I was recently diagnosed with premature ovarian failure. I’ve been told that it is very unlikely that I will be able to get pregnant. I’ve heard that women with POF have been able to have a child after using alternative and naturopathic approaches. I’m wondering what herbs and vitamins you’d suggest to increase the likelihood of a pregnancy for women with POF?

Written by guest expert, Dr. Alana Shaw, naturopathic doctor at Grace Fertility Centre, Vancouver, British Columbia. Learn more about Dr. Shaw here.

Premature ovarian failure (POF), also known as premature ovarian insufficiency (POI), is a loss of ovarian function before the age of 40.  Women with POF have low levels of estrogen and elevated levels of gonadotrophins such as follicular stimulating hormone (FSH), indicating that their ovaries are not responding as would be expected to signals from the brain. Many women with POF experience sporadic or absent periods due to an early reduction in ovarian follicles, and therefore experience significant difficulties with fertility and conception. In most cases, the best chance for pregnancy is donor egg.  However, it is estimated that 5% to 10% of women diagnosed with POF will conceive on their own.

The majority of cases of POF are called idiopathic, meaning that conventional medicine is not able to identify the cause. In these cases, naturopathic and other complementary therapies seek to uncover imbalances in the body in order to improve overall health in an attempt to restore function to the ovaries. For example, changes to your diet may help to address an underlying autoimmune process or improve absorption of micronutrients that are important for follicular development and maturation. Learning to manage stress more effectively can improve the communication between the brain and the ovaries, thereby improving ovarian response to hormonal signals. In addition to lifestyle changes, there are herbal and supplemental options that may enhance ovarian function. Below are a few of my favourites:

  1. Dong Quai: This herb has been used for at least 20 centuries as a female reproductive tonic and is indicated, along with an Ayurvedic herb called Shatavari, specifically for women with fatigue and low vitality.
  2. White Peony:  White peony is commonly used for infertility associated with both polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and ovarian failure.
  3. Chaste Tree:  Chaste tree is the number one herb for infertility associated with ovulatory problems and amenorrhea (cessation of menstruation). It has a long history of use for regulating menstrual cycles, possibly due to its ability to modulate the pituitary gland’s production of gonadotrophins and prolactin. This fantastic herb is best taken as a single dose in the morning, and should be taken for at least 3 to 6 months.
  4. DHEA:  One of the most promising therapies for POF is DHEA supplementation.  Several recent studies suggest that DHEA use may increase follicle count and ovarian volume. It is also commonly used to help improve ovarian response for those with low ovarian reserve undergoing IVF. DHEA appears to reach its full potential after 12 weeks of use.
  5. Antioxidants:  Mitochondrial nutrients and antioxidants like coenzyme Q10, melatonin, myoinositol, and N-acetyl cysteine are becoming increasingly popular for the treatment of premature ovarian aging and low ovarian reserve. New research on these vitamins shows that they may be able to improve egg quality and response to gonadotrophins.
  6. Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine: In traditional Chinese medicine, POF is usually considered an imbalance of kidney and spleen energies, and is best addressed through a combination of acupuncture and herbal formulas.

It is also important to remember that women with POF and early menopause are at increased risk for certain health conditions such as osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and menopausal symptoms including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood changes, and lowered libido. Many of these can be managed or prevented using naturopathic medicine.  And, as always, make sure you discuss any and all natural medicines that you take with your doctor or other qualified health care professional, to be sure they are right for you.

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