by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP
- How does PCOS influence my fertility?
- If I have PCOS, what will increase my chances of getting pregnant?
“Can I still get pregnant if I have PCOS?” We at Women to Women, hear this question all the time from women who have just learned they have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). I am happy to say that the answer is YES! It may take some medical interventions but the answer is usually yes. Even though PCOS is the most common type of female endocrine (hormone) disorder and one of the leading causes of female infertility, there is certainly hope for women with PCOS. The interesting part to this is that often times it is an easy intervention.
At Women to Women, we have seen many women with this form of hormonal imbalance improve their fertility — and go on to experience a healthy pregnancy!
So let’s look at some of the most common questions and concerns we hear about the effects of PCOS on fertility, and see how a more natural approach like ours can help in your PCOS and fertility journey.
How does PCOS influence my fertility?
When you have PCOS, it changes the hormonal pathways in your body that produce eggs and prepare the uterus for pregnancy. The three most important reasons why becoming pregnant, or staying pregnant may be more challenging for women with PCOS are:
- Women with PCOS often do not ovulate.
- Women with PCOS tend to have irregular periods rather than “normal” predictable monthly cycles.
- When and if an egg is released, the endometrium (lining of the uterus) may not be sufficiently prepared to sustain pregnancy.
You can learn more about the causes of PCOS in our articles about the causes and symptoms of PCOS. There is good news though— those complicated hormonal imbalances can often be changed to increase your chances of conception.
If I have PCOS, how can I increase my chances of getting pregnant naturally?
This is the question we hear most often.
Now there are a number of treatment options out there — including both conventional and natural measures that can help to normalize your hormones and increase your chances for a healthy pregnancy.
At Women to Women, we have found that nutritional and lifestyle changes are almost universally necessary for women with PCOS. Our approach includes the following natural measures:
- Follow a low-glycemic load diet. Years of experience has taught us that this step is vital to limit insulin resistance, balance sex hormones, and increase fertility. What we mean by “low-glycemic load,” is to limit carb intake to 16 grams of carbs per meal, and 7 grams per snack. That is the best way to start. For those of you that are more active a slightly higher carb intake may be necessary. In order to keep the glycemic load down, pair your carbohydrates with fiber, protein, and/or healthy fats. We recommend eliminating all high-fructose syrups, sugar, white flour, white rice, white potatoes, and other highly processed, refined sugars and starches. Carefully limiting refined carbohydrates is crucial to fertility because it reduces your insulin resistance, decreases androgens, and results in more regular ovulation and menses. This is basically what the drug metformin accomplishes, too — the difference is that our approach does this naturally. We so often see our patients come back after following this protocol having regular cycles for the first time in their lives. For an in-depth explanation of how all this works, see our articles on natural solutions for PCOS.
- Maintain a healthy weight and stay physically active. Any form of regular exercise will help reduce insulin resistance. Additionally, regular exercise will start a domino effect reaction of positive influences on your mood, sleep, and stress levels. Exercise also helps you to maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is a significant problem for 35–60% of women with PCOS and a high waist-to-hip ratio is linked with the characteristic high insulin, androgen, and estrogen levels that disrupt normal ovulation and fertility. Simply losing just 5% of your weight can lead to more regular menstrual cycles and ovulation. Decreasing the carb load as mentioned above will help you reach and maintain a health weight.
- Restore balance with nutritional and herbal support. You may benefit from a pharmaceutical-grade multivitamin with a mineral balance high also in antioxidants. Other micronutrients that help to offset insulin resistance include the B vitamins, such as B3 (niacin), B6, B9 (folic acid), B12, C, D and E; and specifically the minerals vanadium, chromium, magnesium, and manganese. By taking a daily omega-3 supplement this will help you counterbalance the systemic inflammation that almost always goes along with insulin resistance. For more specific hormonal and endocrine support, herbs such as chasteberry, raspberry leaf, kudzu, red clover, and milk thistle, as well as traditional adaptogens such as ashwagandha, astragalus and maca can be extremely helpful.
- Reduce stress and create a balanced life. Many often overlook the fact that women with PCOS describe their lives as being riddled with anxiety. More often than others in the general population, and that those who experience difficulty conceiving also report higher rates of depression. Getting the support you need, either on line or with one on one support has been shown to be helpful to many that need it. Find what works for you.
- Visiting web sites that are specialized in treating PCOS can also be very helpful. PCOS Diva, PCOS Challenge, and In Cyst on the Best!. They offer information, support, recommendations, and tips for women with PCOS, whether you’re trying to conceive or not.
- Detoxify. By following our Nutritional and Lifestyle Guidelines closely, not only helps with insulin regulation, but also promotes optimal metabolism (detoxification) of sex hormones. Another thing to consider is to check your environment for endocrine disruptors For example, the ovaries have been shown to be very sensitive to bisphenol A (BPA), a widespread industrial chemical found in polycarbonate plastics. A simple solution is to stop using plastic containers for your food and beverage containers. And start using ceramic, glass or stainless steel.
We can’t emphasize enough the importance of dietary changes. For most women we see at the clinic, eating low carb is the single most helpful part of the plan. And we’ve had amazing success in helping women improve their chances of pregnancy just by using these simple steps.
There have been many advances made in reproductive technology in recent years for women with PCOS. You can discuss your fertility treatment options with your practitioner or a qualified fertility specialist. But remember, in over 25 years of experience, we have found that a woman’s fertility treatment outcome is brightest when she first makes the above-recommended changes to restore her hormonal balance.
Yes, you can you heal your PCOS!
We often urge women to try many, if not all, of the dietary and lifestyle recommendations above to enhance their bodies fertility. Usually this change is recommended for at least 6 months and at that time the next steps can be addressed as the cycles have become more regular.