Not being able to conceive is devastating for couples wanting to start a family. This common problem can be as a result of any one of the processes of falling pregnant: the release of an egg (ovulation), the male sperm fertilising the egg (fertilisation), the fertilised egg passing through the fallopian tube, and the attachment of the egg to the inside of the uterus (implantation).
How Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) reduces fertility
One of the most common conditions that affect fertility is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormone imbalance problem, where an over-production of male hormones interferes with normal ovulation. The imbalance is caused by the presence of many small cysts that form on the ovaries. There is no known cause of PCOS, though it does seem to re-occur within families.
Common symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular or no periods – some cycles lasting longer than 28 days
- Extra facial and body hair growth
- Weight gain and difficulty losing weight
- Hair loss on the scalp
- Fertility problems
The Jacksonville Centre for Reproductive Medicine (JCRM) takes a holistic approach
Dr. Michael Fox, the Medical Director at JCRM, is a fertility expert who works with patients to identify the underlying metabolic causes of infertility. His main focus is PCOS and insulin resistance – a condition that is magnified during pregnancy. The Centre’s primary mission is to maximise the possibility of fertility through a multi-disciplinary approach that focuses on the medical, social andpsychological issues of infertility. Its secondary mission is to achieve pregnancy for its patients through the least expensive and most conservative means possible, though it also offers in vitro fertilisation (IVF) as well as other fertility services.
IVF, the main type of assisted reproductive treatment (ART) available for women who are struggling to fall pregnant, involves the surgical removal of eggs from a woman’s ovaries. Sperm is then combined with the eggs, and the fertilised egg is reinserted into the woman’s body. Though a common practice, IVF is an invasive procedure, is expensive and time-consuming, and has only a 50-50 chance of success. There are also side effects that need to be taken into consideration, for example, the high incidence of multiple foetuses.
LCHF diet: the natural way to restore a healthy metabolism
Having had a personal experience with these complications noted above, Dr. Fox sought other ways of achieving pregnancy using a less invasive, more natural approach. While we have long known that nutrition is an important aspect of health during pregnancy, according to Fox, diet also plays a major role in the ability to fall pregnant. With an already established link between insulin elevation and ovulation disorders, Dr. Fox investigated the effect of using nutrition to lower insulin and improve fertility. In particular, he focused on the principles of the low-carb high-fat (LCHF) diet to treat his patients.
According to Fox, patients would come into the clinic having struggled to fall pregnant for years. Many would be diagnosed with PCOS and would be on the verge of giving up on their dreams of having a family. Fox encourages these patients to get as close to zero carbohydrate consumption per day as possible. He believes that the lower the carbohydrate intake, the purer the metabolic state. In fact, he reports that patients who really commit to the nutritional guidelines are able to conceive in one or two cycles following the change to a low-carb diet.
Fox also points out that while it is vital to adopt alow-carb diet, it is equally important to simultaneously increase the saturated fat intake. Getting this across to patients is a challenge and the question “Why high fat?” is often raised. The answer is simple: fat provides satiety, is a longer-term fuel source and balances the diet. By taking in too little fat, patients were trying to gorge themselves on protein, resulting in undesired outcomes.
“Add real butter, whipping cream, hard cheeses, homemade mayonnaise, pork and olive oil” says Dr Fox.
Though Fox favours the LCHF diet as a treatment for infertility over more invasive procedures like IVF, he does acknowledge that the treatment is most effective when coupled with fertility medication.
As an aside – Metformin (more commonly used to treat poor blood glucose control) can be used for the treatment of infertility, but it is not a fertility drug. When taken to treat infertility, it is considered an off-label use (which means that pregnancy achievement is not the original intended purpose of the drug).
Excellent results for low-carb pregnancies
Since placing more emphasis on the metabolic and nutritional aspects of PCOS and insulin resistance, Fox and his team have found that their centre’s fertility rates have more than doubled as a result of the prescribed LCHF diet.
Remarkably, their successful low-carb pregnancies have surpassed the thousands mark, while the number of patients who use the IVF method has significantly reduced.
From a clinical perspective, Fox reports no negative consequences of this treatment. Rather, he has found the opposite, that the typical adverse pregnancy symptoms, such as nausea, cravings, low weight gain and other complications, are reported to be less on the LCHF diet.
The evidence to support this approach lies in the happy success stories and thank you letters shared by former patients on the JCRM website (see here.) Most have gone through the emotional process of struggling to fall pregnant, have discovered they have PCOS, experienced the psychological trauma of failed pregnancies, and so on. But by following the JCRM’s metabolic approach to treating infertility, the majority of couples have walked away from the process with a healthy baby in their arms. Here is one such heartwarming experience:
“After two years of trying to get pregnant, I was finally diagnosed with PCOS by my OBGYN. Along with that diagnosis, I was also told that if I did get pregnant, the baby probably wouldn’t make it because of how much body fat I had. I was upset and angry. Someone mentioned to me that Dr. Lipari [a colleague of Dr. Fox] and the staff at JCRM might be able to help us. Our first appointment was filled with hope and excitement. Finally, a doctor that wanted to help me and understood my diagnosis. After the diagnostic work and going on the LCHF diet, I lost 60 lbs and found out we had spontaneously gotten pregnant on our own. The care and love we got from Dr. Lipari, and the whole staff, was wonderful. We welcomed our son Lucas in 2009. In 2014, we were having troubles getting pregnant again. So back to Dr. Lipari we went. After five months, I was pregnant again. Our son Taylor was born in 2015. We love everyone at JCRM and know that without Dr. Lipari and the staff, we wouldn’t have our beautiful children we do today.”
Consider LCHF / Banting / Keto, but consult your health practitioner
If you are younger than 35 years of age and have been trying to fall pregnant for a year with no success, it is worth giving the low-carb high-fat diet some consideration. Just remember to consult your healthcare practitioner before you make any drastic changes.
If you get the go ahead, make use of our help and support on your journey by signing up for our Online Course or one of our support Keto and Banting Support Programs.