As there is no known cure it is understandable why you may be worried about getting pregnant with PCOS. However, you can control symptoms of PCOS to the point where the condition no longer affects your body. The way this is done is by making certain changes in your life that will hopefully reduce insulin levels, reduce male hormones and restore ovulation.
Polycystic ovary syndrome, often shortened to PCOS, is a very common condition that affects your ovaries and hormones. Usually, for a woman to be diagnosed with PCOS, she will need to have two of at least three of the following features:
- multiple cysts on the ovaries
- higher than normal levels of male hormones
- Irregular ovulation, though some women do not ovulate at all, which is why PCOS is linked with infertility
Currently, there is no exact known cause of PCOS, though it clear that certain factors can increase your risk of developing it; these include:
Insulin Resistance: Generally, women with PCOS are also insulin resistant. Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas to control your blood sugar level. If you are resistant to insulin, then it means that your cells do not respond to normal levels of insulin, causing your body to produce more. The problem with this is that high levels of insulin trigger your ovaries to produce too much testosterone.
Hormone Imbalance: Most women with PCOS will have an imbalance in several hormones.
Genetics: PCOS is said to run in families. You are more likely to develop the condition if one of your female relatives suffers from it.
How Does Ovulation Work?
To understand what polycystic ovaries are, it’s probably a good idea to quickly explain how normal ovulation works. The ovaries are a pair of tiny glands that sit on either side of the uterus. It is the job of the ovaries to store your eggs (ova) as well as produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone, the main female hormones that help with your period. Your ovaries also produce a small amount of male hormones, including testosterone.
Each month during ovulation, one of your ovaries releases an egg. Before the egg is released it develops inside a follicle. A follicle is a small, fluid-filled, cyst-like structure that contains one immature egg. At the beginning of menstruation, the pituitary gland in your brain produces a follicle-stimulating hormone (FHS) that helps the egg to develop.
The FHS generally causes a few follicles to develop. Although, only one remains dominant and grows to maturity while the others are reabsorbed. The mature egg is then released. Due to the hormone imbalance that occurs with women who have PCOS, the eggs do not always fully mature and are not released, but instead left in the follicle where they become cysts. Some women can just have polycystic ovaries without it fully developing into PCOS.
If you are overweight, lose it
What we do know is that the majority of women with PCOS have a resistance to insulin, which can potentially lead to other serious conditions like Type 2 Diabetes. We also know that being overweight will make the existing resistance to insulin worse. Therefore by losing weight, you can actually lower insulin levels, which will improve symptoms and increase fertility.
Because of their resistance to insulin women with PCOS do find it difficult to lose weight. If after really trying you are having difficulties, it is a good idea to see your doctor as they can refer you to a nutritionist or offer medication to balance insulin levels, which will help.
Studies have shown that there is a link between exercise and fertility. If you are living a sedentary lifestyle, then exercise could be the key – along with a healthy diet – to reducing symptoms of PCOS and increasing your fertility. Not only will regular exercise help to balance your hormones, it will also help you burn fat, which in turn will lower insulin levels. Additionally, due to the endorphins released when you exercise, you will slowly begin to feel better, which is a plus because stress is another factor you will need to combat.
On the other hand, if you are somebody that does regular intense workouts – say around 15 hours a week, then you are going to have to reduce the amount you work out. It may sound like contradictory advice, given that we are always told that exercise is paramount for your health, but it has been proven that a lot of intense exercises can lead to decreased fertility. It is suggested that this may be due to the low levels of body fat associated with frequent and intense exercise.
Make Sure You Eat Healthily
With any long-term health condition, what you eat is very important and can greatly affect your symptoms for better or worse.
Many women with PCOS do find that eating the right food is helpful, which is unsurprising as the right diet will help to balance your hormones and improve your overall health.
With this condition, as mentioned above, being overweight is a common factor, so eating healthy should also help you lose weight. You shouldn’t see changing your diet as a quick fix, but more of a lifestyle change.
How to adapt your diet for PCOS
Try and Chill out Every Once and a While
We all get stressed every once and a while, which is completely expected, but prolonged stress can have a detrimental effect on your health.
I’m sure you’ve heard that stress can disrupt your menstrual cycle, sometimes even stopping it, so imagine how much worse it can make PCOS symptoms. Long periods of stress can mess up your hormones too, causing a significant imbalance.
It is a good idea to try and reduce stress as much as possible, which can be done through exercising, resolving issues that are causing you great stress (this is easier said than done of course), getting acupuncture, reading a self-help book, etc.
You’re probably going to have to go smoke-free
Getting pregnant with PCOS will definitely require you to stop smoking. It’s funny I put this next to stress, because, as an ex-smoker, I know that a cigarette goes a long way in a stressful situation. However, smoking is bad for your health. Simple. Also, if you are looking to get pregnant, then you’ll have to give up anyway. Smoking cigarettes is said to decrease fertility – even in women who don’t have PCOS – and makes it take longer to conceive.
Women with PCOS who smoke are essentially exacerbating their symptoms as smoking causes a rise in testosterone, which is already high for PCOS suffers. It also does nothing to help insulin resistance. It is a good idea to stop smoking as part of a new healthy lifestyle; it will just make all the other steps that much smoother.
I’m guessing you’ve heard of acupuncture. It is a complimentary medicine that originated in China, but it is increasingly being used by the West as a natural treatment for a wide range of conditions. Acupuncture involves penetrating the skin with needles at various acupressure points around the body; it is the Chinese who believe it regulates the energy that flows through us, correcting any imbalances.
A lot of women with PCOS have found acupuncture to be helpful and studies have shown that it can improve menstrual frequency as well as reduce levels of testosterone in the body. If you want to go down the acupuncture route, please be sure to find a reputable practitioner otherwise you may be doing more harm than good.
Increase Your Intake of Fish Oils
A lot of women with PCOS have found that increasing their intake of fish oils is an effective way to reduce symptoms. Fish oil, oil taken from the tissues of oily fish, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which makes it an excellent anti-inflammatory.
Studies have shown that eating fish oil can reduce levels of androgens (male hormones), improve insulin resistance and even help with acne associated with PCOS.
You can get what you need from eating two portions of oily fish a week or eating flax seeds. You can also take omega-3 supplements , which have the same benefits.
Apple Cider Vinegar Is Always Helpful
Apple Cider vinegar has long been used as a natural remedy and is an effective treatment for many different conditions. In relation to PCOS, studies have proven it to be successful in improving insulin sensitivity, with experts suggesting that it has a similar effect as the drug metformin, a medication prescribed to people with diabetes.
It is best to stick with a raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar; one that still contains the mother of vinegar (a slimy compound created during fermentation) as this where all the nutrients are hidden. All you have to do is add 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to a glass of warm water and drink on an empty stomach, preferably before breakfast. If the taste is unbearable, which it is likely to be if you are doing it for the first time, you can add organic honey to taste, which should help to reduce the acidity.
Vitex is a Wonderful Herbal Remedy
Vitex, also known as chasteberry and agnus-castus, is a tree native to the Mediterranean region and Africa. Vitex is a popular natural alternative taken both by men and women for reproductive health. Vitex works by regulating and stimulating the hormones needed for reproduction; when taken regularly it should improve ovulation.
Getting pregnant with PCOS is difficult because of all the hormonal imbalances happening in your body. However, many women do find that by changing their lifestyle and incorporating natural products, they see a major improvement in symptoms. It is important that you do not lose hope or get stressed when trying to conceive as this may prolong things even more.
Women with PCOS do get pregnant so don’t worry, your time will come soon. Remember, these things take time but, if you are still finding it difficult then book an appointment with your doctor as they can provide you with the right medication to get pregnant.
Have you got any advice for getting pregnant with PCOS?