Polyphenols are a naturally occuring plant compound found in many foods. Polyphenols have many potential health benefits including anti-inflammatory and anti-oxident properties, and may improve brain and gut health. But what is the link between polyphenols and PCOS? And can polyphenols help with symptoms of PCOS?
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome, more commonly referred to as PCOS, is a common endocrine condition. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding, it often goes underdiagnosed and undertreated. The condition is characterised by a collection of symptoms including excess hair growth, hair loss on the head, acne and oily skin, irregular periods, and infertility. Whilst it cannot be cured PCOS can be managed by lifestyle changes and medication.
What are polyphenols?
There are approximately 8,000 different naturally occurring plant compounds found in fruits, vegetables, tea and cocoa, known as polyphenols. Due to their potential health benefits, particularly anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, they have been widely studied. Found to be important for heart and brain health maintenance, as well as reducing the risk of specific types of cancer development.
List of polyphenols
Here is a list of the major categories of polyphenols and examples of compounds within each category.
- Flavonoids – most common polyphenol in foods
- Phenolic acids
- Hydroxybenzoic acids
- Hydroxycinnamic acids
- Condensed tannins
- Hydrolyzable tannins
List of foods rich in polyphenols
There are many foods that contain polyphenols but what are the best sources of polyphenols? Here is a list of foods rich in polyphenols:
- Fruits including berries, apples, grapes, cherries, plums, blackcurrants, pomegranates, apricots and peaches.
- Vegetables including olives, peppers, asparagus, broccoli, red onions, artichokes and spinach.
- Nuts and seeds including flaxseeds, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds and chestnuts.
- Drinks including green tea, black tea, red wine, white wine and coffee.
- Grains including wheat, oats and rye
- Legumes including black beans, soybeans and soy products
- Spices, herbs and seasonings including cloves, star anise, cocoa powder, capers, oregano, turmeric, peppermint, thyme and sage.
- Other foods include dark chocolate, red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.
Health benefits of polyphenols
Now we know what polyphenols are, what are the health benefits of polyphenols?
As inflammation has been found to be a factor in influencing mental health conditions, it may not come as a surprise that the anti-inflammatory properties found in polyphenols have been associated with brain health.
Evidence suggests polyphenols may play a role in the protection against neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, and mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression which people with PCOS are at an increased risk of.
The gut microbiota is the trillions and trillions of microorganisms in the intestines. The health of our gut microbiota plays a role in our overall health and wellbeing. It appears that polyphenols may impact gut health.
It is believed that a two-way relationship exists between polyphenols and the gut microbiota. Polyphenols act as a prebiotic (i.e. food for the gut microbiota) and the gut bacteria can break down polyphenols to be absorbed and utilised by the body.
As mentioned, improving gut health may improve many health outcomes and research now suggests there is a close association between gut health and PCOS. One of the best ways to support your gut health is to eat a wide variety of plant-based foods – many of which contain polyphenols.
Inflammation is a normal bodily function. It is a normal part of the body’s immune response. But, it is important to recognise that chronic, long-term inflation can be harmful. Persistent inflammation in the body is associated with many health conditions including heart disease, cancer, strokes, diabetes and even PCOS.
Polyphenols have been considered a potential treatment for chronic inflammation because of their anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects. More research is required to understand the exact pathology of polyphenols and inflammation and to understand dosage, but the research is promising.
As discussed, polyphenols have many health benefits, leading research to explore their therapeutic potential in PCOS. Oxidative stress, metabolic, hormonal and endocrine disruptions are associated with PCOS.
As polyphenols have been found to potentially improve gut health and reduce inflammation, it is suggested they may be part of an effective treatment strategy for PCOS. Further studies are required for conclusive results and recommended dosage.
Many foods including fruits, vegetables and wholegrains contain polyphenols, which are beneficial for both PCOS management and general health. Try boosting your intake of polyphenol-rich foods like berries, nuts, seeds, apples, wholegrains and green tea and see how you feel.
Key takeaways: polyphenols and PCOS
While further research is needed, to confirm and provide recommendations for polyphenols in PCOS management, evidence supports their role in promoting overall health. If looking to increase polyphenols in your diet, try to consume a variety of plant-based foods, the more diverse the better.
Founder and Editor | Registered Associate Nutritionist
Founder of Be The Collective LTD [The PCOS Collective & The Endo Collective] Alex Okell ANutr is a London-based reproductive health nutritionist with experience in research, private practice and digital media. She holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition from King’s College London and has co-authored papers with the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, The Food Foundation and the Food Standards Agency. Alex offers 1:1 PCOS support in our virtual PCOS clinic.