The road to becoming pregnant can be a challenge, especially for women who have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS. Affecting somewhere between 8 and 20 % of reproductive-aged women, PCOS is a metabolic and hormonal disorder that may cause your ovaries to become enlarged with small, fluid-filled cysts. These cysts are essentially enlarged follicles that did not release an egg at the time of ovulation.
In addition to the possible presence of polycystic ovaries, PCOS is associated with symptoms that can negatively affect fertility, such as irregular ovulation, high levels of androgens (e.g. testosterone) and insulin resistance. PCOS can also cause acne, excess facial hair, male pattern baldness, weight gain and skin discoloration.
Needless to say, for many women with PCOS fertility can be an issue. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone, and it may be reassuring to know that there are ways to increase your chances of becoming pregnant naturally through the foods you choose. The following are our best tips for increasing your fertility through diet:
1) Eat a larger breakfast and smaller meals later in the day. This may help offset the hormonal imbalances caused by PCOS. Researchers have found that eating the bulk of calories early in the day moderately reduced insulin levels, and reduced testosterone levels by half. This is important because elevated levels of either of these hormones can increase the risk of infertility. The researchers also found that at the end of three months, the women in the study who ate a larger breakfast and smaller dinner ovulated more than those women who did not change their diet.
2) Get the trans fats out of your diet. Trans fats are those created by processing liquid vegetable oils to add hydrogen, which makes them more solid or spreadable. They’re found in some margarines, processed foods, baked goods, and hydrogenated oils. The reason trans fats are a problem is that they negatively affect insulin sensitivity, which is associated with a greater risk of developing ovulatory infertility.
3) Decrease the amount of carbohydrates you eat. Doing so can help you maintain a healthy weight, decrease insulin levels, control body fat and help keep your periods regular.
4) Especially decrease the amount of refined carbohydrates you eat. This includes white flour, sugar, sweetened drinks and processed grains. Sugar and highly processed grains are absorbed by your body quickly and cause your insulin to spike. Instead, when you eat grains, choose whole, unprocessed grains because they contain fiber and are digested more slowly.
5) Get enough fiber. Eating fiber helps to lower your cholesterol, keep your blood sugar in balance and helps your body excrete excess estrogen that may be contributing to infertility. This is especially true of soluble fiber, which dissolves in water and can be metabolized by the beneficial bacteria in your gut. (In contrast, insoluble fiber cannot be dissolved in water and contains cellulose, the more fibrous, undigestible portions of the plant.) Some good sources of soluble fiber are oats, beans, citrus fruits, barley, and apples.
6) Rethink your protein sources. Substituting animal proteins for vegetable proteins has been found by researchers to reduce the risk of infertility. They found that when as little as 5% of a subjects’ total calories came from vegetable proteins instead of animal, their risk of ovulatory infertility dropped by more than half. And if you do eat animal protein, what kind seems to make a difference. Another study found that eating more fish was associated with a greater probability of live birth in women going through infertility treatment. This translates into eating less meat, eggs and dairy, and eating more protein in the form of legumes, nuts and fish that are low in mercury. In addition, while this may sound contradictory, if and when you eat dairy foods, choose those that are high in fat. Scientists have found that eating high fat dairy foods at least once a day may actually help your fertility.
The good news is that dietary changes may help boost your fertility, however it may not be so simple to translate it into practice. Stuck on the difference between a healthy fat and a trans fat? Not sure how to get the right mix of healthy proteins? If you’re eating more at breakfast, how much should be actually be eating a lunch and dinner? At BodaHealth, we get it! And we have people in the form of nutritionists, naturopathic physicians and acupuncturists who can answer your questions and help you map out the right diet plan for your needs. Just give us a call!
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.