What to Know About Trying to Conceive with PCOS

In the U.S. it is estimated that about 10 million women are affected by PCOS. These are big numbers for a condition that has such a profound impact on a woman’s fertility, yet the support for it is so lacking. In this piece, Lyndsey Clabby of MyMindBodyBaby shares what you need to know if you’ve been diagnosed with PCOS.

1 in 10 Women are Diagnosed with PCOS

Women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) report that it can significantly impact their quality of life. The symptoms of PCOS can impact all elements of a woman’s life: prevalence of acne, mood, her weight, her period, hair growth (too much in some areas, not enough in others) and her outlook on life.

 

The Prevalence of PCOS

Reports have stated that roughly 10% of women of childbearing age are impacted by PCOS.  In the US it is estimated that about 10 million women are effected. These are big numbers for a condition that has such a profound impact on a woman’s fertility, yet the support for it is so lacking. In fact, having trouble becoming pregnant is often what prompts investigations that lead to a PCOS diagnosis.  PCOS is actually one of the leading causes of female infertility.

 

Taking a Deeper Look

What exactly is PCOS? Its’s a disorder of the endocrine (hormonal) system. Your endocrine system is like your internal communication network. Different areas of your body communicate with one another through chemical messages. The system is comprised of organs that produce hormones (called glands), and they help regulate things like your metabolism, reproduction, sleep, mental state, and growth. Your ovaries are actually glands. They produce estrogen and progesterone and these hormones are play an important role in your menstrual cycle, fertility and ability to support a pregnancy.

 

Common Impacts of PCOS

  1. High androgen levels: A blood test to check the levels of androgen (male) hormones in a woman’s blood can help to diagnose PCOS. Higher levels of testosterone are often found in women with PCOS.  Higher testosterone can impact ovulation and menstruation. Normally, each month your body matures one egg. A follicle is prompted to grow and mature with the help of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH).  When luteinizing hormone (LH) surges the mature follicle ovulates. If you are tracking ovulation at home with a kit, the test strips you are using are testing for an LH surge. This surge occurs just prior to ovulation.  It is often found that women with PCOS have multiple follicles (fluid-filled sacs – these are the “cysts” in PCOS ovaries).  These follicles do not mature enough to be released. The lack of ovulation has a cascade effect – estrogen, progesterone, LH and FSH levels are all impacted. The female hormones – estrogen and progesterone – are depressed, while the male androgens – which include testosterone – are elevated.
  2. The impact of insulin: In some women PCOS is suspected if insulin levels are elevated.  If this is the case, you require higher levels of insulin to keep your blood sugar levels normal. However, high levels of insulin are one of the drivers of ovulation disturbances, causing the ovaries to produce more testosterone, as described above. Weight gain can result from PCOS and insulin resistance and higher levels of body fat can contribute to worsening insulin resistance and additional PCOS symptoms.

 

PCOS-Related Risks

PCOS can come with a number of other health issues in addition to fertility problems and insulin resistance. Many of the additional health concerns are, in fact, linked to insulin resistance.  Other health issues include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and even cancer. Metabolic syndrome is a serious condition associated with higher levels of abdominal adipose tissue (fat), high “bad cholesterol” levels (LDL), low “good cholesterol” levels (HDL), high blood sugar and high blood pressure – all of which can increase the risk of strokes, heart disease and diabetes.

 

Managing PCOS

A PCOS diagnosis can be a lot to take in. The symptoms can sound frightening and can feel like a great burden. Research has shown that many women diagnosed with PCOS suffer from anxiety and depression – on top of the other health concerns we’ve listed.

There is no cure for PCOS. However,  there are a number of options to help manage the symptoms of this disease. The approach you use to manage your PCOS depends on what symptoms you are experiencing, and what your family planning goals are. Changes to your diet and activity level can help manage your symptoms. Options like birth control can also be beneficial, although this is obviously not an ideal approach if you are trying to conceive. For those not TTC, birth control can help normalize your menstrual cycle, reduce acne, and help control unwanted hair growth although once stopped, symptoms return. For those who are trying to become pregnant there are medication options that are available to help support ovulation through estrogen management.

 

Finding Support

At myMindBodyBaby, we have created a number of resources to help with your PCOS diagnosis. If you would like to try a free PCOS meal plan + one-week exercise schedule (with videos!) + a guide to managing PCOS symptoms through lifestyle modifications you can download your copy here.

 


 

Step 1: Let’s Look at Nutrition

Diet and nutrition can both help to improve insulin resistance, high androgen levels, mental outlook, and body composition – all which can help reduce the severity of your PCOS symptoms.

Foods that have a low glycemic index (GI) are beneficial for those with PCOS. These foods help control insulin levels as they are digested more slowly.  This helps to reduce insulin spikes – which can happen with high GI foods. Inflammation is associated with PCOS – consuming items with anti-inflammatory properties, such as dark, leafy greens, blackberries, blueberries, and “good fats” like avocado and olive oil can be hugely beneficial.  But, we know what’s on the tip of your tongue: “what about dessert?!” Chocolate lovers do not have to despair – there are lots of options for treat-lovers to enjoy too. Here is a super simple recipe you can whip up in a flash:

Print Recipe

 

Chocolate Banana Ice Cream

This super easy-to-make ice cream only requires two ingredients and is PCOS friendly!

Prep Time: 5 mins

Servings: 2 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 bananas frozen and sliced
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder

Instructions

  1. Add frozen bananas and cocoa powder to food processor and blend. Occasionally scrape down the sides and continue to blend until smooth (approximately 3 to 5 minutes).
  2. Scoop into a bowl and enjoy immediately as soft serve or for firmer ice cream, place in an airtight, freezer-safe container and freeze for at least 1 hour before scooping

 


 

Step 2: Let’s Get Moving

Regular, moderate exercise is great for everyone. But it is particularly helpful for PCOS patients in supporting a healthy body composition. Many women with PCOS find weight to be a huge struggle. Trying to find ways to fit in a little extra exercise can go a long way to helping manage weight and the related PCOS symptoms associated with weight gain.  

Exercise guidelines tell you to aim for 150 minutes a week. If you aren’t working out at all that can seem incredibly daunting. But even adding in a few 10 minute workouts a week to start can have an amazing impact,  not only on your physical health  but also your mental health. From there, you could aim to increase that 10 minutes to 15 minutes, and go from 2 times a week to 3x / week.  Keep adding on a little at a time. And if you miss a workout – do not let that derail you. Just pick back up the next time you have a spare 10-15 minutes. 

Trying to find some cardio cardiovascular activities (like running, brisk walking, biking, aerobics classes) and some resistance training (squats, push-ups, lunges, weight lifting, etc.). Both work hand in hand to improve body composition. 

Click here for a free HIIT workout video you can do anywhere! This workout is great for all levels as there are modifications for beginners right up to fitness fanatics!

Lyndsey Clabby is a co-founder of myMindBodyBaby. It took her and her husband four years, countless needles & tests, multiple failed rounds of IUI, miscarriage, and two rounds of IVF to bring their son Bronsen into the world. Sawyer came two years later, followed by Adalyn in 2020. Self-reported cardio-addict, when not mommying and helping support other infertility warriors, she likes to run and try new workouts. She also pretends she’s crafty. She is a marketer & entrepreneur (BMSc, MBA), certified fitness instructor for the past 16 years, and a Patient Advocate for Fertility Matters Canada.

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