Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects possibly as many as 1 in 5 women, most of whom do not even know they have it. High levels of androgen hormones in women with PCOS can cause irregular or absent cycles, excess facial and body hair growth, male pattern hair loss, and weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
Thinking you may have PCOS?
Here are More Signs and Symptoms of PCOS
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Absent period
- Anovulatory cycles
- Abnormal mid-cycle bleeding
- Excessive or heavy menstrual bleeding
- Alopecia (balding)
- Hirsutism (excessive body hair)
- Acanthosis nigricans
- Polycystic ovaries
- History of ovarian cysts
- Mood disorders
- Recurrent Miscarriage
Although PCOS is not curable, its symptoms can be managed through diet and lifestyle. In fact, learning to eat for PCOS is one of the best things we can do to increase our chances for fertility. Since insulin resistance is a major issue in women with PCOS, adapting a healthy diet is essential in managing PCOS. Since an unhealthy diet consisting of highly processed carbs is not helpful to our insulin resistance caused by PCOS, it makes sense that processed foods, and high sugar foods need to be avoided.
What does insulin resistance have to do with fertility?
It increases the body’s insulin levels which impacts normal ovulation by preventing it altogether or limiting the maturation process of the released egg. This directly affects our ability to conceive.
Women who are insulin resistant are also 4-5 times more likely to suffer a miscarriage (or multiple miscarriages), as PCOS creates imbalanced insulin levels which make it difficult for the embryo to attach properly to the uterus.
There are many benefits to following a PCOS diet:
- 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
- All of these things are in addition to noticing a HUGE improvement in mood and energy levels throughout the day.
Basic PCOS diet guidelines:
One of the first things my doctor suggested after diagnosing me with PCOS is that I see a dietitian. She recommended Dr. Rachel Brandeis, whom I HIGHLY recommend if you are in the Atlanta area. Even if you are not in the area, I’d suggest checking out some of the videos and links on her website… very helpful!
1. High protein, low carbs
This will help get rid of that insulin yo-yo, or the blood sugar roller coaster, as I like to think of it. The types of carbs you choose are also significant. Avoid white processed carbs, which provide few nutrients, and also cause a spike in insulin levels. As far as protein is concerned, the proteins we eat should be complete and organic. Organic meats contain EFAs (essential fatty acids) that will not contribute to any hormonal imbalances. (Non-organic meats have been injected with hormones, which will only confuse our own hormones!)
2. Eat foods with a low glycemic index.
Low GI foods are foods that break down slowly in the body; therefore, they do not cause such a dramatic spike and drop in insulin levels. Click here to read more about glycemic index and PCOS.
3. Eat a high fiber diet.
Fiber helps slow down the digestion of sugars in the body, so that there is less of an insulin spike or no insulin spike. It also helps remove excess estrogens from the body, which may also help to reduce fibroids. Broccoli, celery, whole grains, apples, and dark leafy vegetables are all high in fiber, so lets become friends with them!
4. Eat 5 meals throughout the day.
This prevents your body from going into fasting mode. Our day should include either three meals and two healthy snacks, or five 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, starch, and vegetables each meal, we will also experience weight loss.
5. Eat Essential Fatty Acids every day.
EFAs help to lose weight, produce balanced hormones, and they create a healthy environment for conception.
Omega 3 EFA supplement– Take 1-3 capsules daily with your snack. Make sure to use an oil that contains DHA which is essential for the baby’s healthy brain. You can take this daily and during pregnancy.
Evening Primrose Oil– Take 1500mg of this oil from day one of your cycle (menstruation) till ovulation. Evening Primrose Oil helps to increase cervical mucous and metabolic function. For those of us who do not ovulate, or ovulate unpredictably, we can take EPO CD1-CD10 or so.
6. Exercise for thirty minutes, five days per week.
Exercise improves our insulin sensitivity, increases our metabolism, and helps our mood! Both aerobic and resistance exercises are good.
7. Eat organic.
We will be eating a high protein diet, so it is essential that any animal proteins (meats) we 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. Cut the caffeine, especially coffee.
Caffeine increases estrogen levels, so women who drink 4-5 cups of coffee per day produce 70% more estrogen in the follicular phase of the menstruation cycle (when the body is trying to produce a viable follicle for ovulation, which is already and issue in women with PCOS.)
Click here for a quick list of some other foods that we should avoid completely.
Click here to find out why I suggest that we PCOS gals avoid gluten.
Click here to find out why I suggest that we avoid dairy too.
10. Use herbs and supplements, along with a healthy diet, to help balance hormones.
Click here for more info on supplementation.
Here are some of my favorite PCOS blogs and resources:
Here is a good article on PCOS Fertility Diet.
Here is the site for the PCOS health coach I use. Highly recommend her!
If you have any questions, or any words of wisdom on the subject of PCOS, please feel free to post them in a comment below. I am certainly no expert when it comes to PCOS (or anything else for that matter), so I would love to hear your thoughts!