The corpus luteum is a temporary endocrine gland that is formed from the remnants of a ruptured ovarian follicle after ovulation, it's sole function is to support early pregnancy by secreting hormones. If you have been diagnosed with luteal phase defect - or dysfunction - it means that your corpus luteum is under-functioning and producing an inadequate level of hormones. This dysfunction can cause hormone deficiencies at a critical time: implantation.
It is the corpus luteum's job to secrete adequate progesterone and estrogen to support the implanting embryo until the placenta can take over this job towards the end of the first trimester, until that time the corpus luteum is vitally important. A number of critical elements are necessary for good corpus luteum function: first, adequate cholesterol is simply vital, cholesterol forms the base material for hormone production so very low fat diets may be detrimental. Another critical element is good antioxidant levels; a diet containing plenty of fruits and vegetables is key for providing the ovaries with a good antioxidant spectrum. Another much neglected prerequisite for good ovarian function is explored below: good blood flow.
A number of studies have found that when the corpus luteum is dysfunctional and hormone production is low, ovarian blood flow is often compromised; methods that enhance pelvic blood flow may be important for restoring good corpus luteum function.
Specific electro-acupuncture protocols have been repeatedly proven to enhance pelvic blood flow as have the nutritional supplements: L-Arginine and vitamin E. Shots of hCG which are used to trigger ovulation have also been shown to enhance blood flow in the corpus luteum and may help to correct LPD.
A Japanese study (1) set out to examine changes in blood flow in the corpus luteum throughout the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle and during early pregnancy. A color-doppler monitor was used to accurately measure the blood flow in the corpus luteum in all the women. The study discovered that:
"Luteal-RI during the midluteal phase was significantly higher (this means less blood is flowing) in the patients with luteal phase defect than in women with normal luteal function."
"The change in luteal-RI (blood flow) was associated with corpus luteum development and corpus luteum regression. Luteal-RI (blood flow) was closely associated with luteal function."
A similar American study (2) sought to assess the differences in blood flow between normal cycles and those with luteal phase defect (LPD). They discovered that:
"Mean resistance indexes in LPD (luteal phase defect) patients were significantly higher compared with normal women throughout the follicular and luteal phases."
When the resistive index (RI) is elevated blood flow is restricted, this study showed that restricted blood flow is a hallmark of luteal phase defect and the researchers concluded that blood flow monitoring may be useful in assessing the health of the luteal phase:
"...color flow pulsed Doppler analysis of blood flow impedance to the corpus luteum may aid in assessing luteal phase adequacy."
Other studies have also confirmed that blood flow studies can predict women who have luteal phase defect. A Greek study (3) performed color doppler studies in the luteal phase on twenty one women with regular menses but suspected of having LPD and measured progesterone. All the women with luteal phase defect had poor blood flow in the corpus luteum and the study concluded that:
"Color Doppler may aid in assessing luteal phase adequacy. Doppler indices of corpus luteum blood flow in combination to plasma progesterone may be a useful index of luteal function."
A Croatian study (4) came to the same conclusion after evaluating the blood flow in the ovaries of forty seven healthy fertile women and twenty eight women with LDP. These researchers also discovered that women with LPD uterine lining development, the study concluded that:
"In all the LPD patients histopathology revealed delayed endometrial pattern.."
"...color Doppler may predict the function capacity of the corpus luteum."
Although not all physicians routinely screen women for luteal phase defect it is important to know that if you have this condition, the uterus lining may be out of synch with embryo development making implantation difficult. The usual diagnostic test for LPD is a progesterone blood test at seven days after ovulation, a level below 12 or 15 is considered indicative of luteal phase defect which if corrected may improve the chances of getting pregnant. Better blood flow may be the key.
This article is not intended to diagnose or to substitute for medical or dietetic advice for which you should see a physician or dietitian.
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1. Fetil Steril. 2008 Dec;90(6):2334-9. Epub 2008 Feb 4. Changes in blood-flow impedance of the human corpus luteum throughout the luteal phase and during early pregnancy. Tamura H, Takasaki A, Taniguchi K, Matsuoka A, Shimamura K, Sugino N.
2. Fertil Steril. 1995 Sep;64(3):500-4. Color flow pulsed Doppler ultrasound in diagnosing luteal phase defect. Glock JL, Brumsted JR
3. Clin Exp Obstet Gynecol. 1997;24(2):95-7. Trans....... Doppler ultrasound with color flow imaging in the diagnosis of luteal phase defect (LPD). Kalogirou D, Antoniou G, Botsis D, Kontoravdis A, Vitoratos N, Giannikos L.
4. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 1997 Mar;72(1):83-7. The assessment of normal and abnormal luteal function by trans....... color Doppler sonography. Kupesic S, Kurjak A