Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal metabolic syndrome which affects approximately 1 in 5 women in the UK. It is the most common cause of infertility in women of reproductive age – but when it comes to getting pregnant with PCOS, taking a natural approach can be successful in helping you conceive. So with this in mind, we asked our partner nutritionist, Kirsten Oddy, her thoughts on foods which increase fertility and how your lifestyle can play a role.
Over to Kirsten Oddy…
www.kirstenoddy.com | @kirstenoddynutrition
What Are Symptoms Of PCOS?
PCOS is defined by a collection of symptoms related to ‘anovulation’ (lack of ovulation) and high androgens (male hormones). Symptoms can vary between women – one woman may have all of the symptoms listed below, while another may just have one or two:
Women with PCOS are also at a higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
Related Article – What is PCOS? By The Women’s Wellness Centre
What Are The Causes Of PCOS?
Most women who have PCOS often have a genetic susceptibility to it, however it may not manifest without exposure to other environmental or lifestyle factors and these triggers can be different from one woman to another:
Approximately 70% of women with PCOS will have insulin resistance which is by far one of the most common drivers. This can be worsened by a high sugar diet, low-fibre intake and alcohol.
Chronic underlying inflammation can be caused by food sensitivities, poor gut health and infections. Consuming processed foods, trans fats and having a sedentary lifestyle can also contribute to inflammation.
Related Article – Gut Health and Fertility – Is the Route to Conception through the Gut?
From work or home life stresses, to under-eating and over-exercising – these can all result in sustained levels of stress on the body which can in turn affect your androgen levels and drive PCOS.
The Oral Contraceptive Pill (OCP)
Taking the OCP can prevent ovulation and, once stopping the OCP, it can result in a temporary surge of androgens, leading to what is commonly referred to as ‘Post-pill PCOS’.
It is also important to consider other factors such as nutrient deficiencies, environmental toxins and thyroid health.
Each of these factors can contribute to PCOS, and furthermore they can influence and affect each other. For example, under eating and over exercising can lead to chronic stress, raising your cortisol levels, which in turn can cause or worsen insulin resistance. It is therefore important to take a holistic approach in managing your PCOS, especially when you’re trying to conceive.
See Kirsten’s previous article on ‘How to Strengthen Your Immune System’
How To Treat PCOS Naturally
Whilst the conventional medical approach can help to reduce symptoms, they don’t address the underlying causes. We need to not only identify these underlying causes, but also consider a range of dietary, lifestyle and environmental changes personalised to your own needs. Some of these fertility foods could include:
Eating a Fibre-Rich Diet
Aiming for half of your plate at each meal to be full of a variety of colourful vegetables and that you’re also consuming a range of lentils, beans, nuts and grains each week.
Eating Adequate Protein and Fats
Ensuring you consume lean protein (eggs, chicken, fish) and healthy fats (avocado, nuts, seeds) at each meal to maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day.
Reducing and Limiting Refined Foods
Sugar, alcohol and processed foods should be limited and consumed only in moderation.
Optimising Gut Health
Sub optimal gut health can also result in poor absorption of nutrients from your food, even if they are not missing from your diet. It can also lead to the re-circulation of oestrogens through specific enzymes in our microbiome. This approach could differ from person to person.
Limiting and Managing Stress
Trying to identify your stressors and working on ways to reduce these. Daily meditation and breath-work can be great tools to help manage your stress. Make sure you have time out each day that is for you – read a book, watch your favourite programme, take a bubble bath or have a massage.
See Kirsten’s previous article on ‘How to Strengthen your Immune System’
Aim for at least 7-9 hours sleep each night. This goes hand in hand with managing stress levels – sleep can help with stress but also managing your stress can help with sleep. Sleep deprivation can also lead to a spike in ghrelin – our hunger hormone – and could contribute to poorer food choices the next day.
Aim for 30 minutes of low to moderate exercise each day, such as yoga, cycling and brisk walking, plus 3 resistance training sessions per week. Resistance training has been shown to reduce insulin resistance and androgen levels.
Limiting Environmental Toxins
Many of your everyday beauty and cleaning products, plastic packaging and pesticides, all have the ability to disrupt our hormone balance. These are known as endocrine disrupting chemicals. Try and use natural products, limit your plastic use, buy organic when possible and wash your fruit and vegetables before eating.
Related Podcast – How do Toxins and Lifestyle Affect Fertility with Dr Corina Dunlap
Targeted Supplements and Herbs
These are helpful to support healthy hormone balance, reduce androgen levels and insulin resistance, limit cravings and support bodily functions. These would need to be personalised to your needs.
Taking a multi-faceted approach to tackling PCOS is by far the most successful way and you will reap the greatest results. You can do this by working 1:1 with a Nutritional Therapist, where a thorough case history and food diary assessment will be taken to determine the underlying causes and contributing factors of your PCOS. A dietary and lifestyle protocol with a targeted supplement schedule will then be tailored to your needs, so you can start feeling like yourself again and it will help you whether or not you are trying to conceive.
Kirsten is offering our FHH Readers 10% off her nutritional programmes. Find out more and book here, quoting code ‘fertilityhelphub’.