By Gabriela Rosa | Fertility Specialist, Author and Host of The Fertility Challenge Online Event
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the number one cause of infertility for women of the reproductive age, affecting 10-15% of women worldwide. The statistics vary but researchers believe 70-90% of women affected by PCOS experience ovulation problems. The condition is typically characterised by high levels of androgens (male hormones, namely testosterone, sex hormone binding globulin and DHEA), cysts on the ovaries, and irregular menstrual cycles. The diagnosis of PCOS typically also comes with an increased risk of metabolic consequences including obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Although the exact cause of PCOS is still unknown, environmental and genetic factors play an important role in the clinical presentation of the condition. Environmental exposures such as that of Bisphenols A (BPA) and many other toxic man made chemicals so easily present in our day to day have been shown to exacerbate the clinical course of PCOS. Genetics have also been in the spotlight recently, with recent research suggesting that PCOS may be triggered before birth by excess exposure in the womb to a hormone called anti-Müllerian hormone. Although this may be a proximate cause of the issue (something that closely proceeds the problem), the ultimate concern still lies in epigenetics.
In genetics there is a saying: “The genes load the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger”. Epigenetics is a field of science that studies how specific environmental issues trigger our body’s genetic predispositions thereby swaying our biochemistry depending on certain exposures.
The truth is that still the biggest levers in addressing PCOS lie in optimising one’s health and lifestyle modification–from diet to exercise and everything in between.
Whilst the ultimate cause of PCOS may still be under discussion, there is indeed a plethora of strategies we implement for our patients in my clinic with great success to help them manage PCOS, overcome fertility challenges and give themselves the best possible chance of taking home a healthy baby. Here are simple strategies you can begin implementing now:
As I’m sure you are aware, regular exercise prevents and reverses cardiometabolic conditions including obesity. With this in mind, exercise is recommended as an important therapy for women with PCOS. Regardless of body composition, women with PCOS should be encouraged to participate in exercise as it results in significant improvements in blood sugar levels, insulin sensitivity, and dramatically improves the ovulation potential of a woman to be able to conceive.
Optimise your diet
1. Reduce Sugar
One of the most common features of PCOS is insulin resistance, which is represented in 60–80% of women with the condition. When insulin secretion becomes inadequate, as seen in insulin resistance, impaired glucose tolerance and type 2 diabetes can develop. Eliminating sugar from the diet can, in part, reverse this consequence.
Alongside eliminating sugar, other dietary modifications that reduce insulin resistance and have been shown to be beneficial in women with PCOS, include the consumption of cinnamon and apple cider vinegar. A recent study found that just 1.5g of cinnamon powder per day, in 3 divided doses, significantly reduced levels of fasting insulin, among other parameters, compared to placebo. Apple cider vinegar has also recently been studied, and shown to reduce insulin resistance in women with PCOS. Consuming 15g of apple cider vinegar daily (equivalent to around 1 tablespoon) was found to have this effect and subsequently restore ovulation within just 40 days.
2. Reduce fast foods
Recent research also suggests that a diet high in advanced glycation end products (AGEs), as seen in fast-foods, negatively impacts women with PCOS. Reducing the intake of these foods has been shown to lessen oxidative stress, improve insulin sensitivity, improve hormonal balance, and promote a longer life span in women with PCOS!
3. Reduce trans fats
Consuming foods high in trans-fatty acids (including confectionary and fried foods) can reduce insulin sensitivity and negatively impact PCOS. But not all fats are bad! It has been found that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids improves insulin sensitivity in women with PCOS.
And if you are trying to conceive:
Begin understanding your conception cycle and your own fertile signs. Charting your body’s fertility signs, symptoms and basal temperatures will provide you with a world of insight into your own body and reproductive cycle. There are many options to choose from these days from a simple paper chart to wearable devices that track your temperatures, learning about your body will give you fantastic advantage when it comes to getting pregnant.
This is particularly important for women with PCOS because it’s easy to feel completely out of control when what you “constantly see” is an irregular cycle, ovulation and a period that never arrives despite a negative pregnancy test. It can be very disheartening.
However, I know personally and from the experience of thousands of my patients that once you actually are able to understand and recognise your own cycle’s pattern, not only you will feel empowered, but getting pregnant in the absence of any other reproductive conditions is infinitely easier, despite PCOS.
About the author:
Gabriela Rosa is the founder and director of www.NaturalFertilityBreakthrough.com and the host of The Fertility Challenge online event that has now helped educate and inspire over 45,000 people in over 100 countries to take charge of their fertility to create healthy babies, even when other treatments have failed. Gabriela’s unique, life-changing methodology, The F.E.R.T.I.L.E. Method ®, underpins all of her successful fertility programs offering hope to couples who have been trying to conceive and/or overcome miscarriages, a new chance to take home a healthy baby. She is also an author and the mother of two healthy babies conceived by her walking her own talk.