In early April I had my first IVF appointment, or in other words I went to a fertility clinic. Based on just my symptoms the doctor suggested I might have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). However she needed to do testing to be sure. The blood work and ultra sound for this diagnosis took several weeks to complete and more weeks to schedule another appointment. At first mention of PCOS, even before my results, I tried to learn everything about it. I learned that PCOS is essentially diabetes of the ovaries. Yikes! I had heard of this disorder before, but I always associated it with females that were overweight. I have a healthy BMI. But I kept researching. Then I discovered something called “skinny” PCOS that can occur in normal weight females and it accounts for about 50% of the diagnosed cases! I strongly felt like this was why my husband and I weren’t able to conceive. I scoured the Internet for the cause and the cure. The cause: insulin resistance in the ovaries. The cure: don’t raise insulin.
THE INSULIN-SUGAR CONNECTION
So here I am writing this post while eating a Jimmy John’s sub using their new lettuce wrap option instead of bread. I know this is borderline blasphemous. I know that the bread is much more amazing. But I want children and to find healing more than a silly piece of bread. You see anytime we eat bread, pasta, rice, waffles, pancakes, potatoes, crackers, cake, and cookies, it turns into sugar. The same sugar as if we ate a candy bar, a glass of juice, or a banana. Many people are not aware that carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, etc. are just as bad as eating a candy bar.
After eating any type of carbohydrates the body is flooded with glucose (sugar). That glucose floats around in the bloodstream until the body releases insulin to lower the blood sugar and reach equilibrium again. Insulin is like a key. It knocks on your cell’s doors saying, “hey, I’ve got some fuel for you. Take this glucose.” Whatever your cells don’t use for energy, insulin stores it as fat. Yes fat. Particularly belly fat. After awhile the cells stop responding to insulin’s “knock.” The cells ignore it. For some people it’s the pancreas that stops ignoring first. This is Type II diabetes. For others it’s the ovaries. This is PCOS. But how do we get there?
My family has a history of blood sugar problems. My mom’s brother has Type II diabetes, her father had hypoglycemia, she is pre-diabetic, my sister has hypoglycemia, and I have hypoglycemia. Some people abuse sugar and develop diabetes. I never abused sugar and still developed diabetes. But it’s not that my body didn’t warn me. For as long as I could remember I was hungry all the time. I’d eat and then be starving again, though this time shaky, moody, confused. My life revolved around food. There seemed no correlation between what I was eating and the reactive hypoglycemia, except foods that raised my blood sugar. I strongly believe my body overreacts to glucose by producing too much insulin, eventually lowering my blood sugar too much causing hypoglycemia. Whatever the cause I just have to accept it, deal with it and make lifestyle changes if I want to get better.
INSULIN AND PCOS
In PCOS the ovaries ignore insulin’s attempts to provide it’s cells with glucose. So in essence the ovaries become starved of glucose and ultimately stressed. So the body’s response it to produce more insulin. Why is that bad? Insulin triggers higher levels of something called insulin growth factor (IGF), which helps the body regulate blood sugar when you are in between meals. Insulin manages sugar right after eating, IGF manages sugar in between eating. The problem with IGF is that it converts into androgens (male hormones), which disrupts a woman’s ability to ovulate. Normally a body prepares several follicles for ovulation in the ovaries, but in the presence of excess androgens ovulation never occurs. Thus these follicles hang around in the ovaries and are a hallmark of PCOS. It doesn’t help that the sack around the unused follicles also contributes to increased androgens, making the problem a vicious cycle. I urge you to check out Dr. Berg’s YouTube videos for more in depth explanations about insulin, and especially this one on PCOS. His channel has been a huge source of information and understanding for me and hopefully you to.
HEALING PCOS, DIABETES, AND INSULIN RESISTANCE
The answer here is simple but hard at the same time. The solution is not to raise insulin very much by choosing the right foods to eat, but therein also lies the hard part. It is difficult to not eat bread, pasta, cookies, ice cream and so many other yummy treats, especially if we grew up with these foods. But for me I have to focus on my goals in life, and one of them is having children. The thought of possibly not having children because of what I’m eating makes it easier to stick to not eating simple carbohydrates and sugar. I don’t want to wake up and be 60 years old and regret not having children because I couldn’t give up bagels and ice cream.
After 4 months of adopting my new eating lifestyle, I have noticed a dramatic change in my cycles. I have been charting for about a year but lost much of my data when I lost my phone 😞 But I do have the last 5 months of charts and they show the turning point when my cycles began to change for the better.
This screenshot from Kindara (an awesome fertility tracking app) shows my past 5 cycles. Cycle 1 was 40 days long and represented a typical cycle for me. I began my diet (rather lifestyle change) in early April. I cold turkey eliminated simple carbohydrates, and sugar. My cycle went from 40 days to 33. In other words, my cycles were affected very rapidly and have continued to be very consistent, between 32-33 days long.
Above are examples of my charts number 1, 2 and 5. Unfortunately I started using Kindara near the end of my 40 day long cycle so I am missing some information there. The peach bars are menstruation, the grey bars are no cervical fluid, and the various shades of pink indicate different types of cervical fluid. The blue dots are basil body temperature (BBT) readings recorded by me upon waking up each morning. The difference between taking a regular temperature and a BBT is that a BBT must be taken after resting for at least 3 hours. The temperatures underneath the purple horizontal line represent the follicular phase of the cycle in which the body is prepping follicles for ovulation. In this phase estrogen is the dominant hormone and the temperatures are lower. Above the horizontal line are temperatures consistent with ovulation. These temperatures are higher because progesterone is the dominant hormone in this part of the cycle. In Chart 2 it was difficult to detect when I ovulated, and when I did it took awhile for my BBT to rise. In the fertility world this is called a “slow rise,” and may indicate poor egg quality or other hormonal factors. However Chart 5 is my most textbook looking chart yet! It shows a nice strong rise after ovulation on cycle day 21 considering my diagnosis of PCOS. Women with more severe cases of PCOS have charts that do not show a nice rise above baseline indicating ovulation has occurred as they have difficulties ovulating and it is extremely inconsistent when they do. It has taken me about 3 months to see significant changes in my charts but I strongly believe that by controlling my insulin levels I am truly restoring my fertility!
Dont forget to check out my next post on what you can eat with PCOS to restore your fertility! ❤️