Editor’s Note: Chelsea Clark co-wrote this blog.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is an alarmingly common hormonal disease. But just because it is so common does not mean that it’s impact on women is something to be ignored. Symptoms of the condition include irregular menses, increased body mass, insulin resistance, and more.
Women with PCOS tend to have difficulty getting pregnant, as one of the hormonal disturbances that occur with the conditions causes failure to ovulate.
Often, PCOS is treated with drugs like birth control pills. But they aren’t always effective and can cause problems of their own. So how can you improve your chances of getting pregnant if you have PCOS?
Research shows that some of the safest and most effective methods include diet, exercise, and weight loss strategies.
Study shows lifestyle changes improve fertility significantly
In a study from September 2015, 149 obese and overweight women with PCOS were randomized to either take birth control pills, undergo a lifestyle modification routine, or do both.
The lifestyle program focused on things like caloric restriction, behavioral modification, and increased physical activity. These interventions lasted for four weeks before the women attempted conception with induced ovulation.
Women who underwent the lifestyle modification, either alone or with birth control pills, experienced significant weight loss – and ovulation rates were higher after that weight loss.
Birth rates were at least twice as high for women who did the lifestyle modification program (alone or alongside birth control pills) compared to the group who used birth control pills alone. This data suggests that women who used diet and exercise were more likely to get pregnant.
Diet and exercise can also improve metabolic health
The lifestyle program also helped women to improve their insulin functioning and lower their triglycerides, two other problems associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome.
The authors conclude that the lifestyle modifications used were effective and safe for improving both reproductive and metabolic health, and “in contrast, use of preconception oral contraception alone may worsen the metabolic profile with no benefit to ovulation, and possibly detriment to fertility.”
Diet and exercise are key
The idea of diet and exercise being particularly important for improving fertility in obese women with PCOS is not new. A study from 2004 concluded that “weight reduction might play the most significant role in restoration of ovulation” in these women.
A meta-analysis in 2014 also showed that exercise and diet could improve levels of numerous hormones needed for proper ovulation and fertility, including follicle stimulating hormone (FSH).
Make these lifestyle modifications your priority
To get pregnant with polycystic ovarian syndrome, diet and exercise should be your priority. They are safe and effective tools for helping increase your fertility and chances of getting pregnant.
While many different dietary strategies have been studied and found helpful in women with PCOS, the most therapeutic PCOS diet is one that is based on whole, unprocessed foods and is specifically designed to balance blood sugar and insulin levels.
The diet should consist of lean protein, healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, and a small amount of whole grains, along with the elimination of refined grains and sugar, and sometimes dairy. Following these basic dietary guidelines is key to reversing PCOS and enhancing fertility.
PCOS diet guidelines
You might find these specific PCOS diet guidelines especially helpful:
- Avoid all sugars, including sugary drinks. This is key to kicking the sweet habit and treating PCOS. If you need a small amount of sweetener, use xylitol or stevia.
- Eat at least five and up to11 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables daily (limit fruit to three whole, fresh fruits to avoid sugar)
- Avoid white flour and all refined, processed carbohydrates including bread, pastries, tortillas, white rice, pasta, cereal, chips, crackers, etc.
- Get healthy omega 3s (salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines) and omega 9s (olive oil, olives, almonds, hazelnuts, avocados).
- Avoid hydrogenated vegetable oils and fried foods. Cook with olive oil at a low heat or coconut/grape seed oils at higher heat.
- Eat lean, good-quality protein with as many meals as possible (especially breakfast!), such as eggs, chicken breast, turkey breast, and fish (especially salmon and sardines), and lean beef.
- Snack on vegetables and small amounts of nuts, olives, or avocado. Smoothies with protein powder also make extra small meals or snacks.
For tips on how to motivate yourself to exercise, read How to Motivate Yourself to Work Out: Setting Routines to Make Exercise a Regular Habit and check out these 7 practical tips for getting yourself to exercise more.
You can also read Our 10 Most Popular Weight Loss Tips for help getting started on a healthy weight loss program.
Other effective treatment options for PCOS
Two natural supplements that can help improve symptoms of PCOS include inositol and N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC). Read more about them here.
Share your experience
Do you have PCOS? What natural treatment options have you tried, and which ones have worked? Share your experience in the comments section below.