People with PCOS may find it more difficult to get pregnant mainly because of the anovulation associated with the syndrome. But what can we do to improve the chances of conception? You may have heard of the fertility diet for PCOS and in this article, we break down the link between PCOS and fertility, the fertility diet for PCOS and the best foods to eat if trying to get pregnant.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine condition impacting up to 13% of people worldwide assigned female at birth. Several symptoms are associated with the condition including acne, oily skin, irregular periods, hirsutism, alopecia and more.
PCOS and fertility
One of the main symptoms of PCOS is difficulty getting pregnant, primarily because of irregular ovulation or a lack of ovulation. It is thought that anovulatory infertility affects 70% to 80% of people with PCOS.
Insulin resistance also impacts people with PCOS and is considered both a symptom and a driver. Insulin resistance can cause delayed maturation of eggs and lead to smaller eggs being released during ovulation. You can read more about PCOS and getting pregnant with our dedicated article.
Is there a fertility diet for PCOS?
If you are trying to conceive with PCOS you may find it more challenging but it is important to note that people with PCOS give birth to the same number of children as those without PCOS, but it may take longer to get pregnant according to the Jean Hailes Institute. To improve your chances of conception there are many changes or adjustments you may choose to make.
One of these may be adjusting your diet and “eating for fertility”. Although there is no one-size-fits-all fertility diet for PCOS, you could make many nutrition changes, additions and adjustments that may help manage your hormone levels and improve your chances of conception. Let’s discuss the best foods for PCOS when trying to get pregnant, and foods to avoid.
Best foods to eat if trying to get pregnant with PCOS
Making sensible and realistic dietary changes has been seen to improve fertility health for people living with PCOS. But that doesn’t mean you have to overhaul your entire diet if you’re trying to conceive. We know that people with PCOS have a higher incidence of eating disorders and disordered eating so being kind to yourself and only making changes if they feel good to you is essential.
Where possible choose wholegrain carbohydrates. Wholegrains contain all of the grain kernel including the bran, germ, and endosperm. Wholegrains are nutrient-dense, containing B vitamins and magnesium, which contribute to hormonal regulation. They are also rich in fibre which can help with blood glucose management, which in turn can positively impact insulin resistance. Wholegrains include quinoa, oats and brown rice.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s are a group of essential fatty acids. They are essential as we cannot produce them ourselves so we have to consume them via our diet. For fertility, omega-3 fatty acids may boost fertility by improving egg quality and promoting regular ovulation. Omega-3 rich foods include oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, sprats, trout and herring, flaxseeds, chia seeds, sprouts, walnuts and hemp seeds.
High fibre foods
Fibre is the component of plant-based foods that remains indigestible as it travels through the digestive system. Fibre can help with insulin sensitivity and reduce high levels of circulating insulin, improving insulin resistance. You can boost your fibre intake by adding nuts, seeds, beans, wholegrains, fruits and vegetables to your meals.
Folate rich foods
Taking folic acid, the synthetic version of folate, is essential when trying to conceive. But consuming folate rich foods can also help to support conception by improving oocyte quality. Consuming folate rich foods such as wholegrain carbohydrates, beans, dark green vegetables, fruit and peanuts alongside your supplements may improve your fertility outcomes.
Foods to avoid if you’re trying to conceive
There are some foods to avoid if you’re trying to conceive to optimise your chances and prevent harm to the baby once pregnant. If you are trying to conceive avoid alcohol, caffeine and foods high in mercury.
Alcohol should be avoided for anyone trying to conceive. Even light drinking has been found to reduce fertility outcomes in those trying to get pregnant.
The evidence surrounding caffeine and conception is conflicting. Aim to be sensible with your caffeine intake to prevent spikes in cortisol levels as this may impact hormonal health and therefore fertility. Ideally consume less than 200 to 300 mg of caffiene daily.
Foods high in mercury
High mercury food such as shark, swordfish and king mackerel can inhibit fertility and harm the developing foetus upon conception. Choose low mercury seafood options where possible.
Other ways to improve chances of conception with PCOS
Fertility isn’t only about food. There are many changes, adjustments and additions we can make to improve PCOS symptoms and increase fertility outcomes. These include taking supplements for fertility, improving sleep quality and quantity, managing stress, moving your body regularly, taking medication, tracking your ovulation and working with a PCOS nutritionist or dietitian.
>> Read more | PCOS and pregnancy: the ultimate guide to conception
Key takeaways: fertility diet for PCOS
Although you don’t have to overhaul your entire lifestyle when trying to get pregnant with PCOS, there are certain adjustments you may choose to make to improve your chances. One of these could be the fertility diet for PCOS which involves swapping to wholegrains, boosting your omega-3 and monounsaturated fat intake and adding in high-fibre foods. Working with a nutritionist or dietitian is always advised when changing up your diet.
Founder and Editor | Registered Associate Nutritionist
Founder of Be The Collective LTD [The PCOS Collective & The Endo Collective] Alex Okell ANutr is a London-based reproductive health nutritionist with experience in research, private practice and digital media. She holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition from King’s College London and has co-authored papers with the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, The Food Foundation and the Food Standards Agency. Alex offers 1:1 PCOS support in our virtual PCOS clinic.