Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormone condition that can affect women. Symptoms vary from woman to woman, however, some of the more common symptoms include cysts on the ovaries, which is caused by an overproduction of hormones, irregular periods, acne, excessive hair growth on the face and body, thinning hair and hair loss from the scalp, weight gain, cravings and difficulty conceiving. When symptoms are not controlled, women with PCOS are at greater risk for
- Heart disease
- Endometrial cancer
- High blood pressure
Women with PCOS are often found to have higher than normal insulin levels. Insulin is a hormone that’s produced in your pancreas. It helps the cells in your body turn the food you eat into energy. If you don’t produce enough insulin, your blood sugar levels can rise. This can also happen if you’re insulin resistant, meaning you aren’t able to use the insulin you do produce effectively. If you’re insulin resistant, your body may try to pump out high levels of insulin in an effort to keep your blood sugar levels normal. Too-high levels of insulin can cause your ovaries to produce more androgens, such as testosterone. High cycling insulin levels in your bloodstream can also cause increased cravings and inflammation in the body.
Unfortunately, there is no current cure for PCOS, however symptoms can be effectively treated and managed. While common treatments include medications like Metformin and hormonal birth control which are prescribed to alleviate symptoms, many women with PCOS find they are able to manage their symptoms and reduce their risk of other medical concerns by controlling their diet and lifestyle choices.
How can nutrition affect PCOS?
Your diet can go a long way to helping you feel your best. Since PCOS has many symptoms and is a complex process, there isn’t one specific diet that can treat it. Nutrition therapy can help decrease the symptoms of PCOS by lowering inflammation and reducing insulin resistance. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like fatty fish and walnuts can help lower inflammation. Eating meals that include protein, fiber, and essential fatty acids can help combat insulin resistance by slowing down digestion and reducing the impact of sugar on the blood. This may be beneficial to women with PCOS. Foods to include more of include eggs, poultry, seeds, nuts, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
PCOS is associated with a range of nutrient deficiencies due to the disease process, especially if on medication that can affect nutrient absorption. When working with clients with PCOS I suggest Spectracell’s micronutrient test, especially when trying to conceive. This comprehensive blood test will analyze 35 vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids at the cell level vs. blood serum to provide the most accurate information on nutrient levels that are deficient and likely associated with symptoms. The nutrition plan can be customized based on these deficiencies and supplements recommended when necessary.
Eating well is one thing you can do every day to take control of your health. A balanced diet that is tailored to you may help to reduce and manage some of the symptoms of PCOS that you are experiencing.
Other lifestyle modifications to consider
PCOS, like many disorders, responds positively to proactive lifestyle choices. This includes exercise and daily physical movement which will help to lower insulin levels. Finding an activity that you enjoy to get you moving can be beneficial in managing your symptoms.
The symptoms associated with PCOS can also cause stress. Stress reduction techniques, which help calm the mind and let you connect with your body, can also help. These include yoga and meditation.
If you are coping with PCOS or any of its symptoms, you may feel frustrated at times. Taking proactive steps regarding your health can improve your mood as well as reduce your symptoms and can prevent your risk of other health conditions later in life.