Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) – Defined
PCOS is a condition in which the ovaries contain multiple fluid-filled sacs referred to as ovarian cysts. Approximately 12-20% of females of childbearing age have PCOS and it is on the rise. Each month a female of childbearing age normally ovulates, releasing an egg, as part of her menstrual cycle. However, in PCOS a female does not usually ovulate, no egg is released and the follicle becomes a cyst. This in turn causes an imbalance in hormones, including excess production of the primary male hormone, testosterone. This imbalance may result in irregular or absent periods, acne, excess hair growth in unwanted areas and weight gain.
In some cases, there is a genetic history of PCOS but in most cases the cause is unknown. There are a number of identified possible factors involved in the development of PCOS. A primary feature is a condition called insulin resistance. When we eat carbohydrate containing foods (eg bread), it is broken down into energy, commonly known as sugar and the hormone insulin is required to move sugar sitting in the blood into our cells to be used for energy. However, when insulin resistance occurs, the cells no longer listen to the call of insulin to move sugar out of the blood and into the cells. When too much insulin is produced it has adverse effects on the ovaries and disrupts the menstrual cycle and causes symptoms of PCOS. When insulin levels are reduced it helps to balance hormones. Therefore, a primary goal in the treatment of PCOS is restoring a healthy insulin response to the food we eat.
From my clinical experience, further underlying factors of the development of PCOS are under-active thyroid, high stressed states (excess cortisol) and poor gut health – all of which need to be addressed when helping to manage the symptoms of PCOS.
Diet & PCOS
In PCOS, what needs addressing is the underlying hormonal and/or metabolic state.
Hence, diet from my perspective has the greatest impact on PCOS symptoms and needs to be individually tailored to suit every PCOS patients.
A diet high in saturated fat (eg animal fats), refined carbohydrates (eg white bread & white rice) and sugar causes elevated levels of insulin, increasing the chance of insulin resistance to develop – exactly what you don’t want!
Research has shown a diet low in animal fats, refined carbohydrates and high in low-glycaemic-index foods (slow-releasing complex carbohydrates eg wholegrains), monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids and fibre is beneficial for PCOS. Remember, compared to refined foods, wholefoods naturally have greater levels of anti-oxidants, minerals and vitamins all important for good health.
Spot Light on Fibre
Adequate daily fibre is critical in PCOS from a number of perspectives:
- Improving insulin sensitivity: fibre slows the rate at which our blood sugar levels rise and therefore decreases the call for insulin, rise in insulin stimulates testosterone and aggravates symptoms of PCOS
- Assists weight loss: weight gain and/or inability to shift weight is incredibly common in PCOS, fibre assists by helping to regulate blood sugar levels, keep appetite in check and clear excess hormones
- Healthy hormone balance: the right type of fibre helps to keep our bowels regular which is necessary for healthy hormone balance, we excrete excess and/or metabolised hormones via our stools. You can see why a regular bowel motion should be a focus in PCOS to ensure testosterone does not get re-absorbed! This also explains why addressing gut health, as part of any PCOS treatment plan is critical, our hormone balance is heavily influenced by the state of our gut and microflora balance.
Towards natural balance
Here is a snap shot of some dietary changes you can make today >>> towards natural balance
Foods to Limit
- White bread, white pasta, white flour products, white rice, commercial cereals (eg Just Right), biscuits, cakes, wheat based crackers and lollies.
- Margarine, canola oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil, excess animal fat, lard, anything deep fried, roasted nuts or seeds, commercial meat and minced meats.
Foods to Enjoy
- Whole wheat, Rye, Spelt, sourdough bread, brown rice, basmati rice, quinoa, buckwheat, rolled oats, wholegrain crackers, brown rice cakes and puffed brown rice.
- Avocado, tahini, hummus, coconut oil, macadamia nut oil, extra virgin olive oil, raw nuts and seeds, salmon, small white fish, sardines, legumes, tofu, tempeh, chickpeas, organic eggs and organic lamb, beef, turkey and chicken.
What else can I do?
PCOS is increasingly common and exacerbation of symptoms are undoubtedly driven by various lifestyle choices we do and do not make. If you are interested in looking at how you can address your PCOS symptoms (or hormonal imbalance) naturally and learn how to make the right kind of lifestyle choices, I have a particular interest in working with women with PCOS and would love to help!
Enjoy! Casey Dick | Passionate Dedicated Natural Nutritionist | Brisbane, Australia, Treating PCOS naturally, Dietary Nutritionist