Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) – what is it, and how do I figure out if I have it?

September is PCOS Awareness Month, so we are launching a short series on this important topic. PCOS is the most common “endocrine” (i.e., affecting the glands that secrete hormones or other products directly into the blood) disorder among women. PCOS affects between 4-20% of women, depending on the study and the exact diagnostic criteria used. If you’re thinking that we don’t talk enough about something that affects so many women, we couldn’t agree more. So let’s dive in:

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Which vitamins and supplements help improve my fertility?

Today’s post in our series on lifestyle & fertility focuses on vitamins and supplements. Taking vitamins and supplements in preparation for fertility treatment is something that we can control and that’s easy to do. But what’s been shown to help fertility outcomes? What has been tested but shown no or inconclusive results? We’ll discuss folic acid, vitamin D, and antioxidants below – some of the results surprised us. As usual, ask your doctor prior to your treatment for their recommendations and guidance, as they may be aware of even more recent unpublished research.

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Can I drink alcohol before or during fertility treatment?

The question of drinking before and during fertility treatment tends to bring out strong opinions. It also comes up a lot with our Ovally customers: “Can I have at least a little Spanish wine during treatment?”. For the purpose of this post, we are going to focus on alcohol consumption before and during fertility treatment until conception only, and leave out any research on pregnancy and alcohol. As usual, check with your doctor on their guidance regarding alcohol intake during any fertility treatment. We’re summarizing the findings of high-quality research studies for you, but your doctor may have access to relevant, yet to be published findings.

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How does exercise affect my fertility?

We’re surrounded by positive messages about exercising, yet there are surprisingly few quality studies that have looked at a potential link between exercise and fertility. We know that female athletes often have irregularities with their cycles, and that high levels of exercise seem to be associated with longer menstrual cycles. Research on fertility patients has been inconclusive – one study showed that moderate exercise was correlated with a lower likelihood of having a baby, another showed the opposite.

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How does my doctor figure out if my egg freezing or IVF cycle will be successful?

Doctors perform a series of tests and ask a number of questions as you prepare for and undergo the stimulation phase of egg/embryo freezing or IVF. These tests and questions help determine whether you’re a good candidate for the procedure, whether you’re able to proceed or have any risks, and what your outcomes may be. To make the process a bit more transparent, we’ve included some of these questions below (note that they’re neither comprehensive nor prescriptive). Keep in mind that every doctor will have their own protocols, and we recommend asking them about their process:

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Why might an egg freezing or IVF cycle result in few or no eggs?

It’s always heartbreaking when an egg freezing or IVF cycle does not work, or the outcome isn’t as good as you’d hoped. Even though Ovally patients complete a battery of pre-treatment tests to make sure to the extent possible that they’re a good candidate for the procedure, these tests still cannot rule out some risks that a cycle might be unsuccessful or less successful, with either no or few mature eggs retrieved. Below are some examples of such situations that we’ve observed, backed up by scientific literature. These examples are not comprehensive, and we advise you to always ask your doctor for what risks might exist in your specific case.

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Can my diet improve fertility outcomes?

Relatively clear answers and quality research can be hard to come by in fertility research. However, when it comes to how food relates to fertility outcomes, there are some decent data! The short answer is: Avoid fast food, and instead embrace fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, whole grains, and foods high in omega 3, such as nuts. This goes not just for women undergoing fertility treatment, but also those hoping to conceive naturally. This “Mediterranean diet” has also been linked to higher sperm count and sperm quality in men. And yes, the literature actually refers to it as a “Mediterranean diet” – we swear we didn’t make it up because Ovally‘s partner clinics are in Spain :)!

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