Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a complex metabolic, reproductive, and endocrine disorder. It is estimated that up to 10% of women in the U.S. have PCOS, and it is considered one of the leading causes of female infertility. Naturally, if you are trying to conceive with PCOS, you may have many questions.
We asked Reproductive Endocrinologists (REIs), Registered Dietitians (RDs), and Reproductive Acupuncturists specializing in PCOS, “What is your top nutrition or other lifestyle-related fertility advice for women trying to conceive with PCOS?”
Top Advice for Trying to Conceive with PCOS
Some common advice for women trying to conceive with PCOS included eating a low glycemic diet such as the Mediterranean Diet, exercising regularly, and taking insulin sensitizers.
Follow a Low Glycemic Diet
According to Dr. Mark Trolice, MD, FACOG, FACS, FACE, Director of Fertility CARE: The IVF Center,“The healthiest diet to adhere to is the Mediterranean diet. So, in general, you’d be eating lots of fruits and vegetables, beans and nuts, healthy grains, fish, olive oil, small amounts of meat and dairy.” He adds, “Remember, portion control and healthy food is the key towards a proper diet.”
Hillary Wright, Med, RD, LDN, author of The PCOS Diet Plan, agrees. “A great first step is to get serious about adopting a plant-based diet and limiting added sugars and red meat. Research suggests this Mediterranean-type diet may be good for fertility regardless of PCOS status and is also a good strategy for managing the insulin resistance that can interfere with ovulation in women with PCOS.”
PCOS Nutritionist Martha McKittrick, RD, CDE, also recommends consuming low glycemic carbohydrate-rich foods. “The Nurse’s Health Study showed that women who consumed carbs with the highest glycemic load were 92% more likely to have fertility problems when compared to women who consumed the lowest glycemic load carbs (such as whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruit). Adding fats (preferably healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts, nut butters) to these carbs can slow the rise of blood sugar even more.”
Focus on Nutrient-Dense Foods
Certain foods that we eat are more “nutrient-dense” than others. When food is nutrient-dense, it means that it contains more important nutrients like antioxidants, phytonutrients, fiber, and protein than its less nutrient-dense counterparts. When trying to have a baby with PCOS, our experts agree that incorporating more nutrient-dense foods can help.
Angela Grassi, MS, RDN, LDN, founder of PCOS Nutrition Center, recommends focusing on antioxidants. “When I work with women who are trying to conceive, I like to help them increase the antioxidants in their eating plan. Antioxidants help to improve egg quality and decrease inflammation. Ways to increase antioxidants are through fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and unsaturated fats.”
Farrar Duro, AP, FABORM, author of The Smart Couple’s Guide to Getting Pregnant, An Integrated Approach recommends “increasing your intake of fiber, along with fresh organic fruits and vegetables, and taking a high quality prenatal with methylated folate, vitamin D3, and omega-3.” She also recommends women “avoid sugary and processed foods, salty snacks, coffee, tea, cola, and other carbonated drinks, and alcohol” while trying to conceive.
Cory Levin, MS, RDN, founder of The Women’s Dietitian and creator of the “Get Pregnant with PCOS” program, recommends balancing blood sugar levels with nutrient-dense foods. “When our blood sugar is out of whack, it sends messages to our ovaries to pump out more testosterone, which can inhibit ovulation. Load up on plenty of protein, healthy fats, and fiber, while keeping refined carbohydrates to a minimum.”
Get Regular Exercise
Regular exercise has numerous health benefits and is essential for women with PCOS, whether you’re trying to conceive or not. There is no specific type of exercise that is best for PCOS. A good rule of thumb is to aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily.
PCOS Personal Trainer Erika Volk suggests mixing High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) with walking for your cardio workout. Her other workout tips to improve fertility include taking a moderate approach and strengthening your upper back. Try to include strength training exercise in your routine at least twice a week.
Dr. Mark Trolice encourages his patients not to forget exercise. “Increasing your metabolism with daily exercise will expedite your weight loss. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of cardio for five days per week and two days of weight training to reduce insulin resistance.”
“Physical activity is critical for managing insulin resistance. Planning to conceive can be a good motivator to get serious about this health-promoting habit that often falls through the cracks,” adds Hillary Wright, Med, RD, LDN.
Judy Simon MS, RDN, CD, CHES, FAND of Mind Body Nutrition also stresses the importance of exercise when trying to conceive with PCOS. “Women come to me to just expect to talk just about food, but we always discuss lifestyle. I explore what type of movement they enjoy and learn how being active as an important way to manage their PCOS by improving insulin sensitivity. Movement is a great starting place for PCOS. All women can do it!”
Consider Taking an “Insulin Sensitizer”
Many women with PCOS are insulin resistant, which can affect fertility. Insulin sensitizers are compounds that make the body’s cells more sensitive to insulin.
Dr. Mark Perloe, MD, Reproductive Endocrinologist at Shady Grove Fertility in Atlanta, GA, advises his patients to follow “A low glycemic diet along with strength training exercise and insulin sensitizers to reduce androgens and insulin levels. This can help induce weight loss, regular cycles, and restore ovulation and fertility.”
Our PCOS experts agree that although there is no known cure, PCOS symptoms can be managed. While trying to conceive with PCOS, they recommend following a low glycemic eating plan containing more nutrient-dense foods. Many PCOS experts recommend getting regular exercise and speaking with your healthcare provider to see if an insulin sensitizer would be best for you.