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'The Biggest Loser' Olivia Ward Loses PCOS, Gains Fertility

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TV’s newest reality star Olivia Ward, Season 11 champion of “The Biggest Loser,” gained more than a hot body and $250,000 with her 129 pound weight loss — she most likely regained her fertility, too.

Ward, a 35-year-old opera singer who entered the competition weighing 261 pounds, was motivated to join the show after being diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Doctors told her that it was very unlikely she would ever have children unless she lost weight. With her weight loss, many of Ward’s PCOS symptoms have vanished. After her win on “The Biggest Loser” last week, she told the media she was very optimistic that she and her husband Ben “will be able to have children naturally, which was always my dream come true.”

Losing weight can boost your fertility whether or not you have PCOS, according to Laurence A. Jacobs, M.D., a Chicago fertility doctor (reproductive endocrinologist) with Fertility Centers of Illinois. “Olivia Ward’s weight loss was dramatic — she lost almost 50 percent of her body weight. But losing as little as 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can significantly improve pregnancy rates for women, whether they are trying to get pregnant naturally or using fertility treatments, such as ovulation induction or in vitro fertilization.”

What Is PCOS?

PCOS is a hormonal disorder that can cause infertility. To understand PCOS, you must first understand how normal ovaries function. Each month, the ovaries which develop a small number of follicles. Then, one follicle becomes dominant and releases a mature egg — ovulation.

With many women who have PCOS, the ovaries are “polycystic,” with many small cysts on them. Many follicles develop, but none of the follicles become dominant, and none of them release eggs.

Most women with PCOS have insulin resistance, an endocrine imbalance in which the body doesn’t handle insulin (the hormone produced in the pancreas that lowers blood glucose levels) normally. “When the body’s cells are resistant to insulin, the body starts producing even higher levels of insulin to keep blood glucose levels normal,” Dr. Jacobs explalins. “High levels of insulin lead to more fat storage and disrupt ovarian hormone production with increased levels of male hormones. This prevents ovulation.”

Symptoms of PCOS

The symptoms of PCOS vary. There is no single test to detect the condition; however, an ultrasound test may detect polycystic ovaries. “Infertility is a symptom of PCOS,” Dr. Jacobs explains. “Other common signs are weight gain, irregular or absent menstruation, infrequent or ceased ovulation, and signs of androgen overproduction, such as excess hair growth and severe acne.”

For Dr. Jacobs to diagnose PCOS, he first rules out other endocrine conditions, such as thyroid, and determines whether fertility patients meet two of the following three criteria:

  • History of irregular or absent periods
  • Excessive hair growth (hirsutism) or increased blood levels of male hormones called androgens
  • Ultrasound evidence of small cysts on the ovaries, althought not everyone with PCOS has these cysts

Treating PCOS

The Biggest Loser Olivia Ward took the right approach to regaining her fertility, according to Dr. Jacobs. “Of course, we can’t all go on reality TV, but the ability to have children is a great motivator for some women to overcome this condition by losing weight,” he says.

Losing weight can help women correct the insulin resistance that creates so many of the problems with PCOS, Dr. Jacobs explains. “A nutritious diet, regular exercise and insulin-sensitizing drugs, such as metformin (Glucophage), can all help a woman return to normal ovarian function, and ultimately the ability to get pregnant.”