by Julie Snyder
As many as five million women in the United States suffer with polycystic ovary syndrome also known as PCOS. This "thief of womanhood" can cause irregular periods, lead to obesity, insulin resistance and depression. It can even rob you of your fertility. Fortunately, most women who are diagnosed with PCOS can go on to have healthy pregnancies. It just takes a little extra effort to make that miracle happen!
While the cause of PCOS is unknown, medical experts know that the syndrome is driven by hormonal imbalance. Women with PCOS make too much androgen, a male hormone that is similar to testosterone. Early on, these higher levels can lead to:
- Few or no menstrual periods
- Heavy, irregular vaginal bleeding
- Male pattern hair loss
- Acne and oily skin
- Depression or mood swings
- Hair growth on face, chest, back, even toes and thumbs
- Skin tags
PCOS is also linked to insulin resistance. If PCOS continues unchecked the following symptoms may occur:
- Weight gain, around abdomen more than hips
- Male pattern baldness or thinning hair
- Repeated miscarriage
- Sleep apnea -- linked to both obesity and insulin resistance
Birth control pills are prescribed to help regulate hormones, keep your cycle running normally and keep certain side effects such as acne and hair growth in check. Progesterone-only pills are often will make your cycle more predictable but don't help with the other symptoms.
Diabetes medication, such as metformin, regulate insulin production in the body. When the insulin is control often the hormones will follow suit. These medications have great success but can come with a host of unwanted side effects.
Anti-androgens are prescribed to help with the more extreme cases of hair loss/growth but are not friendly with pregnancy or breastfeeding.
PCOS and fertility
Even with "treatment" PCOS can render a woman infertile. The hormone imbalance often hinders ovulation. Your doctor will try to get your ovaries back in working order. Medications to stimulate ovulation are used first. Clomid, one of the more popular prescribed, has a remarkable success rate. There is a 10-15% per month chance for pregnancy provided the sperm and fallopian tubes are normal) according to the Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago.
If the medications fail to induce ovulation, your doctor might suggest an HSG, which is a dye test that checks for blocked fallopian tubes. Whether or not HSG can improve fertility is controversial. Researchers at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine have reported slightly increased pregnancy rates in the first months following an HSG.
While modern medicine can increase your success rates, your overall health remains the most important "drug" in your arsenal. Small changes in your daily life can reduce or eliminate symptoms of PCOS. It's been shown that when overall health was improved, pregnancy occurred naturally! You can improve your chances by:
Avoiding toxins: Eat as much fresh food as possible. Canned and packaged items could contain hormone disrupting chemicals like BPA.
Exercise is good for everyone! But keeping your body active is essential not only for weight maintenance but for combating depression that often accompanies PCOS.
NO smoking! (duh, right?)
Build a support system.
Follow a low Glycemic menu such as the "Mediterranean Diet." This means you eat lots of vegetables and proteins, fresh fruits, healthy fats, complex carbs and stay away from processed foods.
A PCOS menu is loaded with high fiber, complex carbohydrates, protein and unsaturated fats. It revolves around foods that don't spike insulin levels or irritate the androgen levels in the body. Julie Merrick, author of "Power over PCOS - The 7 Step Solution For Polycystic Ovary Syndrome" shares these tips:
- Focus on low Glycemic load foods
- Eat natural-based foods
- Include healthy fats from fish, nuts, avocados and olives
- Drink the right liquids -- plenty of water. Avoid sweet drinks or highly processed juices
- Reduce or eliminate dairy products
- Focus on protein and vegetables
- Use apple cider vinegar. It's been shown to reduce insulin resistance. Splash a couple tablespoons in your water or use on salads.
A German study found that acupuncture boosted the success rate of in-vitro fertilization. The study concluded that the participants who received the acupuncture treatments saw an increase of pregnancy from 26% to 43%. "It's only one study," Dr. Lori Marshall, an infertility doctor at Virginia Mason Medical Center, states. Dr. Marshall continues, "But, it's enough to say...there could be something there."
According to a recent Israeli study, hypnosis can effectively double the success of IVF treatments. Some specialists believe hypnosis enables women to work through stress which does affect fertility. Lyndsi Eastburn, founder of the HypnoFertility Foundation, works with couples. She says, "Hypnosis can help support IVF and medical protocol and can help women become pregnant naturally. It's helps men too -- with sperm count, motility and sexual issues that can happen with infertility treatments."
If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, obviously there is no reason to sugar coat your path to parenthood may be a bit more challenging. Still - it is NOT a reason to give up hope! Throughout the years we have been thrilled to welcome new babes to the world with our PCOS moms! Please know we are eager to cheer you on to your own positive pregnancy test soon!