6 tips to boost ovulation and fertility
Acne, irregular or absent periods, hirsutism (facial hair growth), high BMI, fertility challenges and more—PCOS symptoms can cause serious struggles. Many of these traits can be traced back to the fact that 65 to 70 percent of people with PCOS are insulin-resistant. When your cells stop responding to insulin, you wind up with higher levels circulating in your blood, which stimulates the ovaries to secrete more testosterone while also inhibiting the production of sex hormone-binding globulin. That combo leads to high levels of testosterone, the culprit behind many PCOS symptoms.
Improving insulin sensitivity can also help people with PCOS maintain a healthy weight (plus, it decreases carb cravings!), which helps follicles (the sacs in your ovaries that contain eggs) mature and leads to more consistent ovulation—both of which are crucial for fertility.
Of course, you’ll want to chat with your doctor for personalized treatment—especially because PCOS and its underlying hormonal disturbances can put you at risk for developing conditions like diabetes and metabolic syndrome. But if you want to start making lifestyle changes that can help reduce insulin resistance, level out your hormones, regulate ovulation and reduce PCOS symptoms, these 6 natural treatments can support you in your fertility journey.
1. Paleo-Style Diet
A big part of keeping insulin in check comes from what you eat. When you chow down on sugary foods, your body produces more insulin to try to balance your blood sugar—and that’s the last thing someone with PCOS wants. Instead, consume carbohydrates in the low-glycemic index category (think: kale, dark leafy greens, broccoli, peas, peppers, root vegetables), which don’t cause a large amount of insulin to be released. By keeping insulin production low and slow, less testosterone will be secreted and, over time, you’ll improve the sensitivity of your insulin receptors.
Aim for a Paleo-style diet with tons of fresh veggies (low in carbs and—bonus—high in antioxidants!), high-quality fats (carb-free!) and proteins (great for muscle mass—more on that below). This means cutting out sugar, most grains and ditching dairy, all of which have been shown to trigger a significant insulin response.
2. Leg and Glute Muscle-Building
Exercise is beneficial for anyone with PCOS, but for those with a BMI in the “overweight” range (above 25), it’s been shown that losing as little as five percent in body weight can bring back ovulation. To make those sweat sessions really count, opt for strength training that targets your legs and glutes (your butt!), because these tissues have a high level of insulin receptors. Building lean muscle mass can improve insulin sensitivity and increase your basal metabolic rate (which is how many calories it takes for your body to get the basics done).
Don’t underestimate how important sleep is for treating PCOS symptoms. Your insulin sensitivity can drop significantly after only a week of sleeping five hours per night. And one study even showed that just one night of sleep deprivation reduced insulin sensitivity by 33 percent. Take care of yourself by clocking seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every night, and make sure it’s between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., the window for your deepest, most high-quality zzzs.
Inositol (sometimes called myo-inositol or chrio-inositol) is a type of sugar that helps your body process insulin. For people with PCOS, it’s been shown to improve insulin resistance and help balance blood-sugar levels. This is key for maintaining a healthy weight, which means more consistent ovulation. Bonus: Inositol has also been shown to help with mood—an especially helpful perk considering that people with PCOS tend to experience anxiety and depression. To reap the benefits, aim for four grams of inositol daily. You can get it as a scentless, flavorless powder—add a scoop to your water bottle and sip it throughout your day.
This plant compound has comparable benefits to the widely prescribed drug called Metformin, but with fewer side effects. It can help improve insulin control—and thus ovulation—and has also been shown to help with abdominal fat and cholesterol levels by boosting lipid metabolism. This is important because the way we metabolize fats is intimately linked with inflammation. You can take berberine in pill form, and most people with PCOS respond well to 500 mg taken two to three times a day. (Note: You’ll want to cut it from your routine upon getting a positive pregnancy test, as there’s no data on taking it while pregnant.)
6. White Peony and Licorice
These plants have long been used as a base formula for treating PCOS in Traditional Chinese Medicine because they influence the high androgens (A.K.A. testosterone). White peony (Paeonia lactiflora) has been shown to reduce testosterone produced by the ovaries by converting it into estrogen. Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)—the herb, not the candy!—has been shown to decrease serum testosterone in people with PCOS. You can get both in a tablet or solid extract and can take about 100 mg/kg/day (up until a positive pregnancy test) under the watch of a healthcare provider.