Polycystic ovary syndrome is responsible for so many of the fertility problems in the women I see. In fact, it is estimated that 20 per cent of women have a tendency to polycystic ovaries, while 5-10 per cent have PCOS.
The underlying cause of this problem is the inability of the ovaries to produce hormones in the right levels so causing hormone imbalances, including relatively high levels of lutenising hormone throughout their menstrual cycle and raised testosterone levels. This environment makes it hard for the egg to mature and be released, causing great anguish in those women who are trying for a baby.
So What If I Have PCOS?
If you have PCOS you are more likely to have a condition called ‘insulin resistance’ which leads to high levels of insulin in your blood, sugar cravings and unstable blood sugar (glucose) levels which rise and fall sharply. High levels of insulin can encourage your ovaries to produce more testosterone, which can prevent normal ovulation. When your blood sugar falls too low, your body produces the ‘flight and fight’ hormone, adrenaline which then affects the way your cells use progesterone.
Also, you may give in to sugar cravings causing your blood glucose to rise sharply, leading to the production of even more insulin, and so the vicious cycle continues. Many experts also believe that because the ovaries contain receptors for insulin, unregulated levels might have a directly damaging effect on the egg itself.
What Changes Should I Make?
Although I know weight loss can be particularly difficult with PCOS, efforts to lose excess fat, if you are overweight, will help to improve insulin sensitivity, regulate your insulin secretion and level out your blood sugar.
Whether or not you need to lose weight, following a satiating, nutrient-rich diet, relatively high in protein and low in fast-releasing, starchy carbs can help to control your symptoms.
To optimise your fertility, irrespective of weight issues, try these changes:
- Cut down on animal fats but increase amounts of essential fatty acids.
- Replace processed foods with wholefoods
- Choose carbohydrates with a low glycaemic index, which means they are ‘slow-releasing’ and less likely to spike your blood-sugar levels.
- Avoid ‘white’carbs and added sugar completely.
- Include protein in every meal.
- Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, preferably organic.
- Exercise regularly: go for a brisk, 30 minute walk ideally every day and at least three times a week.
- Take a good multivitamin.
- Supplement with inositol.
- Take 400 mcg of folic acid daily for at least one month before trying to conceive.
Cells need inositol to regulate various functions mediated by hormones such as insulin. It is an important component in the development and maturation of eggs. Although inositol occurs naturally in cereals, fruits and nuts, many women with PCOS suffer from insulin resistance due to an inositol deficiency.
Supplementing with myo-inositol has proven to help improve insulin sensitivity, improving glucose metabolism and balancing hormones. In studies, taking 4 grams a day of myo-inositol powder reduces testosterone levels. Testosterone prevents ovulation and increases growth of unwanted hair and acne. It also normalises leutenising hormone, enabling ovulation to occur. Overall, it improves not only the symptoms of PCOS but optimises your chances of conception.
Recent research suggests that folic acid is not only vital for embryonic neural development, but if taken alongside inositol in women with PCOS, it can greatly increase the frequency of ovulation.
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And for those going down the IVF route…
A study of women who had previous failed cycles due to poor egg quality, found that a daily supplement of myo-inositol with melatonin resulted in an increased number of mature eggs, an increased fertilisation rate and an increase in the total of top-quality embryos, compared to their previous cycles.
So it is good news for PCOS sufferers. If you follow all my recommendations above you should be heading in the right direction towards naturally rebalancing your body. If you focus on restoring all hormone levels collectively (not just those linked to fertility) you regain control of your body and take greater care of your ovaries, so restoring your fertility potential.
Article written by Zita West and Clare Casson