PCOS, Fertility, and Diet
If you are thinking about getting pregnant, have been trying for a while, or have been facing infertility and pregnancy loss, then there is a good chance that you are looking for ways to help increase your chances of becoming pregnant. PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome, is the most common ovulatory form of infertility. It may affect as much as 27% of women in their childbearing years.
So, what is PCOS and how can diet affect it and your fertility?
PCOS is a hormone imbalance that causes women to produce too much testosterone and other androgens and not enough progesterone and estrogen. This imbalance causes the follicles in the ovaries to not develop properly and form “cysts”. This leads to irregular periods and ovulation, which in turn leads to infertility. Approximately 70% of women with PCOS have problems with infertility at some point in their lives. Other common symptoms include weight gain, male pattern hair growth (facial hair and chest hair growth), acne, depression, and insulin resistance.
Diet can be a major factor in managing your PCOS and increasing your chances of getting pregnant with PCOS. Studies have shown mixed results when it comes to specific diets helping with PCOS infertility, but those that have shown an improvement are very encouraging and there is much anecdotal evidence that diet is the key to getting pregnant with PCOS infertility. Studies have clearly shown that a reduction in weight and control over your insulin levels DO improve your chances for reproductive success and diet plays a major factor in both of those things. Losing just 5-10% of your bodyweight if you are overweight or obese has been shown to increase your chances of ovulating regularly.
These are the biggest recommended dietary changes:
Eat more low GI (glycemic index) foods. These include whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and vegetables. Doing this will help lower your insulin levels.
Eat unprocessed foods. This means buying your fruits and vegetables fresh and avoiding fast food and pre-made meals. Eat unprocessed and minimally processed foods is a good way to increase fiber in your diet (which can help with feelings of fullness) and help you lose weight. It also helps you avoid added sugars, which helps with blood sugar levels and insulin levels.
Replace animal based protein with plant based protein. A large Harvard study showed that if you take 5% of your daily calories as vegetable protein instead of animal protein, your risk for ovulatory infertility (on the whole, not just PCOS specifically) was cut in half. Good sources of plant based protein include beans, lentils, nuts, quinoa, and tofu.
Eat anti-inflammatory foods. Inflammation also plays a factor in PCOS and there is much anecdotal evidence that eating foods that help reduce your inflammation improves your chances of getting pregnant. Reducing your inflammation can also help with fatigue, pain, and achiness. These foods include leafy greens such as spinach and kale, red berries, and fish.