What is PCOS?
PCOS is a common endocrine disorder, affecting how an individuals’ ovaries work, impacting a range of hormones. The characteristics of PCOS include; irregular periods – your ovaries do not regularly release eggs (ovulation), excess androgen – high levels of “male hormones” resulting in excess facial and body hair, and polycystic ovaries – your ovaries are enlarged containing many fluid filled sacs (follicles) surrounding the eggs. To be diagnosed you must meet at least 2 of the above features.
The symptoms can vary between individuals with how they display and whether they have them or not. They include; irregular periods, difficulty getting pregnant, excessive hair growth, weight gain, thinning hair on the head and acne.
As the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, there is no “cure”, however there are multiple ways you can manage the symptoms of PCOS. One of the first routes is through lifestyle modification, such as dietary changes, movement, stress management, and sleep. Medication and supplementation may also be recommended by your healthcare professional.
Dietary recommendations for PCOS
It is important where possible to include all key macronutrients (fat, protein and carbohydrates) in every meal. This will help to stabilise blood glucose levels, manage insulin resistance and keep you satisfied for longer.
Additional recommendations include replacing white carbohydrates with wholegrains. Including more wholegrains will increase the amount of resistant starch in your diet. This has been found to improve fasting insulin and glucose as well as insulin resistance and sensitivity.
Another helpful recommendation is to add in foods rich in omega-3 such as salmon, flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds. As well as being great for brain, skin and heart health, they have been found to help reduce chronic inflammation associated with PCOS.
It’s not just what you eat …
As well as what you eat, how you eat to support your physical and mental health is key to managing the symptoms of PCOS. The aim is to regulate blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation – so how do we do this?
Firstly, it is important to eat regularly. This will allow for the stabilisation of your blood sugar levels, helping with insulin resistance and maintaining energy levels, which should help to reduce sudden cravings. It is advised, where possible, to eat every 3-4 hours so make sure you’re enjoying snacks.
Secondly, it is important to eat enough. If you restrict food this can result in a release of cortisol (the stress hormone) which contributes to chronic inflammation. Restrictive dieting can also impact your metabolic and mental health.
When approaching dietary changes, be flexible and start small, finding sustainable changes that work best for you – there is no one size fits all approach.