Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is the most prevalent endocrine condition in reproductive-aged women. Women with PCOS have a hormonal imbalance that interferes with the growth and release of eggs from the ovaries (ovulation), resulting in an irregular menstrual cycle. If you don’t ovulate, you can’t get pregnant, which makes PCOS one of the most common, yet treatable, causes of infertility.
Many PCOS Cysters worry about how much the condition affects their egg quality and ability to conceive naturally. In this post, we’re going to alleviate some of these concerns by discussing whether PCOS affects egg quality and what you can do about it.
Please note that this blog post is not a substitute for official medical advice and is for informational purposes only. If you are concerned about your fertility, suspect you have an underlying health condition, or wish to make dietary/lifestyle changes, please consult your doctor first. Neither the author(s) nor the publishers of this content take responsibility for any potential health consequences or side effects experienced by any person following this educational content.
Does PCOS Reduce Egg Quality?
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome impacts fertility as most women with the condition have irregular periods due to high hormone levels of androgens and insulin. PCOS has been found to impact egg quality, prevent ovulation, contribute to insulin resistance, and increase the likelihood of developing certain disorders like type 2 diabetes.
The extent to which PCOS affects egg quality is debatable and somewhat of a controversial issue within the fertility field. Medical studies have reported opposing outcomes. Some suggest that the condition doesn’t affect egg quality and women with PCOS can develop high-quality embryos, just like women without PCOS.
Other studies have concluded differently, claiming that those diagnosed with PCOS have poorer egg quality, meaning that their eggs have a lower pregnancy potential than eggs from non-PCOS patient of the same age.
If you’ve had a PCOS diagnosis, people may have told you that you can’t get pregnant or will encounter serious struggles. Please don’t let these misconceptions discourage you!
While it’s true that PCOS can present difficulties when trying to get pregnant, most women with PCOS are able to conceive. It may take a little longer or require a few lifestyle changes. But there’s a higher likelihood of having a successful, healthy pregnancy if you focus on increasing fertility.
How to improve egg quality with PCOS?
Before we go into how to improve egg quality, let’s take a look at some of the factors that affect egg quality.
In addition to age, egg quality is affected by the following:
- Drug use
- Ovarian cysts
It’s important to note that age is the biggest factor when it comes to diminishing egg quality. Around 80 – 90% of a ~20-year-old woman’s eggs are good quality.
As we age, our eggs age. By the time a woman is ~45 years old, the percentage of her quality eggs will have dropped to around 20%. The number of eggs available will also have significantly reduced. Fertility decreases as the number of eggs and the rate of healthy eggs decreases. This is why egg freezing is encouraged at a younger age (late twenties or early thirties), as the eggs are estimated to be of better quality and in a higher quantity.
For women in their mid-forties onwards, it’s highly unlikely that egg quality can be improved through lifestyle changes. But women in their 20s to early 40s can improve their fertility by losing weight if they have a BMI over 30, eating a nutrient-rich diet, and by quitting smoking and drug use.
Maintaining a healthy weight
There are numerous ways to increase egg reserve and quality. At the top of the list is balanced, regular nutrition. Anti-inflammatory foods that are paired in a way to help regulate blood sugar are key for a healthy diet that supports fertility. There’s evidence to suggest that antioxidant foods like dark leafy greens (e.g. spinach and cabbage) improve egg quality.
Weight gain is a common issue for women with polycystic ovaries. There are two main reasons for this: insulin resistance and inflammation. Low-grade chronic inflammation drives insulin resistance further, and both lead to weight gain, specifically in the midsection.
Both research and evidence show that PCOS Cysters who are overweight and obese can experience significant improvements in symptoms when they lose a small amount of weight. Healthy and incremental weight loss can also improve the pregnancy success rate for women with PCOS.
For more dietary advice on how to lose weight when you have PCOS, check out our handy blog post here: “How to Successfully Lose Weight with PCOS”.
Along with a nutritious diet, a combination of doing slow, weighted workouts is shown to improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the stress hormone cortisol, which is known to affect egg quality. Lifting weights helps you build muscle, which can keep your metabolism moving even after your workout.
Chronic stress triggers a hormonal response that can cause symptoms of PCOS, including trouble conceiving. And while stress is unavoidable, we can control our reaction to it. Addressing any fertility issues holistically can improve our reproductive and overall health.
Stress also triggers a blood sugar rollercoaster, which can lead to spikes in high blood pressure, high testosterone, and trouble conceiving. Exercise is a failsafe stress-busting technique, as well as breathing exercises, meditation and yoga. Try to incorporate these into your daily routine – 20 minutes a day will suffice!
Addressing insulin resistance is also a key aspect of improving fertility with PCOS. An inositol supplement, like Ovasitol (5% OFF, PRC code 292660) can improve egg quality and ovulation. It’s part of the B vitamin family and has been found in the follicular fluid of higher-quality eggs.
Inositol is thought to increase insulin sensitivity of the ovary, which helps to bolster egg quality. It’s recommended that women should take it three months before they try to conceive, to let the eggs develop.
Seek Professional Help
If you have PCOS and you’re concerned about your fertility, please see a doctor. I always recommend naturopathic doctors who specialize in functional medicine. With support from diet, lifestyle and supplementation, many women with PCOS are able to get pregnant. If lifestyle changes aren’t helping matters, the majority of women can be successfully treated with a short course of tablets taken at the beginning of each menstrual cycle.
If these are not successful, a host of other treatment options are available. Consult your doctor for the best course of action.
What’s the lowdown?
- A combination of egg quality and egg quantity is important when it comes to fertility. This is known as “ovarian reserve”.
- Other than quitting smoking, you can’t do anything about the number of eggs you have left.
- However, if you’re under 40, you CAN improve your egg quality to improve your chances of conceiving. Exercise, a nutritious diet, sustainable weight management and stress-relieving habits are all important factors in improving egg quality.