PCOS stands for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, a condition that affects between 5 and 10% of women during childbearing years. PCOS is generally characterized by an imbalance of hormones, with an increase in male sex hormones (androgens), sometimes leading to lack of ovulation in women.
Symptoms of PCOS can consist of some typically “male” physical qualities, such as male pattern baldness and body hair, as well as weight gain. The “cysts” in “polycystic” refers to the follicle in the ovary that matures the egg. The egg partially matures inside the follicle (still connected to the ovary), but then is not released; the follicle is simply re-absorbed into the ovary, sometimes attaching to the ovary as a cyst.
It can lead to challenges with a woman’s mental and physical health, and can also interfere with a woman’s ability to conceive a child, due to lack of ovulation and lack of hormonal support. Weight loss and increased overall physical health will likely help lessen symptoms of PCOS. Otherwise, hormone therapy or more invasive fertility treatments may be required for women who have PCOS.
The above treatments can be expensive and intimidating to a woman contemplating getting pregnant with PCOS. Probably even more intimidating is the thought of trying for months and months with no success in conceiving. Add to this the depression and anxiety that women with PCOS tend to experience, and you have a recipe for a seriously unhappy lady!
With this challenging prognosis, a woman may want to seek out so-called alternative or traditional therapies. Many women have turned to traditional Chinese therapy for help with PCOS.
A popular Chinese herb used in the treatment of PCOS is called Dong Quai. It has been used for thousands of years to treat the female endocrine system, as well as helping to regulate irregular menstrual cycles and help with premenstrual syndrome. It has been used for so long that it has been called the “female ginseng.”
Since PCOS is often considered to be a chronic or long-term condition, many women would prefer to take herbal supplements for a longer period of time, rather than modern meds. Herbs are considered to have fewer side effects and to be more successful in the long term. Of course, in order for this to be the case, make sure to buy herbal supplements from a traditional Chinese practitioner that you trust, because otherwise herbal supplements may not be pure (as the production and sale of herbs are not regulated).
Other ancient Chinese treatments sought by women with PCOS are acupuncture and acupressure—these treatments are designed to help regulate a woman’s body and to help maintain balance. These are important outcomes, so acupuncture may be a good option for a woman with PCOS. Since it is completely drug-free, it may be your best option for long-term care of PCOS.
All these treatments should be done under the supervision of a doctor, in order to prevent counter-indications. PCOS is a difficult syndrome to live with, and it is worth trying alternative therapies to find relief and success with trying to conceive.
So, how do you know when you ovulate?
There are a few ways you can tell.
The first way you can tell is completely natural, involves no fertility tests, and in which you only rely on your womanly instincts and hormonal realities. That is, you feel horny. You want to get it on with your partner! If you have a regular cycle, this is a seriously strong impulse. A woman’s body has been giving cues for thousands of years, so who are you to be ignoring those impulses? You will likely feel this at the most in-opportune times, such as wanting to mount the clerk at the grocery store, or wanting to jump a cute guy on the walk home. When you notice this, make sure you go home right away, and jump your husband instead! Your hormones are a little bit slutty; they don’t only feel attracted to your partner—you have to teach them that aspect of commitment. But other than that, they won’t lead you astray. Women with a regular cycle don’t feel like jumping a man except when they’re ovulating, so that’s a major cue to you mamas-to-be!
The second way is that you just magically know when you are ovulating. That`s right; you just feel a “pop,” and know you’re ovulating. One-fifth of all ovulating women feel this, which means that four-fifths of women hate the one-fifth who can feel themselves ovulating! I have heard it described it as a “pop” feeling, like a minor period feeling. If you feel this feeling (like a half-period in the middle of your cycle), jump your husband right away, without any ado! Women who say they can feel ovulation say that it takes a bit of energy to ovulate, so it makes sense that they feel an energy depletion at ovulation. Again, most women don’t feel ovulation, so don’t feel bad if you don’t feel that little egg dropping!
Next, there are two more completely natural methods that can work to help you understand when your body is ovulating, so you can get down and dirty with your husband!
The first method is the basal body temperature (BBT) method. If you don’t feel intuitively that your body is ovulating, this is one of the next best ways to know that your body is ovulating. In order to measure your BBT, you need to measure your basal body temperature as a way of determining your ovulation. That means you need to take your temp every morning before you get out of bed in the morning, most likely using a digital thermometer, as that is the only one you’ll be able to read it that early in the morning! You pop it in your mouth each morning (don’t your husband wish he were a digital thermometer!), and write down your number on your calendar. Then, your base body temp goes up by a half- to a full-degree Fahrenheit, and you will know that it’s your time! You can try to conceive when you notice that your temperature is increasing. But, honestly, your best bet is to track it for a few months and to start with your partner BEFORE your temp is set to rise—that’s when it’s your best time for conceiving. Sperm are hardy and live for several days inside your cervix, like the ‘80’s nerds in those nerd movies, and the eggs are the cool girls who don’t have time to wait for someone to come up to them. So make sure that you set it up so the sperm can wait, and the eggs don’t need to wait!
The next best way to test for ovulation is by touching your cervical mucus. The “plus” is that you can tell your ovulation, and the “minus” is that you have to feel your vagina and cervix every day. A side benefit is that you will get more in touch with your cervix/vagina and your own sexual health.
Cervical mucus changes throughout your cycle—it gets more and more “welcoming” and plentiful as you get closer to your ovulation. Welcoming cervix looks like this: abundant, relatively thin, and similar in consistency to raw egg white. When you notice that your cervical mucus is like this, jump on your husband! It means that you are ovulating!
If you want to plan in advance, you can track your cervical mucus on your calendar, and plan for when you will get your “egg white” cervical mucus. You will want to have sex with your partner prior to when you anticipate your cervical mucus being this consistency, so that you can best prepare for your ovulation.
Have fun trying to reproduce, in any case! You’ll have the most success when you relax, so pick the philosophy that fits you the best. Good luck!
PCOS (Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome) can be a complex and challenging diagnosis. Many women with PCOS are concerned about their chances of conceiving without hormonal or surgical assistance. Some women are concerned about a “short luteal phase,” which is the phase in the menstrual cycle between the mature egg being released and the uterine lining being shed. If women have a short or disrupted luteal phase, that may have an impact on a couple’s ability to conceive. This can be related to PCOS, as in PCOS, a woman often lacks the estrogen to mature the egg and tell it to release from the ovary.
Some women with these sorts of reproductive challenges look to natural supplements to help with their hormonal balance. One such supplement is called Vitex (or chasteberry), which is a shrub from Greece or Italy. Over the years, the reproductive benefits of Vitex have been catalogued and expounded upon. But does it really work?
First of all, it’s ironically named, since it was believed to promote chastity among early monks. Funny that it came to be known as a reproductive aid! Vitex has been studied in relation to PMS symptoms, and has shown some promise, although the tests are not considered to be well-designed. It seems that the science is thin, but the anecdotal evidence is plenty for this extract in helping with PMS, as well as with regulating menstrual cycles and helping with fertility.
The folks who are in favor of using it to help with fertility believe it works by influencing the pituitary gland to regulate reproductive hormones. They believe it can help lengthen the luteal phase, to ensure that a mature egg can be released with enough time for it to be fertilized by a sperm.
So, where does that leave you? You may want to mention it to your doc; she may have read the research and have an opinion on it. Chances are, your doc will not know about it, as the science is not deemed to be conclusive. You could go see a naturopath, or you could just pick some up at a pharmacy or natural health store. It is recommended that you start with a low dose, since side effects may not be well catalogued or understood.
Even if it does not work, guess what? If you think it will work, it very well may work for you, my friend! It’s called the placebo effect, and it can be virtually indistinguishable from actual effectiveness. For example, it may help you to be more relaxed and more excited to have sex with your partner. If you do not release an egg to fertilize, it won’t change anything, but if you do, those changes may be the ones that push you over the edge into baby-making territory!
So good luck, and happy supplementing and conceiving!
Red clover (Trifolium pratense), (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
You’ve been trying for a while, and you’re still only seeing the single blue line on a pregnancy test. You are still excited and nervous, but losing a little bit of heart. Stress and worry starts creeping in. You start asking yourself, “Will I ever get pregnant?”
You’re not alone in your struggles. You never know what to expect when you decide to “start trying”—it may be right away or it may take a while. You also don’t know how you will react emotionally to the process of trying to get pregnant. Pregnancy and parenthood are two of the most challenging things a couple can go through. And no matter how much you read about it or talk to folks who have been through it, there is no way to fully prepare for or anticipate what will happen throughout your period of trying to conceive, your pregnancy, and ultimately your life as a parent. You gotta roll with the punches!
But you want to help the process along—nothing wrong with that! There are supplements and herbal remedies that have anecdotal evidence of working for couples trying to conceive. In general, eating food is more beneficial than taking a supplement, so see if these herbs come in food form at your local health food store. If not, the capsules should be fine too.
This is becoming the go-to natural supplement to help women’s hormones regain balance, especially relating to ovulation. It is thought to help the pituitary gland with regulating estrogen and progesterone levels, so that a woman can ovulate every cycle. Obviously, you need to ovulate in order to have a baby, so if you suspect that this is what’s happening, this may be one to check out! Vitex is a common name for a berry called chaste berry, which was thought to help medieval monks to remain “chaste.” Ironic that now it is used as a fertility aid!
This plant is thought to help nourish and strengthen the uterus, which is never a bad thing when you’re wanting to conceive! It contains calcium and magnesium, which can help with nervous system function and overall good health.
You’ve heard of this one—it’s in all the energy drinks. It is also thought to regulate hormone levels and improve overall wellness and fertility.
You’ve probably heard of this one, too—often paired with ginseng. It is believed to improve blood flow and help with memory loss. It also functions as an antioxidant in the body, so that never hurts! It may help with blood flow to reproductive organs, making it a great option for a reproductive supplement.
This is a B Complex vitamin thought to help women conceive. B vitamins seem to assist with a variety of things related to conceiving and pregnancy, although the reasoning behind this is not currently understood. It could be that modern woman lack vitamin B-rich diets, and that when the B vitamins are restored in a woman’s body, her “reproductivity” can function at a healthy level (that’s just speculation, though). B vitamins do help a person’s general well-being, so they may be worth looking at for that reason as well.
Vitamins C & E are super-important in maintaining a healthy body! They help prevent and repair cellular damage caused by free radicals. This will likely result in increased energy and vitality (which will likely also show up in the bedroom!), and will help with reproductive organ health. Food sources of vitamins C & E are best, but if you are worried that your diet isn’t rich enough in these antioxidants, feel free to pop a pill (it’s good to start taking prenatal vitamins before you conceive).
Green tea is another antioxidant that can help you conceive. You probably know about all the health benefits of green tea, so make sure to keep sipping! It does contain caffeine, though, so be aware of that. There is not thought to be any harm in caffeine for women trying to conceive and a cup or two during pregnancy should be fine, but some women choose to avoid it altogether.
This is the best natural remedy there is! It doesn’t cost anything, and it helps overall mental and physical well-being. Before you head to the store for supplements, go for a walk a day and see if it helps!
So there are some herbs and supplements to start with! A note about natural: “natural” is not a synonym for “good” or “healthy”—there are lots of natural things that are seriously bad for you! Because natural supplements and herbal remedies do not have strict quality-control measures like the pharmaceuticals industry does, make sure you do research on a company before buying their products. Also, make sure you talk to your health care provider before you start any herbal supplement, as these supplements can be contraindicated with some drugs, or even with other herbal supplements (just because they’re natural doesn’t mean you can just load up on ‘em!). Remember, anything that is good for your health when you’re not trying to conceive is likely also good for your health when you are! Good luck!
There are lots of things you may struggle with during pregnancy, so you may be wondering whether acupuncture can help. Are there risks associated with it? What are the potential benefits?
As you probably know, acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medicine aimed at clearing the body’s pathways (meridians) of energy (qi), so that the person can experience better health. Many people swear by its effectiveness, although many Americans can’t get over the idea of having a bunch of needles stuck into your body as a way of making you feel better. So, is it worth trying it out during pregnancy?
Some folks say that acupuncture can help with morning sickness, fatigue, breech positioning of the babe, and can shorten labor time. Unfortunately, the folks who say this are usually acupuncturists, and their livelihoods depend on people buying in. Some people do seem to have found some relief from their negative pregnancy symptoms with acupuncture, although this may be a placebo effect. Since there aren’t any clear-cut studies about the effectiveness of acupuncture, all we are left with is anecdotal evidence. That being said, it is drug-free, and if you are really struggling, it might be worth a try. It seems that the main goal of acupuncture is to help a person relax, so helping the body relax may in turn help with those other symptoms.
It also looks like it may not have any negative side-effects, so if it doesn’t work out to help your symptoms, it may not hurt to try! The main damage will be to your wallet. Treatments can be quite pricey, especially if the acupuncturist recommends ongoing treatment. Some health insurance plans cover alternative therapies like acupuncture, but most don’t, so you will likely be paying entirely out of pocket.
If you are unsure, talk to your GP or your OB/GYN to see what they have to say, or if they have an acupuncturist they can refer you to. Modern acupuncture claims to work best in tandem with modern western medicine, so both approaches should be complementary to one another. You could try both modern western methods as well as the ancient eastern methods and see which works best for you, or if both work together!
Pregnancy is tough on a woman’s body, so it’s never a bad idea to try to find therapies that will help your body feel strong and healthy, and help to maintain a positive mental state. Taking time out of your regular life to lie down and be cared for (whether by an acupuncturist, massage therapist, chiropractor, or other practitioner) will almost always help you to relax and feel rejuvenated. Your best bet is to find one that works for your disposition, your body, and your wallet.