What PCOS diet can increase fertility?

by Mar 12, 2020

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormone disorder. It is a condition that significantly alters your endocrine system, but, surprisingly, so many women have no idea that they have it. The thing is, PCOS symptoms are really tricky, and more often than not PCOS stays in disguise. 

 healthy food

Hormones Affected by PCOS

PCOS is a condition where there is a hormone imbalance. It is proved to be the leading cause of anovulation (in 90% of cases), which makes PCOS one of the main reasons for infertility. According to statistics, every 10th woman lives with PCOS. 

Even though there isn’t a universal cure for PCOS, the good news is that this condition can be treated naturally for some women. And the first thing to consider is our nutrition.

As we remember PCOS is associated with the following 4 hormones: androgens, estrogens progesterone, and insulin. Consequently, we should try to focus on a diet that can positively effect the levels of these hormones.

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The main hormone to blame for most of the unpleasant PCOS symptoms is testosterone (an androgen). It is closely connected with insulin: therefore, often when insulin levels rise, there is a subsequent rise in testosterone levels. Insulin levels rise as a result of what we eat. There is an increase in insulin release with the consumption of carbohydrates (or sugars). 

Insulin is also notorious for storing body fat. That’s why many women with PCOS have excess weight and find it difficult to shed those extra pounds. 

Another condition associated with PCOS is chronic low-grade inflammation. It means that our immune system is constantly on amber alert. 

Inflammation is natural and good: if you get injured, it helps to accumulate your body’s resources for a quicker recovery. But when it happens all the time it can cause symptoms such as bloating, sinus congestion, low energy, brain fog, sore joints, insomnia, anxiety, and even depression. 

Eventually, low-grade inflammation may result in heart disease and cancer. Consequently, women with PCOS should avoid pro-inflammatory foods and eat more things rich in natural antioxidants instead.

So, managing insulin levels and avoiding inflammatory foods are the two foundational ideas behind the PCOS diet.

vegetables in a plate

 

Basic Principles of PCOS Diet

1. Choose Whole Foods Over Processed Ones

A whole-foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet is more of a lifestyle. Proponents choose their products carefully, voting for locally sourced and organic foods. Shift your focus on plants (vegetables, fruits, legumes, seeds, nuts, whole grains) and limit animal products.

Invest some time and effort into cooking from scratch. It will pay off pretty soon. Creating your meals is fun, and thus you stay in control of the amounts of sugar, salt, fats, etc. in your daily diet.

2. Vote For The Right Carb

Carbohydrates (together with proteins and fats) are 3 macronutrients that are essential for body functioning. Carbohydrates provide fuel for the central nervous system and energy for working muscles. 

Not all carbs are good for you, though. “Bad” or refined carbohydrates are found in mass-produced pastries, white bread, white rice, sugary sodas. The nutritional value of such carbs is close to zero. In other words, they are “empty” calories.

On the other hand, we have “good” or whole carbs, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes. These are not only digested more slowly, but they are also high-fiber foods.

So say YES to: whole grains (whole oats, whole wheat, whole-grain rye, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, whole barley), fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils).

3. Include Healthy Fats

Feel free to substitute some of your “bad” carbohydrates with healthy fats such as avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut oil and coconut yogurt, olives and cold-pressed olive oil. And don’t forget about oily fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring)

4. Cut Out Sugar

All sugars in your diet are either natural (fructose found in fruit and lactose found in milk) or added. Added sugars are what manufacturers use in processed foods, so they taste good. You can’t imagine how much hidden sugar you consume – think of ketchup, salad dressings, preserves, drinks!

Sugar is the absolute worst carbohydrate. Eating excess sugar leads to weight gain, raised blood sugar levels, and raised insulin levels. Over time this can result in an increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease.

Now, we know that insulin is the hormone that helps our body to process sugar and turn it into energy for our cells. But when the amount of sugar we consume is too much, our perfectly-created hormone system is messed up. It may result in insulin resistance, and eventually in type 2 diabetes. 

So it’s the right time to start paying attention to what you eat. Even if you’re not a sweet-tooth, you may still be consuming a considerable amount of sugar daily through other sources (such as bread, pasta, and rice). So pay attention to what’s written on the labels, and (see point #1!) start cooking for yourself – to be in charge of what you eat.

5. Add Delicious Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Some foods can really help your body soothe that low-grade inflammation. Here’s the list for you from Harvard researchers

tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, collards), 

nuts (almonds, walnuts), fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines), 

berries (strawberries, cherries, blueberries), citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits, limes). 

6. Choose Lean Protein

Lean proteins are vegetarian or animal foods that are rich in protein and low in fat. Lean proteins keep us full longer and helps us build muscle while burning fat.

What products fall into this category? 

White fish (cod, haddock, pollock, flounder, halibut, tilapia), plain greek yogurt, legumes, white-meat poultry (skinless chicken and turkey breast), cottage cheese, light tofu, lean beef, shrimp, egg whites, 

7. Get Your Probiotics From Fermented Food

Probiotics are good, beneficial bacteria, that promote healthy digestion and boost your immune system. 

Fermented foods are an excellent natural source of probiotics. These foods are not only delicious but also extremely healthy for your gastrointestinal system: probiotic yogurt, kefir, tempeh, kombucha, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles. Or you can also take a probiotic supplement daily. 

8. Be Smart About Coffee And Alcohol

Limit or avoid them altogether, if possible. When you’re searching for that caffeine boost, try a cup of green tea instead. It’s loaded with antioxidants and many other impressive nutrients that can help you decrease risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease. 

9. Refrain From Dairy and Gluten

The reason is simple – to avoid unnecessary inflammation.

With today’s huge selection of non-dairy milk (almond, soy, oat, cashew milk etc.) it’s a captivating journey to find the right substitute for you. The same applies to gluten-free pasta and pastries. 

10. Pick The Right Fruits And Vegetables

Vegetables are good for you, we already know that. But some produce is more beneficial than the other. 

Have you ever heard of glycemic index? This term describes how food affects your blood sugar. The higher a product raises your blood sugar, the higher is the glycemic index. 

You may want to limit starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, corn, peas) in your diet.

Instead, pick up these low glycemic index vegetables (broccoli, spinach, carrots, asparagus, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, green beans, tomatoes, zucchini) and fruits (apples, berries, grapes, oranges, peaches, plums).

two cups of matcha tea

 

9. Refrain From Dairy and Gluten

The reason is simple – to avoid unnecessary inflammation.

With today’s huge selection of non-dairy milk (almond, soy, oat, cashew milk etc.) it’s a captivating journey to find the right substitute for you. The same applies to gluten-free pasta and pastries. 

 

10. Pick The Right Fruits And Vegetables

Vegetables are good for you, we already know that. But some produce is more beneficial than the other. 

Have you ever heard of glycemic index? This term describes how food affects your blood sugar. The higher a product raises your blood sugar, the higher is the glycemic index. 

You may want to limit starchy vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, corn, peas) in your diet.

Instead, pick up these low glycemic index vegetables (broccoli, spinach, carrots, asparagus, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, green beans, tomatoes, zucchini) and fruits (apples, berries, grapes, oranges, peaches, plums).

 

How your diet affects fertility

As mentioned above, PCOS may often result in irregular periods and anovulation.

So the logic is very simple. In order to get pregnant, you need to bring your menstrual cycle back to normal. 

In order to normalize your cycle, you need to balance your hormones. Women with PCOS need to take care of their testosterone level. Testosterone is connected with insulin. 

Focus your diet in such a way that insulin levels are lowered. Also, consume products that keep inflammation down. If you are regimented with your diet, and lose weight (about 10% of your body weight) this can help with ovulation and a resumption in regular menstrual cycles. It takes time, but eventually the system may return to normal. This may not be the case for every woman but can help in the majority of women with PCOS. Overall, you will be surprised by the positive changes you can achieve just by taking care of your nutrition. 

As you see, there is no single “secret” product that cures PCOS and boosts your fertility overnight. The magic happens when you take a complex approach through both diet and exercises which will ultimately lead to weight loss. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a combination of efforts, a healthy diet, sleep and tranquility of mind. Overall, change is a gradual process. Take your time and invest that time and effort into your health.

check icon Medically Reviewed by Banafsheh Kashani, MD, FACOG

Banafsheh Kashani, M.D., FACOG is a board-certified OB/GYN and specialist in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Eden Fertility Centers, and has been treating couples and individuals with infertility since 2014. Prior to joining Eden Centers for Advanced Fertility, she was practicing as a top fertility specialist at Kaiser Permanente in Orange County and Reproductive Fertility Center. Dr. Kashani has received numerous awards throughout her years of study and medical training. 

Dr. Kashani has conducted extensive research in female reproduction, with a specific focus on the endometrium and implantation. Additionally, Dr. Kashani has authored papers in the areas of fertility preservation, and fertility in women with PCOS and Turners syndrome. She also was part of a large SART-CORS study evaluating the trend in frozen embryo transfers and success rates.

Dr. Kashani is a fellow of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In addition, she is a diplomat of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and an active member of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) and Pacific Coast Reproductive Society (PCRS). She is also a member of the Society of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (SREI).

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