Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) affects as many as 10% of women (myself included). It is treatable but not curable, and can make getting pregnant difficult, but not impossible. My 2 ½ year old is proof it’s possible to conceive with PCOS, and I’m in good company with many celeb sufferers including Victoria Beckham and Jools Oliver.
What is PCOS?
The NHS defines PCOS as a common condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work. If you have at least two of the features below you may be diagnosed with PCOS:
- Irregular periods – which means your ovaries don’t regularly release eggs (ovulation)
- Excess androgen – high levels of “male hormones” in your body, which may cause physical signs such as excess facial or body hair
- Polycystic ovaries – your ovaries become enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs (follicles) which surround the eggs (it’s important to not that, despite the name, if you have PCOS you don’t actually have cysts)
What causes PCOS?
PCOS is one of the most common and complex female health issues because it can be accompanied by a whole host of other health issues including obesity, hairiness, irregular periods and risk of developing Diabetes Type 2.
Despite the mountain of research, specialists are still not sure exactly what causes PCOS, but they are confident that genetics, hormone imbalance, insulin resistance and low-grade inflammation play an important role.
1) Hormone imbalance
PCOS is caused by an imbalance of female sex hormones, which can disrupt ovulation. Without ovulation there is no chance of pregnancy.
In a regular cycle (non-PCOS), the menstrual cycles starts when the brain sends Luteinizing hormone (LH) and Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) to the ovaries. These hormones signal the ovaries to develop a number of follicles, fluid-filled sacs each containing an immature egg. One follicle will become dominant. Around two weeks after menstruation, an ovulating woman will experience a surge of LH and FSH, which signals the dominant follicle to release its mature egg, i.e. ovulation.
In a PCOS cycle, levels of Lutineizing hormone (LH) are often too high at the start of the cycle. When LH levels are too high, it causes the ovaries to make extra amounts of androgens (testosterone), the follicles can’t develop (creating the appearance of cystic ovaries – although they’re not actually cysts), and there is no surge of LH and FSH, so ovulation doesn’t occur.
(Image from: https://www.slideshare.net/ocfertility/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos)
2) The Insulin Factor
Up to 80% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance, and it is now recognized as playing a major role in what causes PCOS.
Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas in response to eating food. Its role is to transport sugar out of the blood and into cells to be converted to energy or stored as fat. Insulin resistance means that the process for getting sugar out of the blood and into the cells is impaired – the cells are ‘resistant’ to insulin.
In this situation, the pancreas has to release more and more insulin to get sugar out of the blood and into the cells, resulting in high levels of insulin (hyperinsulinemia). High levels of insulin cause the ovaries to make excessive amounts of androgens (testosterone), which interferes with normal ovulation. High insulin levels can worsen symptoms of PCOS and increase the risk of long-term health complications. Therefore, maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and insulin is key to managing PCOS, controlling symptoms and boosting fertility.
3) Low-grade inflammation
It has also been found that women with PCOS often have low-grade inflammation, which may be a cause for insulin resistance.
White blood cells produce substances to fight infection, this is known as inflammatory response. In some predisposed people, eating certain foods, or exposure certain environmental factors may trigger an inflammatory response. When inflammatory response is triggered, white blood cells produce substances that may contribute to insulin resistance and a fatty build up in the arteries (atherosclerosis).
How can Fertility Massage help PCOS?
Fertility Massage helps first off by increasing circulation. Our circulatory system carries fresh blood containing hormones, nutrients and oxygen all over our body and to all our organs. Since the uterus only receives 5% of this blood flow, any congestion or inflammation in the pelvic region can hinder delivery of essential elements, and create an imbalance of hormones. Clearing these pathways, improves the flow of blood and restores the hormonal balance, and delivers our ovaries with what follicles need to develop mature eggs.
"The uterus only receives 5% of this blood flow, any congestion or inflammation in the pelvic region can hinder delivery of essential elements, and create an imbalance of hormones"
Annovulation (not ovulating), and underdeveloped follicles can leave a woman’s ovaries pitted with scaring and tissue congestion. Fertility Massage can help by breaking down scar tissue and congestion by increasing circulation of blood and lymph to the ovaries.
Fertility massage also works on the digestive system, by reducing inflammation in the digestive tract, nutrients are absorbed more easily, which has a positive effect on the immune system and hormonal imbalance.
But there is another important aspect Fertility Massage can help with, the emotional healing. Fertility issues can be a huge source of stress for men and women living with them; blood tests, scans, medications, multiple GP appointments are just the tip of the iceberg. We can also start to feel disappointed in our bodies, and our bodies respond by holding that stress and triggering a negative hormonal response, which is ultimately harmful to fertility.
Fertility Massage can help with relaxation, helps clear emotional blockages, and allows us to reconnect with our bodies again, so we’re not working against it. You can read my personal experience with this here.
What else can I do to treat my PCOS naturally?
Low GI, high fibre diet – High GI foods such as white potatoes, refined sugars, white pasta, white bread, don’t keep you full for long enough and have an adverse effect on insulin production. Low GI foods, such as beans, lentils, kale, broccoli and brazil nuts, are more fibrous and breakdown more slowly and don’t cause a negative insulin response.
Avoid inflammatory foods – such as dairy and refined sugars and carbohydrates. Choose whole grain, or sprouted grain products that are higher in fibre and protein which is essential for balancing insulin.
Eat small meals more often – to stay full and avoid negative insulin response, eat 5 small meals spread out during the day. There is a wealth of resources online about PCOS-friendly nutrition and recipes.
Avoid caffeine – Caffeine increases estrogen levels which is already an issue for women with PCOS
Maca root powder – a fertility superfood, nourishes the endocrine (hormone) system and balances oestrogen and progesterone in the body, may help encourage a healthy menstrual cycle. All completely natural and can be taken by men too. Little Bud Nutrition do a great quality prenatal supplement for men and women that includes Maca root, and all the other vitamins and minerals you need to support healthy conception.
Regular exercise – a natural stress buster and helps keep metabolism, weight and heart in check
Castor oil packs – applied to the abdomen three times a week or more, can reduce inflammation, increase circulation, draw out toxins and promote healing of tissue and organs underneath the skin. Castor oil packs should not be used if you are pregnant or menstruating, or after ovulation if you are actively trying to conceive.
Self-massage – for all the reasons stated earlier. Self-massage helps increase circulation directly to the abdomen and reproductive organs, reduce inflammation, relaxes and nourishes your womb.
I recommend my clients invest in an initial 90-minute appointment with me. During this appointment we discuss your fertility journey so far, symptoms, diet etc, followed by a fertility massage treatment, and then I provide a tutorial on how to carry out the massage at home. You also receive a Fertility self-care pack, including a castor oil pack, massage balm and lots of helpful information. You can find out more on my website.
Visit well-woman.co.uk to find out more
Read next: Fertility Massage & The Tilted Uterus
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