One night during my first year of college, my friend had to go to the emergency room for intense stomach pain. It turns out, she had a few ovarian cysts that had nearly ruptured. Needless to say, the experience was awful and painful for her, but after a while, they went away, and she never had to have any surgery to have them removed. Since they went away, she was never checked for more serious conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), but for some women, the presence of these cysts means a lifelong struggle with infertility and hormone issues.

Though women with polycystic ovaries are able to have children, the condition usually leaves them infertile and can also leave them at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is because many women with the disorder become insulin resistant, which is when their bodies produce an overabundance of insulin to deliver glucose from the blood to the muscle. Unfortunately, the excess insulin is then carried to the ovaries which makes them produce testosterone and inhibits fertility.

In a recent study, Prof. Daniela Jakubowicz of Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Diabetes Unit at Wolfson Medical Center found a way for women with PCOS to control their levels of insulin and have a better chance at conceiving.  The method involves a specialized meal plan and typically works the best in women with a normal weight for their age and height.

The meal plan is based on the body’s 24 hour metabolic cycle and is not meant to be a weight loss routine, but a routine that will instead affect the amount of insulin women with PCOS produce. The idea is to eat a larger breakfast that includes food high in protein and carbohydrates. Later in the day, women should eat meals with fewer and fewer calories. This diet showed a decrease in testosterone levels, which impact fertility. 

The study used 60 women with PCOS who had a normal BMI. They were randomly assigned to two different meal plans that both contained the same foods and had 1,800 calories total. The first group ate a breakfast that had 983 calories, a lunch with 645 calories, and a dinner with 190 calories. The second group switched the order so that dinner contained the most calories.

After 90 days, the participants were tested for insulin, glucose, and testosterone levels. Neither group experienced a change in BMI, but the first group with the high calorie breakfast had a 56% decrease in insulin resistance, and a 50% decrease in testosterone levels. They also experienced a 50% increase in ovulation rate. The second group still maintained high insulin and testosterone levels.

The research suggests that women who plan their meals to help decrease insulin could have a better chance of conceiving, and Jakubowicz hopes that study will eventually yield results for women who were previously told that they would never have a chance to bear children.

Source: American Friends of Tel Aviv University (2013, August 13). Meal timing can significantly improve fertility in women with polycystic ovaries. ScienceDaily.