What is polycystic ovary syndrome?
In a woman with polycystic ovaries, her ovaries develop more follicles than normal every month. At least twice as many follicles mature than normal, most of which enlarge and ripen but do not release an egg. PCOS happens when a woman’s hormonal system gets out of balance, making ovulation rare or irregular, and causing other changes in the body. Ovbiously, PCOS is a major cause of female infertility.
What causes PCOS?
The root of the problem is resistance to the hormone insulin, which means you need more insulin than usual to regulate the levels of sugar in the body. The extra insulin causes an imbalance in the hormones that usually make your menstrual cycle run smoothly.
Too much luteinising hormone (LH) is produced compared to follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which in turn causes the follicles on the ovaries to produce more of the male hormone testosterone than the female hormone oestrogen. The adrenal glands start to produce increased amounts of testosterone as well.
Too much testosterone prevents ovulation, along with other symptoms related to the syndrome. Oestrogen is still produced but, because the follicles never get to the point of maturity when progesterone production starts to increase, women with PCOS can be deficient in progesterone.
What are the symptoms?
Many women who have polycystic ovaries start having irregular or infrequent periods within three or four years of starting to menstruate. About half the women affected by this condition also gain weight and have excessive hair growth to varying degrees.
If you have polycystic ovaries you may suffer from:
- irregular or non-existent periods
- very light or very heavy bleeding during your period
- mild to moderate abdominal discomfort
- excessive hair growth on your face, chest and lower abdomen
You may also be:
Women who do not want to get pregnant are prescribed contraceptive pills or other drugs to correct hormone imbalances. The problem with these drugs is that they do not solve the root of the problem.
For women who want to get pregnant, drugs used in fertility treatment are prescribed, such as clomiphene, tamoxifen and gonadotrophins. Clomid is commonly used for women with PCOS to hyperstimulate the ovaries to ovulate. Once again the problem we encounter here is that Clomid does not resolve PCOS, though it may help a woman to get pregnant.
There are many natural approaches to take when treating PCOS, as herbs, supplements and acupuncture are great therapies to correct hormonal imbalances and stimulate ovulation and regular menstrual cycles.
Learn to Eat a PCOS Fertility Diet
Eating a specific PCOS Fertility Diet is one of the best things you can do to improve your chances of becoming pregnant. A big part of the problem with PCOS is the high insulin resistance. Resistance to insulin increases the body’s insulin levels which effects normal ovulation by preventing the body from ovulating or limiting the maturation process of the released egg. This directly has an affect on your fertility and ability to conceive.
Women who are insulin resistant are also 4-5 times more likely to have a miscarriage. Imbalanced insulin levels due to PCOS make it difficult for the embryo to attach properly to the uterus. PCOS is also a huge red flag for the beginning of type 2 diabetes.
The benefits of following a PCOS Diet are:
- Increases the rate of spontaneous ovulation.
- Significantly improves the environment of the uterus, preparing it for a healthy conception.
- Decreases the potential for miscarriage
- Prevents PCOS from turning to diabetes
PCOS Diet Guidelines
1. Balance your daily protein with equal amount carbohydrates
This will help to eliminate the insulin yo-yo. When you eat equal amounts of proteins and carbohydrates this helps to keep your insulin at a balanced level, thus increasing your fertility.
Low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet helped insulin resistance. High-carbohydrate, low-protein diet made insulin resistance worse.
-Medical Journal Metabolism; no. 12: 1481-1487
A diet containing 25% carbohydrates improved insulin resistance, whereas a diet that included 45% carbohydrates did not
-International Journal of Obesity and Related metabolic Disorders 20 no. 12:1067-1072
The types of carbohydrates you choose are also an important factor. Choose whole grain, or sprouted grain products. They contain more protein and fiber (thus balancing insulin better) than the processed counterparts. Avoid white processed carbohydrates which cause a spike in your insulin levels and provide no fiber, or nutrients.
Some examples of whole grain and sprouted grain products are:
- Ezekiel breads
- Whole spelt- pastas and breads
- Quinoa – pastas, flour, grain
- Millet- breads, grains, cereal
- Brown Rice- cereals, breads, grain
2. Eat foods low on the glycemic index and glycemic load list
Blood glucose rises and then falls when you eat a meal containing carbs. How high it rises and how long it remains high depends on the kind of carbs (glycemic index GI) and the amount you ate (glycemic load GL). Low glycemic index foods are carbohydrates that break down slowly in the body, and don’t cause such a dramatic spike and then drop in insulin levels. The glycemic load takes into consideration the amount of the glycemic index food you consumed and how that affects your blood sugar. The glycemic load combines both the quality and quantity of carbohydrate into one ‘number’. It’s the best way to predict blood glucose values of different types and amounts of food.
The serving size of the amount of carbohydrates consumed really matter here. Be sure to eat no more than 100g of low glycemic index carbohydrates a day if you have insulin resistant PCOS and are overweight. Increase the amount of low glycemic index carbohydrates consumed a day to over 100g if you are thinner or underweight.
Some examples of low glycemic index foods are:
- Kale, broccoli, asparagus
- Beans and lentils
- Unprocessed foods
- Grapefruit and apples
- Walnuts and almonds
Avoid foods that have a high glycemic index such as sugary and starchy foods: pancakes, syrups, sugar, white potatoes, jams, scones, white bread products, pasta.
3. Eat a diet high in fiber
Fiber helps in two ways with PCOS. The first way they help is by slowing down the digestion of sugars in the body, so there is no spike in insulin. The second way they help is by promoting healthy estrogen metabolism which aids in the reduction of elevated levels of androgens. Great sources of fiber are: broccoli, celery, whole grains, Ezekiel bread, apples, and dark leafy greens.
4. Eat 5 meals a day
By eating more often, the body will not go into fasting mode. When you look at the way most Australians eat, it is usually three big meals a day. With such a large gap of time between meals the body goes into fasting mode which causes the metabolism to become imbalanced.
The five meals a day should consist of three regular meals and two healthy snacks or 5 small meals. The first snack should be eaten in the mid-morning before lunch and the second snack to be eaten less than an hour before bed. Between eating 5 meals a day and eating a serving of protein (3-4 ounces), low GI/GL carbohydrate (1/4-1/2 cup or serving size), vegetables (1/2 cup to 1 cup) each meal.
Here is what the 5 meals a day could look like:
- Breakfast (right away, when you wake up): 2 eggs scrambled in 1 tsp. coconut oil with spinach and 1/2 cup of black beans
- Snack: Smoothie with unsweetened coconut or almond milk, peaches, 1/4 tsp. of ground cinnamon, hemp protein powder and spirulina
- Lunch: Organic Turkey lettuce wrap with celery sticks and hummus on the side
- Dinner: Organic chicken with steamed broccoli and half a cup of baked yam
- Snack (less than an hour before bed): organic unsweetened yogurt with half a serving of low glycemic index fruit (blueberries, raspberries, papaya) and 1/2 tsp. chia seeds
5. Eat essential fatty acids daily
Eating essential fatty acids (EFA’s) helps you to lose weight, produce balanced hormones, and creates a healthy environment for conception. Talk to your Practitioner about the highest quality and best ones for you to be taking.
6. Exercise 30 min. 5 days a week
Exercise helps PCOS by improving your insulin sensitivity, increasing your metabolism and helping to shed any excess weight. Researchers found that participants of resistance exercises showed better improvement in insulin sensitivity than with aerobic exercise alone.
7. Eat Organic
You will be eating a high protein diet, so it is essential that any animal proteins (meats and dairy) you are eating are organic. In commercial meats there are large amounts of added hormones (estrogens) that make the animals grow bigger, faster, and produce more milk. With PCOS there is usually a progesterone deficiency and adding more estrogens can make it even worse.
8. Quit Coffee
Caffeine increases estrogen levels. A study from Fertility and Sterility shows that drinking just two cups of coffee a day boosts levels of estradiol, a natural estrogen. Women who drink 4-5 cups of coffee a day produce 70% more estrogen in the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle (when the body is trying to produce a viable follicle for ovulation, which is already and issue in women with PCOS.)
Herbs and Supplements for PCOS
In addition to eating the PCOS diet, supplements have shown to be effective in helping those with PCOS boost there fertility and give birth to healthy babies. The overall goal with PCOS is to balance blood sugar levels in the body, maintain hormonal balance, promote healthy digestion for improved estrogen metabolism, while also working to promote regular ovulation and menses. Adaptogen herbs are also important, this is because adaptogens increase resistance to mind-body stress and enhance overall vitality and health through non-specific adrenal (known as stress glands) support. Plants recognized as adaptogens help to normalize the body’s functions, most importantly the endocrine system, even during diseased states, are non-toxic, nutritive, and have been deemed safe for long term use.
Your Practitioner will advise you which are the best ones for you to take and can include chromium (enhances the action of insulin), essential fatty acids (promote hormonal balance and regulate ovulation), cinnamon (reduces insulin resistance), N-Acetly Cysteine (increases insulin sensitivity, reduces testosterone, and increases rates of ovulation), and peony and licorice (improves LH/FSH ratios).
PCOS is a complex female health issue. It consists of many different health issues and risks. If permanent diet and lifestyle changes are implemented, these risks and health issues may become obsolete. There are many ways to support the proper health of a woman’s body that is dealing with PCOS. Important key tips…
1. Follow a PCOS specific diet to help decrease insulin resistance, balance weight, promote estrogen metabolism.
2. Promote hormonal balance and support regular ovulation. Take supportive herbs and supplements.
3. Have regular acupuncture treatments.
4. Stick to your plan and believe in yourself — you have the ability to change your circumstances.