PolyCystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) affects 1 in 10 women.
Are you one of them?
Symptoms like irregular periods, sudden weight gain, oily skin, acne, and mood swings could be signs of PCOS.
With personalised nutrition strategies, an integrative Dietitian Nutritionist can support you on your PCOS journey.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a condition that affects the ovaries, which are responsible for producing eggs in women. In PCOS, the ovaries develop small cysts (fluid-filled sacs) and have excess levels of male hormones, particularly testosterone. This hormonal imbalance can cause trouble getting pregnant or cyst-like growths on ovaries.
How is PCOS diagnosed?
To diagnose PCOS, doctors usually look for at least two out of three things: (1) problems with ovulation, which means not having regular periods or having them less often; (2) having too many male hormones, which can cause things like excess hair growth or acne; and (3) small cyst-like growths on the ovaries.
What causes PCOS?
The root cause of PCOS is multifactorial, meaning it cannot be put down to one cause. Science tells us that it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors which contribute to the development of PCOS. Here are some common underlying factors that have been associated with PCOS:
High insulin levels
50% of women with PCOS have insulin resistance and high insulin levels.
Insulin regulates the amount of sugar (glucose) in our bloodstream. When we eat food, especially foods that contain carbohydrates, our body breaks down those carbohydrates into glucose. Insulin helps our cells take in this glucose from the bloodstream and use it as energy.
Now, in the case of PCOS, the body is ‘numb’ to the effects of insulin. This is called insulin resistance. It means that even though the pancreas produces insulin, our cells don’t respond to it properly. As a result, the body needs to produce more insulin to try to compensate.
High insulin levels can disrupt the balance of hormones in our body, including those that regulate our menstrual cycle. High insulin levels can cause the ovaries to produce more male hormones, like testosterone, which can interfere with the normal ovulation process.
Insulin is also a fat-storage hormone, making it difficult to lose weight. This is because when insulin levels are high, our body tends to store more fat, especially around the abdomen. Excess weight can further worsen insulin resistance, creating a vicious cycle.
Inflammation + poor gut health
Scientists believe that an imbalance in the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in our guts can make the gut lining ‘leaky’. A ‘leaky’ gut allows harmful substances to enter the body, triggering an ongoing inflammatory response.
In simple terms, inflammation is your body’s immune response to infection, irritation or injury. It’s how the body protects itself. Once the body has fought off the threat, the immune system should calm down and return to baseline. When inflammation is ongoing and long-lasting, then it can disrupt the delicate balance of hormones and how your body uses insulin.
In ladies with PCOS, the ovaries do not release eggs as they should. This causes a hormone, called progesterone, to become low in the body. At the same time, estrogen levels remain high. We now sit with a high estrogen:progesterone ratio. Many health gurus have termed this a state of ‘estrogen dominance’.
Estrogen dominance sets a woman up for mood swings, painful heavy periods, tender breasts, infertility and menstrual headaches. It also raises inflammation and insulin levels in the body, which can worsen PCOS.
What can we do about PCOS?
Good nutrition needs to become your best friend. Here’s how food can find its way into addressing some of the root aggravators of PCOS:
Nutritional solution #1
To address high insulin levels, we need to balance your blood sugar levels. This involves moderating your intake of sugary and highly processed carbs while incorporating balanced meals enriched with healthy fats, enough fibre and good-quality protein to stabilise blood sugar levels. To personalise our approach, we can use CGM testing to determine the best types, optimal timing, and amounts of carbs that suit you best.
There are many nutrients like magnesium, chromium, inositols (a type of B vitamin), as well as extracts from turmeric, cinnamon and berries that can improve body’s responses to insulin. Incorporating these beautiful nutrients into your diet can play a significant role in optimising blood sugar levels and fostering hormone health. Work with your integrative dietitian to learn how to get these all in every day!
One of my all-time favourite PCOS-friendly recipes is the Goji Cocoa Granola. You can find the recipe here. This delicious granola not only tastes amazing but is also packed with ingredients that can benefit PCOS. The goji berries provide a dose of resveratrol, which is known to improve insulin responses and reduce male hormones like testosterone in PCOS patients. Adding raw cocoa powder boosts the magnesium content, and the cinnamon aids in blood sugar control. The combination of healthy fats from coconut flakes and brazil nuts may help stabilise blood sugar levels, making it a better choice than plain carb-heavy oats. To further personalise this breakfast recipe for you, we can test your blood sugar response using CGM. Enjoy this nutritious and satisfying granola as a PCOS-friendly way to start your day!
Nutritional solution #2
Undergoing a gut reboot with your integrative dietitian is foundational to supporting your hormones. Specific nutrients can be used to restore good levels of ‘good’ bacteria, support digestion and repair a ‘leaky gut’. We can reduce inflammation in the body by adopting an anti-inflammatory diet which is rich in Omega 3, antioxidants and probiotics.
Sardine spread is a wonderful addition to a PCOS-friendly diet for several reasons. Sardines are a powerhouse of nutrition, providing a hefty amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are potent anti-inflammatories that can help reduce inflammation associated with PCOS. These little fish are also rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin D, and protein – all of which can support the healing of a ‘leaky gut.’ The inclusion of olive oil, red onion, and parsley in the spread further boosts its antioxidant content, which is beneficial for managing PCOS. Additionally, sardines contain selenium, which plays a role in activating genes responsible for dealing with harmful Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) in the body. Enjoying this sardine spread can be a delicious and easy way to support your hormones. Find the recipe here.
Nutritional solution #3
We can use specific foods to naturally raise progesterone levels and effectively clear out excess estrogens from the body. Foods rich in Vitamin B12, zinc, magnesium, vitamin C and healthy fats support good progesterone levels. Cruciferous veggies like broccoli and bok choy contain magic nutrients called Diindolylmethane (DIM), which activate detox pathways and help maintain balanced estrogen levels.To enjoy these benefits in a fun and simple way, try the broccoli and bok choy salad mentioned here. Keep some of the broccoli stems and red cabbage raw to increase the recipe’s DIM content. Sesame seeds and tahini in the salad are rich sources of zinc. The abundance of green leaves ensures you get enough magnesium. Adding grass-fed eggs as a protein source to this meal will provide extra B12 and Vitamin D to support hormonal health.
How to Personalise your Approach to PCOS:
An integrative Dietitian Nutritionist can conduct a thorough assessment of your gut health, possibly through stool tests if needed, to design a personalised gut reset program and sustainable eating plan.
A CGM test is an excellent tool to personalise your blood sugar response to foods. With a two-week testing period, we can analyse your current eating patterns and find the best ways to manage insulin and blood sugar levels effectively.
Genetic testing provides valuable insights into your body’s ability to handle inflammation, insulin signalling, and environmental estrogens based on your genetic predispositions. This information allows us to fine-tune your treatment plan, incorporating specific nutrients from foods or supplements to support your body’s unique needs.
For those who prefer data-driven assessments, an InBody scan can measure visceral fat levels surrounding organs. Addressing elevated visceral fat can reduce inflammation, lower insulin levels, and promote better hormonal balance, leading to improved hormone health.