PCOS – an overview
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), is a common endocrine condition. Signs and symptoms of the condition often become apparent during late teenage years – early 20’s, but can affect anyone of reproductive age. All individuals will encounter different symptoms ranging in severity, including:
• Irregular or no periods
• Difficulty getting pregnant
• Excess hair growth on the face and body (hirsutism)
• Weight fluctuation
• Thinning hair and loss of from the head
• Oily skin or acne
Insulin resistance is a mechanism associated with PCOS and is often the reason why a low-carb diet for PCOS is recommended. But what does it really mean? Insulin is a hormone that controls the amount of sugar in the blood, when an individual is insulin resistant the body’s tissues are resistant to its effects, and to compensate for this the body produces more insulin. Increased levels of insulin can exacerbate the symptoms of PCOS.
Low Carbohydrates and PCOS
Insulin controls the amount of sugar in the blood by moving glucose from the blood into the cells to be converted into energy. Leading some to believe by reducing the amount of carbohydrates we consume; less insulin will be produced as not as much is needed to move the glucose … but is there any science to back up this claim?
Whilst some studies have appeared promising on the surface, when you look a little deeper you find that the number of people in the studies is pretty small, and the drop-out rate is high. What should we take away from this? Firstly, we can’t conclude that low-carbohydrates benefit those with PCOS. Secondly, if a high % of people are dropping out, it means that the diet is probably not sustainable and therefore would not be a long-term solution.
So, should people with PCOS eat carbohydrates?
In short – yes! Did you know that carbohydrates are our brains preferred energy source over any other!? Cutting them out altogether firstly can be very challenging to do, but also can lead to adverse effects such as fatigue and also can leave you at risk of deficiencies.
However, there are a few things you can do to help manage insulin resistance:
• It can be useful to increase the level of brown carbohydrates over white, this will increase fibre, resulting in a slower release of glucose into the blood.
• Balancing your meals and snacks by combining your carbohydrates with fats and proteins will also help to slow down the release of glucose.
• Try not to skip meals, eating fulfilling meals regularly will help to keep your blood sugar levels balanced.
Working with a healthcare professional can be a helpful process in figuring out what works best for you, before making any big changes.