Fibre can play a very important role in helping with PCOS. It has many benefits such as helping to maintain blood sugar levels and in lowering cholesterol, helping with insulin resistance and also helping you feel fuller for longer.
Improvement in these areas can help with PCOS management. However, it is often missed as a recommendation, and many individuals do not meet the recommended daily fibre intake. It has been found that people with PCOS who also present with insulin resistance have reduced fibre consumption (1). This may suggest that people with PCOS should ensure they are getting enough fibre into their diets.
What is fibre?
Fibre is essentially the part of plant-based foods that cannot be digested when passing through the digestive system. It may also be referred to as ‘roughage’ for this exact reason. It is essential for your gut to work normally.
Fibre is completely or partially broken down via fermentation by bacteria in the large intestine. Fibre is a type of carbohydrate.
Types of fibre
There are two types of fibre that work within our guts; soluble and insoluble fibre.
Soluble fibre absorbs water and creates a gel-like substance. This can help soften stools as well as feed the bacteria in the gut. It is often found in foods like fruit and oats.
Insoluble fibre provides the bulk that helps push stools through the digestive system. This type of fibre is often found in wheat bran and nuts.
What foods contain fibre?
Fibre is found in many foods such as:
- Fruits like oranges, berries, and pears
- Whole grains, particularly oats and brown rice or pasta
- Nuts and seeds
- Legumes like lentils or chickpeas
- Vegetables like broccoli, peas
- Cereals, particularly whole grain cereals
Benefits of fibre
As mentioned there are multiple benefits of fibre, some of these include:
- Improved gut health: fibre has been shown to increase the levels and function of bacteria in the gut. These bacteria play a big role in maintaining blood sugar levels, reducing inflammation, and ensuring good heart health. These bacteria feed off plant foods and therefore higher levels of fibre in the digestive system can optimize the function of these bacteria.
- Insulin sensitivity: Studies have shown that fibre is known to help in helping manage insulin sensitivity and reducing high circulating levels of insulin in adults.
- Reduction incidences of constipation
- May lower androgens and help in reducing symptoms of hyperandrogenism
How much fibre should you eat daily?
The British Dietetic Association (BDA) recommends adults consume approximately 30 grams of fibre daily for general health benefits (2).
How to increase your fibre intake
It is important to include as many fibre-containing foods into your diet as fibre provides so many health benefits for the body. There are multiple ways to increase your daily fibre intake such as:
- Eating more whole grain foods: Foods such as whole grains or brown bread, pasta, and rice all have higher fibre content than white bread/pasta/rice. Just making a direct swap to the wholegrain alternative will increase fibre intake significantly.
- Add nuts/seeds/beans to dishes: By adding foods like chia seeds, red kidney beans, or nuts to dishes you can increase your fibre intake.
- Increase fruit and vegetables: Both fruit and vegetables contain high amounts of fibre and by increasing your intake you’ll inadvertently increase your daily fibre.
Should you supplement with fibre?
You should be able to reach the recommended daily amount of fibre (30g per day) through diet alone but, if you don’t reach this, a supplement may be useful. It is important to remember that too much fibre can reduce the effectiveness of some medications including anti-depressants and antibiotics. If you have any digestive, gut or bowel issues then speak to your doctor before taking any fibre supplements.
If you do choose to supplement with fibre then taking a high-fibre supplement like psyllium husk may be helpful. A 2012 study found that taking psyllium husk supplements improved cholesterol levels in a group of individuals (3).
Main takeaways for fibre and PCOS
To conclude, fibre has many benefits, some of which can help with PCOS symptom management. Whilst increasing your fibre intake will not cure PCOS, it can help to improve symptoms. As it is also good for overall health it is always advised to meet the recommended daily fibre intake (30g/day) for optimal health benefits.
Written by Michala Rooney. Reviewed and edited by Annabel Sparrow (Associate Registered Nutritionist).