The Secret Powers of Ovulation (It’s Not Just for Making a Baby)

benefits of ovulationOvarian hormones estrogen and progesterone are highly beneficial for health. That means that natural ovulatory menstrual cycles are beneficial for health because ovulation is the only way to make ovarian hormones.

Does that surprise you? Men make their valuable testosterone every day, so you might think women would do something similar, but we don’t. Instead, we make our hormones as a surge of estrogen leading up to ovulation and an even bigger surge of progesterone for the two weeks after ovulation.

It’s an elegant system that sometimes results in a baby. But even when ovulation does not result in a baby, it’s still worth doing because it delivers beneficial steroid hormones that the body absolutely expects to have.

Benefits of ovulation

Every monthly dose of estrogen promotes muscle gain, insulin sensitivity, and the long-term health of bones, brain, and the cardiovascular system.

Every monthly dose of progesterone reduces inflammation, regulates the immune system and supports thyroid, brain, bones, and breast tissue.

The benefits of ovarian hormones are both short-term (they make you feel good) and long-term (they build metabolic reserve and contribute to long-term health).

According to Canadian endocrinology professor Jerilynn Prior, “women benefit from 35 to 40 years of ovulatory cycles, not just for fertility but also to prevent osteoporosis, stroke, dementia, heart disease, and breast cancer.” In that sense, each and every ovulation is like a monthly deposit into the bank account of long-term health.

For Professor Prior, ovulatory cycles are a “creator of good health.” They’re also an “indicator of good health” because when we’re healthy, ovulation arrives smoothly and regularly. When we’re unhealthy in some way, the lack of ovulation can tell the story.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) agrees. In December 2015, together with the American Academy of Pediatrics, they quietly issued a groundbreaking statement called Menstruation in Girls and Adolescents: Using the Menstrual Cycle as a Vital Sign, in which they state that doctors should always ask patients about menstruation and advise girls to chart their cycles. By doing so, they say, “doctors will demonstrate to patients that menstruation is an important reflection of their overall health.”

I invite you to think about ovulation as the valuable, health-giving event that it is. I would go so far as to say that if you’re not thinking about ovulation, then you’re not thinking about health.

There are three main reasons women don’t ovulate.

Obstacles to ovulation

Hormonal birth control

Hormonal birth control stops ovulation, which is, of course, its purpose. It shuts down ovarian function and replaces estrogen and progesterone with contraceptive drugs like ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel which can cause hair loss and other side effects.

👉Tip: There’s no progesterone in any type of birth control.

The physiological difference between our actual hormones and the contraceptive drugs of birth control affects every system in the body. Compared to women who cycle, women who take contraceptive drugs have altered brain structure and a greater risk of depression and autoimmune disease.

Undereating and undereating carbs

Women need food. That should be stating the obvious but in our weird culture of dieting, it somehow needs to be said. Women need food in order to be healthy and also in order to ovulate and have regular menstrual cycles.

Losing periods because of undereating is called hypothalamic amenorrhea and is not a disorder but rather a smart, adaptive decision by the brain to pause reproduction when there’s not enough food to safely make a baby. That’s true whether or not you want a baby; because that’s how the female body works.

Too little food can stop ovulation and periods; too little carbohydrate can do the same thing. It’s not because carbs are needed for health, but because (for some women), carbs are a signal from the environment that there’s enough food to make a baby.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is the situation of having excess androgens or too many male hormones. It can also have the symptoms of anovulation or lack of ovulatory cycles.

The primary driver of anovulation in PCOS is insulin resistance or high insulin which can be reversed by diet and exercise and natural supplements such as inositol.

👉Tip: Before you embark on any kind of calorie-restricted or carb-restricted diet for PCOS, take care that your diagnosis was not based solely on an ultrasound or an AMH blood test. Those tests are not reliable and may have resulted in you being told you have PCOS when you actually have hypothalamic amenorrhea. Read Maybe It’s Not PCOS.

In conclusion, ovulation is both a window into health and an important source of health and vitality.

Gloria Steinem said that if men could menstruate, menstruation “would become an enviable, worthy, masculine event: Men would brag about how long and how much.”

I would take it a step further and say that if men could only make testosterone by ovulating, then they would never stop talking about it.

If you want to hear me speak about the “Secret Powers of Ovulation,” come along to my presentation at the upcoming Well Fed Summit in New Plymouth, New Zealand.

19 thoughts on “The Secret Powers of Ovulation (It’s Not Just for Making a Baby)”

  1. Hi Megan,
    When I came off the pill at 34 after being on/off it for about 10 years, I was hit with acne like I never knew. It ruined my life, my confidence, my dating/social life, mental health….I’ve tried everything from topical to acupuncture to colonics. I am now 39 and I have to say it’s clear except for the occasional breakout due to stress/diet. My best advice is to balance your hormones and give it time to balance out. Get your sleep right, get your diet right, eliminate the unnecessary things that promotes hormonal imbalance like alcohol/caffeine/dairy/xenoestrogens from makeup/bodycare. Simplify your diet, clean up your beauty routine/products, sleep, and most important manage your stress and give it time. It will go away, there is hope. The less you do the better.

  2. Hi Lara,
    I was wondering if you could please do a post on PMS acne and how to treat it? I’ve been battling PMS acne since coming off the pill a few years ago and I feel like I’m at my wits end and I’m so close to going back to the Dr for a prescription for the pill. I’d really really love to hear back from you!

  3. Hi Dr! I had been on a mini- pill may be Progestin only pills, since 1.5 – 2 years! Last month I came off it. So after how many months can I expect myself to ovulate being a PCOS girl! Also, will this absence of ovulation as well as menses going to aggravate my symptoms of hair loss/ excessive hair growth?

  4. Dr. Briden, I saw that you recommended cyclical progesterone therapy in your book for those with PCOS. Do you think this is a first line treatment and would it work for those with post-pill PCOS as well as other types? I have elevated LH after birth control and am TTC. Had normal periods before the pill so am disappointed to have to go straight to fertility drugs just to ovulate.

  5. Hello!

    I just read half of your amazing book The Period Repair Manual, and I’m working on the second half now. I’ve been struggling for five years with extreme menstrual pain and heavy periods. I finally was able to go to an endocrinologist last week and he wants me to get blood tests for LH, FSH, Estradiol, Progesterone, TSH, FT-4, Pregnenolone, 170H Progesterone, 170H, DHEA, Sulphate, Fasting Glucose, and Insulin. From reading your book I believe there is a certain time of the month to test these. My doctor didn’t seem to have enough knowledge on the subject so I am reaching out to you for help. He told me I can just go get them all tested on the first day of my cycle, but I don’t think this is correct. If you can help me, I would so greatly appreciate it. Thank you for the wonderful book! It is the best I have read so far on the subject.

    -Aubrey

  6. Hi Dr. Briden,
    Do you have any comments for the moms who are nursing their babies past 1? I currently am still nursing my 16 month old (who is my 3rd child), and with every child I don’t regain my cycle until they’ve completely weaned plus a few months. Lactation completely shuts down my cycle and I’m wondering if it would be better to wean earlier rather than forgo the hormones from having a cycle? thanks!

  7. It seems that after menopause we should be grateful for having enjoyed something we lack now. But the reality is that after menopause I have better health than ever,I am strong, fit, happy , with good sexuality and good sex drive, a lot of energy and looking hot. I don’t feel as I have no hormones. I think that maybe there is something about menopause that isn’t still well known , otherwise it couldn’t be possible. I’ve been without my period for four years and I don’t have any type of hormonal replacement, just eat well and exercise, but I’m better than my friends in their 30’s and 40’s.

    • thanks so much for sharing your story! Yes, I know a few women like that. And we do continue to make some estrogen after menopause, so yes, we can continue to be well.

      And after menopause, we still benefit from our previous exposure to decades of estrogen and progesterone.

    • The topic of my next book! I also speak about menopause in Chapter 10 of Period Repair Manual and how the fact that we had to eventually lose estrogen and progesterone should just make us more grateful to have had them at all.

  8. Dr Briden, why do I have low progesterone at 37? 17 oh progesterone is only 1.2 ng/ml 1 week before period. BBT charting shows temperature rises, but luteal phase only lasts a week. I have no PCOS, eat vegetables, fruit, rice, consume a lot of goat and sheep milk products and eat meat (when it is prepared in curries). What do I do to fix low progesterone?

    • Hi Kristina! I just happened to read your comment. I am curious if you have or have had breast implants or any type of foriegn implant? I had breast implants for 3 years that wrecked havoc on my heath, including hormones. I had them removed a year ago and have slowly been getting better. Breast implant illness is real and I know it’s affecting a lot of women who are still unaware of what’s making them sick, so I had to share just in case! ❤️

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