity and being underweight
  • Hormonal imbalances, such as excessive oestrogen and failure of mid-cycle LH surge
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Poor nutrition and chronic stress
  • Pituitary tumours or injury

There are also women who are menopausal, pregnant and breastfeeding who will not experience ovulation. Damage to or removal of the ovaries will also prevent ovulation.
Click Here For Article on PCOS 

Stimulating ovulation

To enable healthy ovulation, individual underlying factors such as an eating disorder, cysts on the ovaries or an underactive thyroid need to be addressed. Keeping some of these things in mind, here’s how to promote ovulation each month.   

Vitex Agnus-Castus

Stimulating ovulation

Otherwise known as chaste tree, vitex is used in herbal medicine to regulate the menstrual cycle. It is referred to as a hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian regular, helping to balance abnormalities in this important axis.

Vitex can be helpful for women who have hormonal imbalances, PCOS, irregular periods and suffer from anovulation (lack of ovulation).

There is also evidence that bulgarian tribulus, Cinnamomum cassia (cinnamon) stem bark, Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) root, black cohosh and gymnema sylvestre help in the management of PCOS and promote ovulation.

Nutrition and weight

Undereating, inadequate nutrition, fasting and regular crash dieting can hamper the bodies ability to ovulate. Make sure you eat regular, nutritious meals and maintain a weight within the healthy range. If an underlying eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia is related to altered eating patterns, then the help of a health professional in this area should be sought out.

Reduce stress

Chronic stress can play havoc with the menstrual cycle. Learn ways to cope by performing regular exercise, meditation and seeking the help of a counsellor.

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References

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/ovulation

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279054/

Hechtman L (2014). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, Australia

Vitex agnus-castus. Monograph. Altern Med Rev. 2009 Mar;14(1):67-71

http://www.altmedrev.com/publications/14/1/67.pdf

Arentz S, et al. Herbal medicine for the management of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and associated oligo/amenorrhoea and hyperandrogenism; a review of the laboratory evidence for effects with corroborative clinical findings. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014 Dec 18;14:511

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25524718

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