Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common female hormone disorder, which is characterised by a group of specific symptoms, including:
Weight gain/difficulty losing weight
Excess hair growth
Male pattern baldness
Lack of ovulation
Increased risk of diabetes
Infrequent or absent periods
PCOS is often associated with insulin resistance and inflammation, as well as thyroid and gut issues. It can be a difficult condition to diagnose, if you suspect you have PCOS it is important to see your doctor in the first instance. The good news is that diet and lifestyle changes can be very effect in helping to manage PCOS.
How PCOS affects fertility
Women with PCOS may find that it takes them longer to get pregnant. PCOS is characterised by having elevated LH (luteinising hormone) and reduced FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) coupled with elevated androgens and insulin. Limited follicular development means egg development cannot occur resulting in irregular ovulation.
Irregular periods or longer menstrual cycles can reduce the opportunity to get pregnant and pinpoint when you are ovulating, and if you are not ovulating at all then pregnancy cannot occur. Egg quality can also be affected via over exposure to androgen hormones and high insulin levels.
What to include in your diet to support PCOS
70-80% of women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) have insulin resistance. This is where cells in your muscles, fat, and liver do not respond well to insulin and cannot easily take up glucose from your blood. Focussing on keeping your blood sugar stable and eating foods that do not spike your insulin is really important. Here are some foods to include in your diet to support PCOS:
Vegetables - these are packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals, all important for improving insulin, reducing inflammation and enhancing egg quality.
Fibre – from vegetables, nuts and seeds, has been shown to reduce insulin and testosterone in women with PCOS and improve menstrual cycle length.
Protein - in the form of eggs, lean meats and plant proteins.
Good quality fats - olive oil, nuts, oily fish.
Herbs and spices to reduce inflammation and balance blood sugar.
Spearmint tea - can help lower testosterone, often high in women with PCOS.
Unhelpful foods for PCOS
There are also foods which are not helpful for PCOS and can exacerbate symptoms, these include:
Sugar and refine carbohydrates - not just the obvious cakes, biscuits and sweets but also refined carbohydrates such as white rice, bread, pasta and pastries. These foods cause your insulin to rise sharply, stimulating your body to produce testosterone and disrupting ovulation.
Low fat dairy products – these can be insulin stimulating.
Artificial sweeteners – your body still sees them as sugar, and they can have a negative impact on your gut bacteria.
Alcohol – high in sugar and not helpful for fertility.
Gluten and dairy – these can be inflammatory, so it is worth cutting them out for a period of time and monitor how you feel.
Caffeine – stimulates the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones and increases blood glucose.
Lifestyle factors and PCOS
Your lifestyle can also impact PCOS. Here are some areas to work on to help improve your condition:
Stress management - Stress can contribute to PCOS and reduce fertility, so stress management is essential. This could be through getting good quality sleep, cutting down your caffeine intake, doing the right type of exercise and avoiding becoming overwhelmed.
Sleep hygiene – lack of sleep contributes to hormone imbalance, decreases your cells sensitivity to insulin and increases blood insulin levels. Regular bedtimes, sleeping in a dark room and switching off screens 2hrs before bed can help us get that well needed shut eye.
Exercise – critical for optimal health and especially PCOS, but too much is a stressor on the body. Find the right type of exercise for you; walking (especially after meals), less sitting, more movement, and strength training can all be very helpful.
These are just a few of the areas we work on when supporting PCOS and fertility. If you would like some support book your free discovery call to find out how I can help you.
Disclaimer: Nutritional Therapy is not a replacement for medical advice, practitioners always refer any client with ‘red flag’ signs or symptoms to their medical professional. The information provided here is general and is not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent or cure any diseases or conditions.