Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) Diet, Lifestyle & Supplement Support

Along with emotional health and lifestyle factors, optimal nutrition sits right at the foundation of good health overall, and is an important area to consider if you’re looking to support your reproductive health. It is never too early or too late to consider your diet and nutritional status, and whilst fertility treatments can often be time consuming, stressful, costly and may come with unwanted side effects, there are no downsides to improving your diet and nutrition status, only positives. Evidence suggests that nutrition can play an important role in altering fertility-related outcomes. Looking after your nutrition at any point during your fertility journey is a win-win.

But where to start? In an ideal world, optimal fertility nutrition involves a 360 approach, paying special consideration to you as an individual and your own unique needs. If a complete nutrition overhaul feels overwhelming however, it may be more realistic to get started on some small changes. And to begin with the smallest changes that have the potential to make the biggest difference; thus spring-boarding your motivation to add more over time. There are 3 key nutrients that are easy to add into your diet, have wide-ranging effects, and come up time and again when it comes to fertility support. Let’s take a closer look at magnesium, myo-inositol and vitamin C.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral which means we need to include it in our diets. It is involved in over 600 cellular reactions in the human body which demonstrates just how crucial it is for just about every aspect of health. There are many direct and indirect ways in which magnesium supports fertility; it is important for sleep, hormone balance, mood, blood sugar balance and for regulating the stress response – all of which are key for reproductive health.

Stress directly affects the reproductive system; during the stress response, among other changes, the hormones prolactin and cortisol are released, both of which can negatively impact ovulation. Mental and physical stress both increase magnesium elimination from the body, which may lead to imbalances in the body’s stress-regulating systems. Research has demonstrated improved stress response and anti-anxiety effects of magnesium supplementation. Research has also shown that magnesium may help to support a good night’s sleep. In fact, magnesium is often referred to as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ which attests to its calming, balancing effects. Magnesium has also been linked to improvements in some features of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) - a common endocrine disorder which is a prevalent cause of infertility. PCOS is a complex disorder with a wide range of symptoms; a large proportion of women with PCOS have excessive androgen secretion or activity (hyperandrogenism) and abnormal insulin activity. In one recent study, researchers evaluated the role of dietary changes in PCOS and found that increasing magnesium intakes may help in reducing insulin resistance and hyperandrogenism in women with PCOS.

The body has high needs for magnesium, yet deficiency is notoriously difficult to detect; this is because only about 1% of the body’s magnesium is found in the blood, and most is stored in bones and teeth. Magnesium is found in nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables and wholegrains, yet dietary surveys suggests that many people have very low intakes of this important mineral. And to further compound the problem, intensive farming practices have led to significant decreases in the magnesium content of plant foods over the last 60 years. Many cooking, storage and processing techniques further reduce the magnesium content of food. High bodily needs for magnesium, especially during stressful times, or for anyone affected by PCOS, provide a strong argument for adding extra magnesium into your diet in supplement form if you are looking to support your reproductive health. Magnesium is best supplemented in the form of magnesium bisglycinate as this is effectively absorbed and gentle on the digestive system.

Myo-inositol

Myo-inositol is a less well known, naturally occurring substance produced in the human body from glucose, although it is not a sugar. Better described as a ‘vitamin-like’ substance, myo-inositol is often considered to be a member of the B complex group of vitamins. In addition to the body’s own production from glucose, myo-inositol is also found naturally in many foods such as organ meats, fruit, grains, nuts and beans. Myo-inositol is a key factor involved in insulin signalling and low levels have been observed in individuals with impaired insulin sensitivity and PCOS – a common cause of infertility among women.

In fact, a number of research studies have found supplemental myo-inositol to be an effective support in PCOS, in part due to its ability to improve insulin sensitivity, restore hormonal balance, improve menstrual regularity, reduce hyperandrogenism and influence ovarian function. Promising research has also demonstrated fertility-improving effects of myo-inositol among women with PCOS. The benefits demonstrated by research so far have involved myo-inositol in supplemental form rather than from food sources and it is unlikely that food sources can supply high enough levels to achieve this therapeutic effect. Myo-inositol appears to be safe and well tolerated by most, although patients with bi-polar disorder are advised to avoid supplementation with myo-inositol before further research can determine its safety.

Vitamin C

And last but not least, vitamin C completes this powerful fertility-support trio. Vitamin C is well known for its immune-supportive and antioxidant roles, and is often recommended for men to help protect sperm and the DNA within it from damage. Perhaps less well known however, but highly relevant for fertility, is the vital role that vitamin C has to play in balancing the stress response. Vitamin C is found in high concentrations in the adrenal glands and regulates the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Maintaining optimal dietary intake of vitamin C may therefore support a better cortisol balance which may in turn help to protect ovulation. Vitamin C is also involved in hormone production and is essential for collagen synthesis. High levels of vitamin C are found in the ovaries and collagen synthesis is required for follicle growth, for repair of the ovulated follicle and for the development of the corpus luteum. We can’t make vitamin C ourselves, and only have a very limited capacity to store it, so regular and adequate intake through dietary sources is essential to support vitamin C’s vital reproductive health functions. Vitamin C is found in rich supply in fresh fruits and vegetables, with citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers and kiwi fruits being particularly rich sources. Unfortunately, vitamin C intakes tend to be low in a typical Western diet, and vitamin C needs increase during times of stress. To ensure optimal daily intake, vitamin C may be supplemented in the well tolerated form of mixed mineral ascorbates (potassium, magnesium, calcium and sodium ascorbate).


Small changes with significant potential

Supporting reproductive health through optimal nutrition requires a multi-faceted approach, yet it is reassuring to know that there are small changes you can make with minimal effort that have the potential to make a significant difference. Understanding where different nutrients such as magnesium, myo-inositol and vitamin C fit into the whole picture is an empowering part of the process, and enables better decision making when you are considering what is relevant for your own unique journey. The incredible thing about working through dietary changes is that the potential benefits are widespread and long lasting; as you improve your nutrition status you are not only supporting your reproductive health, but laying the foundations of optimal health overall, now and for good.

Written by Rachel Bartholomew BA (Hons), Dip ION, mBANT, CNHC, GHW

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