PCOS Infertility: Alternatives to IVF
PCOS has not been proven to necessarily cause infertility. Yet, many women once diagnosed with PCOS despair that they will never have children. This grief and despair are unwarranted and unnecessarily stressful for these women. Despite what they are lead to believe, not only can women with PCOS conceive and have healthy children, they can do so, in many cases, naturally (without the use of drugs and IVF).
How does PCOS cause infertility?
By definition, PCOS entails a lack of ovulation, at least on some cycles. Egg follicles begin to develop but don’t mature properly to get released and become cysts on the ovaries. If an egg doesn’t get released, obviously pregnancy will be impossible to achieve.
PCOS disrupts ovulation due to altered hormone balance. 60% of women with PCOS will have elevated androgens (testosterone and/or DHEAs). Androgens interfere with ovulation by suppressing egg development and estrogen production.
In other women with PCOS, elevated levels of prolactin equally suppress egg development and ovulation.
In yet another subset of PCOS, ovulation isn’t happening because there isn’t enough estrogen being produced to get egg follicles to mature.
Other women have endocrine system issues with their adrenal glands and/or thyroid. Addressing these organs and enhancing their function helps reverse PCOS.
In any of the above scenarios, if ovulation doesn’t occur regularly, then fertility is decreased. If it doesn’t happen at all, then pregnancy is impossible until you correct the reason why ovulation isn’t occurring. Each of the above deterrents to ovulation can be addressed and resolved.
How do I know which kind of PCOS I have?
Extensive, thorough lab testing is vital to determine which scenario is the cause of your PCOS. It is not one size, fits all. Everyone does not have PCOS for the same reason or has the same hormone imbalance. Almost 100% of the women that I see with PCOS have NOT had adequate testing done to truly identify what is causing their polycystic ovarian syndrome. Thin women have been told they don’t have PCOS because they don’t look like it. This is nonsense. Up to 40% of women with PCOS ARE thin. Having acne or hair loss does NOT mean that your PCOS is caused by testosterone. Assumptions are made incorrectly.
The following tests should be done (as appropriate to the person): HbA1c, fasting insulin, fasting glucose, total and free testosterone, DHEAs, DHT, vitamin D, AMH, prolactin, androstenedione, thyroid testing (TSH, free T3, free T4, anti-TPO and anti-thyroglobulin), if cycles are present, day 3 LH, FSH and estradiol (otherwise do a random estradiol), and day 21 progesterone as well as a pelvic and transvaginal ultrasound.
What are the alternatives to IVF in PCOS?
- I’ll break down naturopathic treatment for PCOS infertility into the different PCOS types:
High androgen type – these women have had blood tests that showed high levels of androstenedione, and/or DHEAs, and/or testosterone and/or DHT. This is the “Classic” PCOS and is usually related to elevated blood sugar and insulin. Insulin drives the excess production of androgens from either the ovaries or the adrenal glands. So the treatment is a low glycemic index, low glycemic load diet, exercise, stress reduction and herbs/vitamins/minerals for blood sugar and insulin. Some supplements that may help include inositol, chromium, vanadium, zinc, benfotiamine, berberine and cinnamon.
- High prolactin – In some instances, stress elevates prolactin. The solution to high prolactin in these women is to reduce stress. If that’s not possible, then we add some stress reduction techniques like exercise, yoga, meditation, and CBT. Other women will have a benign pituitary tumor known as a prolactinoma. In this case, there is a drug to reduce prolactin (bromocriptine or cabergoline) or in natural medicine, we use an herb called Vitex and vitamin B6 to lower prolactin.
- Low estrogen – Low output of estrogen can occur secondary to high androgens, in which case, the solution is to resolve the high androgens. In others, low estrogen can occur because of an underactive thyroid or underactive adrenal glands. In that case, the solution is to unearth why the gland isn’t working and rectify the situation. In the case of the thyroid, your thyroid may not be working well because a) you have an autoimmune thyroid disease known as Hashimoto’s, b) the thyroid is lacking nutrients to function normally (iodine, zinc, selenium, copper, tyrosine) or c) the thyroid isn’t working well because some other part of the endocrine system isn’t working well. The adrenal glands support normal ovarian function by supplying DHEAs and testosterone to the ovaries to make them into estrogen. So, low estrogen output can be due to a lack of building blocks coming from the adrenal glands. The adrenals are your stress glands, so stress reduction is vital to enabling them to function normally. They require vitamin C, B5, B6, magnesium, and zinc to function well, so restoring adrenal function requires replenishing these nutrients.
Do the IVF alternatives work?
Yes, because they are addressing the root cause of the problem. I have seen it help hundreds of women conceive naturally and go on to have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. These measures address the individual and the specific hormone imbalance going on in this particular woman with PCOS.
Why doesn’t the fertility clinic do this?
Your fertility clinic is following set guidelines to induce a pregnancy through drugs and ART. They do not specialize in investigating and addressing the root cause of polycystic ovarian syndrome or treating you as a unique individual. That’s my job as a naturopathic doctor.
By Dr Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND
Book an appointment now to discuss PCOS infertility with Dr. Pamela Frank, BSc(Hons), ND
Dr. Pamela has practiced as a naturopathic doctor in Toronto since 1999. She has received numerous “Best Naturopath in Toronto” awards. She is registered with the College of Naturopaths of Ontario.
Dr. Pamela Frank uses a natural treatment approach that may include acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition, diet, vitamins, supplements, and other natural remedies to restore balance and provide long-term resolution to almost any health problem.