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Polycystic Ovaries: Conception following Nutritional Programme

by Penny Crowther(more info)

listed in fertility, originally published in issue 69 - October 2001

Of all the reasons my clients consult me, failure to conceive is becoming an increasingly common one. It seems that many women are looking for a more natural alternative to conventional fertility treatment such as IVF (in-vitro fertilization). No one is denying that the development of IVF some 20 years ago was a truly remarkable scientific breakthrough and for some women this technique is their only chance of having children.

However, many experts (including some of the IVF specialists themselves) believe that fertility treatment is being offered to couples too readily without consideration of other options.

It always surprises me that some people find the idea of changing their diets far more daunting than undergoing IVF. A success rate of around 14%, endless invasive procedures, large doses of synthetic hormones and unpleasant side effects do not add up to an easy option in my mind! We mustn't forget either that the long-term risks of artificially engineered pregnancies on mother and child are not yet fully known.

Unfortunately, if you ask a fertility expert for advice on what you should eat and whether it will affect conception, the best you can expect is to be told to avoid alcohol and smoking and to eat a 'balanced' diet (whatever that is). Most experts will point to a lack of scientific evidence for the connection between diet and conception and use this actively to discourage couples from trying a nutritional approach or, at best, tell them that it might have a placebo effect.

The folic acid story is a good illustration of the direct consequence of a simple nutrient deficiency. Lack of this important vitamin leads to an increased likelihood of your baby being born with spina bifida. What is yet to be proved, and what conventional specialists don't accept, is that slight nutrient and metabolic imbalances can prevent conception in the first place.

Case Study

Thirty-two-year-old Maureen first came to see me in October last year. She and her partner had originally begun trying for a baby in 1998. Her partner's sperm count was normal but motility was low. After eight months without a period Maureen was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries in 1998. She was given progesterone medication from her GP, which kick-started her cycle again. At the time of coming to see me her periods were quite irregular and very painful. She also had typical symptoms of polycystic ovaries such as problem skin, bloating, wind and low energy. Her blood sugar levels were very imbalanced, reflected in frequent mood swings, cravings for sweet foods and the need to eat very frequently. She also had a history of suffering from bad constipation.

My first priority was to improve Maureen's bowel function. The accumulation of waste products in a sluggish bowel, over time, leads to autointoxication. This means that toxins circulate from the bowel to the liver, causing an overall toxic overload. The quality of the skin is often affected. Maureen already included plenty of fibre in her diet but she was eating a lot of wheat. If wheat is imperfectly digested (as it often is), the protein in wheat, called gluten, can form a sticky mass which adheres to the wall of the colon, attracting unhealthy bacteria. I advised Maureen to replace her bread with rye bread, and to buy gluten-free muesli, corn pasta and wholegrain rice. These foods tend to pass through the gut more quickly and are less prone to leaving sticky deposits. I also included flaxseed oil in Maureen's programme. Flax contains mucins, which have a soothing effect on the gut wall.

Maureen also took a supplement of the herb, Vitex agnus castus in the easy to absorb fluid extract form. Agnus castus works on the pituitary gland, the master gland of the endocrine system. It is believed to stimulate the production of luteinizing hormone, which in turn regulates the production of progesterone. We decided that Maureen would have a hair mineral analysis to assess levels of both nutrient and toxic minerals. But, in the meantime, I decided to give her a mineral supplement containing good levels of essential minerals.

On her second visit a month later, Maureen reported that her bowel movements were much more frequent with a corresponding improvement in the texture and appearance of her skin. The bloating, on the whole, was much better too and her sugar cravings were under control. She had also lost weight, which she was pleased about. Generally Maureen felt an overall improvement in her health.

However, she was very bored with the diet! She agreed to get a recipe book that I recommended to help bring some variety into her cooking.

The results of Maureen's hair mineral analysis showed that her mercury levels were high. Sources of mercury can be amalgam fillings or tinned fish. The rate at which mercury accumulates in body tissue is related to the health of organs such as the liver, kidneys and bowel, which are involved in detoxification. Excess mercury can be a factor in infertility. I added selenium and N-acetyl cysteine to Maureen's supplement regime. These nutrients are known to help the body expel heavy metals such as mercury from the tissues. The hair analysis had also revealed borderline levels of selenium, manganese and chromium.

Six weeks later, Maureen informed me that she and her partner had been to the fertility clinic at the Lister Hospital and had been told that in view of the couple's medical history the chances of a natural conception were very slight at less than 10%. Maureen decided that she would continue with the diet anyway as she felt so much better on it, but she made a decision to go for ICSIE (intracytoplasmic sperm injection).

In February of this year Maureen called me, delighted, to say that she had conceived naturally, a few days before she was due to have the fertility treatment. She had been on the nutritional programme for a total of four months. I always emphasize to clients the importance of maintaining their diet and supplements for at least three months. Occasionally conception does occur more quickly (in one couple who consulted me it took just over three weeks), but it usually takes time for the body to build up stores of nutrients and for biochemical adjustments. It can seem a long time, but three months is a short interval in the whole scheme of things, and in Maureen's case it saved her hundreds of pounds, not to mention the inconvenience of going through fertility treatment.


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About Penny Crowther

Penny Crowther BANT CNHC qualified as a nutritional therapist in 1997 and has been in clinical practice ever since. She has seen several thousand clients over the years, at her practice in London and online. Penny now specializes in nutrition for women in their 40s and beyond, particularly around peri and post menopause. Mid Life for women can be a time when fluctuating hormones play havoc with your wellbeing. In the midst of all the publicity around HRT, it's easy to forget just how powerful diet and lifestyle changes can be when it comes to navigating the menopausal years.

Penny will guide and support you through specific changes to your diet, targeted to you specifically, in midlife. She provides practical, easy to follow menu plans with easy and delicious recipes. The food you eat affects every cell and system in your body. It optimizes how you look and feel, both mentally and physically.

To book an appointment view consultation options here >>

As well as being a regular columnist for Positive Health, Penny has written for Holland and Barrett, and contributed to articles for the Daily TelegraphThe Times Literary supplement, Pregnancy & Birth and Marie Claire. She has been featured in the Daily Express, Daily Mirror and on local radio.

Penny is a registered nutritional therapist with standards of training endorsed by BANT (British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy) and CNHC. This includes completing 30 hours of continuing professional development, annually.

Penny’s approach to health is holistic, and takes into account emotional, mental and environmental factors as well as nutrition. She has trained in coaching and studied many complementary therapies before qualifying as a nutritionist, which provides a broad foundation of knowledge in her nutrition practice. Penny may be contacted on Tel: 07761 768 754;

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