PCOS Review Newsletter #4
2) GETTING PREGNANT – A BURNING ISSUE
By far the most common questions women ask us are about having successful pregnancies.
- "My first and main concern is will I ever be able to have children and will they be healthy?…"
- "My whole life I have wanted kids but last Thursday my dreams were shattered…"
- "What are my chances of conceiving…?"
- "I am heartbroken and fearful that I won't have children…"
We plan to visit this important issue on a frequent basis. For now, here's some basic information about PCOS and infertility.
40% to 80% of women with PCOS have a problem with fertility. The reason for this wide variation is that PCOS is a complex metabolic syndrome, with any number of ways to interrupt fertility.
In addition, some women have other factors that reduce fertility (like a husband with a low sperm count or a uterus scarred by a previous infection), which have nothing to do with PCOS. If you have PCOS, it's difficult to estimate your chances of having a baby.
We don't have specific statistics about natural therapies for PCOS or their impact on fertility. However, common sense as well as the clinical experience of naturopathic physicians and acupuncturists indicates that improving your health will increase your chances for conception. Safe, nontoxic and effective natural therapies can shift you into regular ovulatory cycles that will produce thriving eggs.
Whatever method you choose to achieve pregnancy, building and maintaining your well-being all the way through to motherhood is essential for having a successful pregnancy and healthy baby.
4) WHAT CAN HELP ME GET PREGNANT BESIDES HORMONE THERAPY?
Q: "What may help someone with PCOS in getting pregnant without the hormone replacement therapy"
A: Weight loss, even as a little as 5%-7%, can decrease the amount of circulating androgens and thus help induce ovulation. Weight loss is also associated with decreased insulin and testosterone levels. In one study, reversal of ovarian dysfunction was striking, with 82% of women in the group showing marked improvement in fertility, including five pregnancies in women who had long- standing infertility.(1)
Regular ovulation is a primary goal of all fertility treatments. Exercise by itself, with or without weight loss, improves regularity of ovulation. A study of adolescent women found a significant decrease in the frequency of self-reported acne, painful periods, and irregular menses in those engaging in more than eight hours of sports each week.(2) Although few studies have reported on the link between exercise and PCOS, it's clear that exercise has positive effects on obesity and insulin resistance, which are common attributes of PCOS.
I also recommend you find or create a support group. A recent
Harvard study showed that women who participated in an
infertility support group had a 25% increase in their success
rate over women who just got the usual infertility clinic
care.(3) An excellent resource for PCOS support groups is the
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome Association:
According to a recent study, acupuncture timed with in-vitro fertilization increased conception rates. The group receiving acupuncture had a success rate of 43% vs. only 26% for the control group.(4)
Naturopathic physicians and acupuncturists who specialize in helping infertile couples have reported increased success for couples who have had failed attempts with fertility technology. Natural medicine and acupuncture have helped a significant number of women have their babies. These are anecdotal reports and the causes for the infertility are not exclusively due to PCOS.
The support that natural medicines provide to reproductive function and basic health will inevitably help restore fertility in some women. We look forward to more research to confirm this common-sense approach.
5) WILL PLANT ESTROGENS INCREASE MY RISK OF CANCER?
Q: "Since people with PCOS already have long menstrual cycles and their uterus and breasts are subject to longer exposures to estrogens, thus increasing their risk of cancer, should they avoid foods high in phytoestrogens, e.g., soy products?"
A: "Phytoestrogens" is the name given to a family of plant compounds that have both estrogenic and anti-estrogenic properties. Flaxseed, soy, alfalfa are examples of plants containing phytoestrogens.
Research indicates that these plants, and isolated lignans (proteins) from these plants, have many protective effects in the body. Consumption of flaxseed and its lignans increases SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin) synthesis, as well as reduce breast tumor formation and growth. SHBG inhibits the action of testosterone. Excessive testosterone contributes to infertility, hirsutism, and acne.
Hundreds of research studies demonstrate that soy foods are safe. Soy has a moderating influence on both estrogen and testosterone.
There is some evidence to suggest that the more the food has been processed to be drug-like, the more likely there could be adverse effects. Therefore, eating soy beans in chile, putting ground flax seed in your smoothie, or having a tofu scramble for breakfast, is preferable to taking capsules of isolated soy proteins.
7) IS IT TRUE THAT WOMEN WITH PCOS CAN ONLY HAVE ONE CHILD?
Q: "I heard of women only being able to have one child while dealing with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Is that true?"
A: A characteristic of PCOS is "early fertility", which means a woman with PCOS is more likely to conceive and give birth to one or two children when relatively young, say in her early to mid twenties. As she gets older, her PCOS symptoms become more entrenched, including irregular or no ovulation, and thus there are no more pregnancies later on.
We presume this problem applies primarily to women who are not being properly treated. If you incorporate regular exercise, whole foods, appropriate protein, good quality fats, and fresh fruits and vegetables into your lifestyle, your health and fertility are less likely to follow this sad, unnecessary pattern.
(1) Kiddy DS, et al, Improvement in endocrine and ovarian function during dietary treatment of obese women with polycystic ovary syndrome, Clin Endocrinol, 1992, 36:105-111.
(2) van Hooff, MH, et al, Relationship of the menstrual cycle pattern in 14-17 year old old adolescents with gynaecological age, body mass index and historical parameters, Hum Reprod, 1998, 13(8):2252-60
(3) Domar, A, et al, Healing Mind, Healthy Woman, Henry Holt and Co,.1996, pgs 255 - 257
(4) Paulus, et al., Influence of acupuncture on the pregnancy rate in patients who undergo assisted reproduction therapy, Fertility and Sterility, 2002, 77(4)
(5) Nader S, et al, The effect of a desogestrel-containing oral contraceptive on glucose tolerance and leptin concentrations in hyperandrogenic women, J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 1997, 82: 3074-3077.
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