Infertility is a common concern among women dealing with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
PCOS is a debilitating hormonal imbalance condition that affects at least one in ten women of childbearing age. So you can imagine it’s fairly common. In the US alone, statistics regarding PCOS can be staggering and research shows that the condition is comparable to the country’s struggle with obesity.
The unfortunate aspect of this disorder is that it can be insidious in its growth. Many women don’t even register that they have PCOS. It’s not that the symptoms aren’t easily detectable; it’s that they’re difficult to be claimed as exclusively PCOS-related. Acne, Hirsutism, weight gain and infertility can have other plausible causes too.
So while this condition festers in many young women, there comes a point when PCOS begins interfering with a woman’s reproductive system.
Cystic ovaries are a defining feature of PCOS patients. The ovaries are slightly larger than normal and contain tiny, fluid-filled sacs that hold eggs. However, most of these eggs are immature and often release earlier than they should. The immature egg enters the uterus but sticks to its outer walls since it’s incapable of fertilizing.
What I am describing to you is an ovulation dysfunction. Problems in ovulation result in a wide range of problems in the menstrual cycle and make it incredibly difficult for them to get pregnant.
I get asked many questions about infertility and its link with PCOS, whether women with PCOS can ever conceive and if there is a way to control the menace.
To answer all your questions, I have decided to dedicate this power post to understanding infertility with PCOS. Near the end of this post you will find some of my recommendations for dealing with your PCOS condition and how you can get in touch with me.
Also, make sure you brush up on your PCOS knowledge because I’d like to focus more on the correlations here and less on what is PCOS. For a recap you can catch my previous articles here and here.
The Link between PCOS and Infertility
Infertility is one of the core symptoms of PCOS. If you set about simply trying to Google the link between PCOS and infertility, I’m sure you’re not going to have to spend too much time to figure out some solid correlations.
To kick things off, here’s a stat for you to remember: approximately 20 percent of all women with PCOS struggle to get pregnant. And those who do, struggle to lead the fetus to a full-term pregnancy. More on that later; let’s discuss infertility a bit more.
As I briefly explained above, women with PCOS don’t have regular menstruation cycles. For some women the cycle ends in a couple of days, for others it carries on for over a week and needs to be tamed. A large majority skips their period for several months.
If you notice any of these signs, please seek medical help immediately. Irregular periods or Oligomenorrhea is linked with the increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Meanwhile, Amenorrhea is linked with increased Anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH).
AMH is a protein that is produced by the ovarian cells to support fertilization. Too much AMH is linked with PCOS while too little AMH implies the egg population in the ovarian reserve has diminished.
When there are ovulation problems like these where your eggs are being released into the uterus prematurely or not at all, then you know we’ve got to fight a tough battle against infertility.
Why The Pill Is Not a Solution
There’s a widespread misconception that birth control pills can help avert PCOS symptoms or regulate the menstrual cycle. I’ve seen many women who take The Pill because they’ve been recommended by their doctors to do so.
I would like to point out that like most other conventional medicine prescription drugs, birth control pills are not the solution to your problems.
They do not address the root cause of PCOS based infertility, which is ovulation dysfunction.
More often than not, pills make matters worse than they are. Many birth control pills are made of synthetic progestin that contains a “high androgen index.” What this means is that they mimic the function of testosterone in your body.
Any guesses why this isn’t good for women with PCOS? It’s because they’re already experiencing high androgen levels! More testosterone in a system that’s already being wrecked by high levels of the androgen is only going to experience exacerbated symptoms.
However, that’s not all.
The pill can be a source of nutritional deficiencies, inflammation in the gut, oxidative stress, copper overload and increased imbalances in estrogen and progesterone levels. I’ve also done many videos on how the pill worsens gut health and depression and anxiety.
Hence, The Pill can effectively derail your chance at pregnancy.
Make sure your doctor does not prescribe you birth control pills. It’s an all-too-common mistake. It’s just a band-aid solution to mask or manage your PCOS problems.
Is There a Way to Improve My Chances of Getting Pregnant?
You need to ovulate to get pregnant. This means you need a normal menstrual cycle.
However, there’s more to PCOS related infertility than just proper ovulation.
You also need to produce high-quality eggs.
And that’s kind of why hormone injections and birth control pills cannot act as a viable solution to the infertility issues.
The very few who are fortunate enough to conceive are at heightened risk for miscarriage. Such women are prone to early pregnancy losses and research shows that this issue tends to remain even when variables like age, genetics and body weight have been controlled.
At the core of PCOS lies a chronic problem with insulin and androgen levels.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to control several metabolic processes in the body at the cellular level. An imbalance in the insulin hormones can lead to premature ovulation where eggs are released before they’re fully grown, excess androgens and chronic inflammation.
Inflammation affects how our cells respond to glucose in the bloodstream. Remember that it doesn’t matter if your overweight or thin, insulin resistance is a common problem among PCOS patients regardless of weight.
Note that inflammation is intrinsically tied with androgen excess. Therefore, it’s possible to have high levels of testosterone, androstenedione and DHEA and an insulin resistance problem.
If you’re looking for potential causes of heightened insulin and androgen levels then you can put the blame on your diet and lifestyle.
Individuals who frequently consume sugar are likely to have it worse. PCOS brings with it ravenous cravings for sugar and the morning caramel frappe you love so much is only adding fuel to the fire.
PCOS patients are advised to refrain from eating sugary, processed, high glycemic index and fried foods. For more advice on dietary principles for PCOS you can browse through my article here.
Can You Get Pregnant with PCOS?
I won’t lie to you but getting pregnant with PCOS is difficult.
In many cases it’s even hard for us doctors to analyze the situation because every woman is different. No two women exhibit the same PCOS symptoms.
Plus, the serious hormonal imbalance doesn’t just affect the menstrual and ovulation cycle but it also hurts the quality of eggs produced.
However, the good news is that you CAN get pregnant with a PCOS condition.
Yes, it’s true. Infertility caused by PCOS is treatable given that you understand the BIG picture and take relevant precautionary steps.
The number one thing that you need to focus on is the development of healthy eggs. Good quality eggs that reach the maturation stage are the ones that will help you restore your menstrual cycle and improve your chances of conceiving.
How to Ensure the Healthy Development of Eggs?
There are numerous factors that affect the health of your eggs; however, some of the most important changes that you’ll be making to boost your fertility pertain to your daily lifestyle.
Understandably so, you probably have a lot of questions whirring through your mind. Isn’t it too late to improve egg quality? What foods do I have to eat to help my case?
Allow me to answer all your queries in detail.
Can Ovaries Make New Eggs During Adulthood?
For the longest time, it was believed that women’s bodies couldn’t produce more eggs than the ones they are genetically born with. However, recent scientific discoveries have found the presence of stem cells in ovaries! This means your ovaries are absolutely capable of creating new eggs throughout your adulthood.
The only clarification I would like to make here is that even though your body is still capable of producing new eggs regardless of your age, your ovaries become less than adequate at taking care of them. This should likely help answer all those misconceptions surrounding infertility and age.
How Much Time Does It Take to Produce New Eggs?
Eggs are fully formed after a period of 90 days. This is why any lifestyle or dietary changes must be followed for 3 months at minimum for the effects to take place. While your eggs prepare for ovulation, they are highly receptive to any healthy or unhealthy stimuli.
What Changes Should I Make To Promote Healthy Egg Development?
1. Work on the balance of your hormones
Our modern American diets aren’t exactly the healthiest. Couple that with stress and other environmental cues and you’re very likely going to develop hormonal imbalances. Any kind of problem with your hormone production can trigger ovulation dysfunction and in turn affect your fertility cycle. Here’s what you can do to bring your hormones back in line:
– Eat fertility-boosting foods like herbs and vegetables
– Avoiding xenohormone foods that leave you at risk for estrogen dominance such as nuts, beans and pumpkins.
– Those who have high FSH levels should try taking Chase Tree Vitex.
2. Improve Oxygenation and Blood Flow
A rich and increased flow of blood can promote the growth of healthy eggs. Your blood flow can slow down if your blood has thickened, perhaps due to low water intake or little exercise.
Here’s what you can do to improve blood flow:
– Drink 8 glasses of water every day
– Get regular exercise
– Get abdominal massages.
3. Follow a Nutritional Diet
This may sound clichéd but you are what you eat. The health of your eggs will be directly determined by the foods you consume. Here are some foods you should incorporate in your diet.
– Dark leafy greens
– Pumpkin seeds
For a more exhaustive list of foods that you should and shouldn’t eat, check out my previous power post article on maintaining a PCOS diet.
4. Keep Stress at Bay
As a functional medicine expert, I come across so many patients who fail to factor in the harrowing effects of stress on their health. Please remember that no treatment method will give you results if you’re not actively trying to reduce your stress levels. This also applies to the quality of your eggs. Too much stress triggers the release of hormones like cortisol and prolactin—both of which negatively affect ovulation cycles. Here’s what you can do to ward off stress:
– Go for a walk. Appreciate solitude and enjoy nature.
– Try reflexology treatment or any other kind of massage.
– Get in touch with a therapist or counselor.
Want to Get in Touch With Dr. Hagmeyer?
Whether you need help chalking out a healthy diet or need supplements to curb your hormonal imbalance, I look forward to helping you overcome your infertility condition.
Please visit this link and fill out a short health questionnaire. Tell me a bit about your current health condition and the kind of help you would like.
Make sure to check your email after you’ve submitted the questionnaire. My office will send you an email within 15 minutes, outlining how you can get started on your path to a successful pregnancy!