Having been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) as a teenager, I was compelled to understand how I could improve my own state of PCOS for the sake of my health and future fertility.
This article presents the current research around PCOS, and the things I have learned in my own journey towards improved health.
What is PCOS?
Women who have been diagnosed with PCOS usually have two or more of the following symptoms: an excess of androgens (male sex hormones), usually testosterone / absence or irregular periods / many cysts on their ovaries.
Why Is PCOS Harmful?
One unfortunate outcome of PCOS is that some women may find it difficult to become pregnant, and some can even become infertile. If this is you, we will speak more about some helpful things to do that could improve your state of PCOS a bit later on.
Further more, research shows that insulin resistance and hyperinsulinaemia are two conditions associated with PCOS.
Insulin resistance is when our body has become desensitized to insulin. In a normal body when we eat something that raises our blood glucose, insulin is secreted from the pancreas to balance our blood sugar levels. But if we are insulin resistant, the normal amount of insulin secreted is not enough to balance our blood glucose. This means that our pancreas secretes more and more insulin to balance our blood sugar.One thing to keep in mind is that insulin is also known as a storage hormone. Insulin is the primary hormone that encourages our bodies to store and hold on to fat.
Hyperinsulinaemia is the condition of having an excess of insulin floating in the blood in comparison to the level of glucose.
Insulin resistance and hyperinsulinaemia are harmful conditions, not only because they maintain a state of PCOS, but they also increase our risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Both very undesirable and painful life circumstances.
How To Manage PCOS Symptoms
A lot of women with PCOS speak about how difficult it is to loose weight. It is true that weight loss can prove more difficult for these women. However, I have some helpful information and practical ways to help you on your journey.
It must be known that obesity greatly affects the degree of PCOS we have. Essentially, the more overweight we are the greater severity of PCOS we’ll experience. This should encourage us to prioritise weight loss that maintains our health as a tool for improving PCOS. To maintain our health while losing excess weight, we may need to do it slowly. Take your time. Do not pressure yourself to loose the weight fast – that will only backfire!
Research shows that even a 5% reduction in body weight can have a positive impact on PCOS.
A reduction of body fat around the stomach has the greatest effect on PCOS. Losing this weight is correlated with improved insulin sensitivity (see below why this is beneficial).
A study by Huber-Buchholz found that a reduction in body fat was correlated with an increase of periods, and therefore ovulation for many women. This is great news for those of us trying to become pregnant!
How to eat to encourage weight loss:
- Eat real food (food you can see in a forest)
- Unlimited green vegetables
- Lots of water
- Protein with every meal
- Good fats: eggs, avocado, nuts, seeds, some diary, coconut cream, animal saturated fat
- Minimum 5 handfuls of vegetables and greens a day
- Avoid: Processed food and foods that issue a high glycaemic load (see below)
Improve Insulin Sensitivity
Improving insulin sensitivity plays a huge role in the overall improvement of PCOS. It will also help with weight loss.
How do we improve insulin sensitivity?
We eat less of the foods that raise our blood glucose levels and therefore issue an insulin response in our bodies.
Which foods raise our blood glucose levels?
Most foods will raise our blood glucose levels a little, but the foods that spike our blood sugar levels usually have a high glycaemic load. Therefore, to reduce the amount of insulin in the blood, we need to reduce the amount of foods we eat with a high glycaemic load.
High Glycaemic Load Foods
- Sugar (refined, maple, corn syrup, honey, agave)
- Flour (including baked goods)
- Excess of fruit
Insulin resistance has a huge impact on the masculine characteristics women with PCOS may experience: hair growth in areas we wouldn’t want it to grow, acne, deeper voice, etc.
Research shows that the more resistant we are to insulin, the greater levels of androgens (male sex hormones) we have. On the contrary, when we become more insulin sensitive by manipulating our diet to reduce blood glucose levels, the level of androgens decrease in women with PCOS. This means acne can clear up and unwanted hair growth can decrease.
We can take more control of our PCOS by making dietary choices that feed, value, and nourish ourselves. This means reducing the quantity and frequency we eat foods that have a high glycaemic load, eating foods that encourage weight loss, and moving our body a few times a week is also very beneficial (this could mean a slow walk, yoga, running, what ever you enjoy!).
The greatest change I ever made to improve, if not eliminate, my own PCOS was to significantly reduce my sugar intake (maple, honey, refined, agave, processed foods, excess fruit).
If you have already made the above changes to your diet and lifestyle, and still find you suffer from PCOS, you may benefit from getting a personalised Nutritional Health Plan. This involves a one-on-one consultation - via skype, phone, or face-to-face - which allows me to get a full understanding of your health profile. I then go away and spend some time creating a plan that realistically reflects your lifestyle and budget. Please feel free to contact me if you have any further inquiries.
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