Prebiotics, probiotics and PCOS

PCOS and Gut Health

PCOS is a common disorder, affecting those of reproductive age, although onset can come later in life. Symptoms are varied in display, frequency and severity between individuals. Although the diagnostic criteria and associated symptoms are well documented, the cause remains unclear.

PCOS has been associated with many other conditions and health disturbances, among those is gut health. In fact, research has found individuals with PCOS have less diverse gut bacteria than those without the syndrome.

What is a prebiotic?

Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients, and a type of dietary fibre, although not all fibres are considered prebiotics. To be categorised as a prebiotic they must: resist acidic stomach conditions, remain undigested until reaching the colon, be fermented by the intestinal microbiota, and change the activity of the microbiota.

They have been found to have benefits for health, but how do they work? Simply they act as a source of energy for the intestinal microbiota, permitting “good bacteria” to thrive. The most beneficial prebiotics include galacto-oligosaccharides, fructo- oligosaccharides and inulin.

They can be found in plant foods such as oats, garlic, artichokes, onions, chicory and banana. While they can be found in supplements, in most cases they are not necessary, as they are readily available in many food sources offering additional health benefits.

What is a probiotic?

Probiotics are live microorganisms, such as bacteria and yeast, which can promote health benefits by changing the balance of the gut microbiota, when the right amounts are consumed. They have been found to increase the amount of good bacteria, while decreasing harmful bacteria. As a result this aids in the reduction of infection risk; production of short chain fatty acids via the protective bacteria can reduce inflammation. They are available in yoghurt drinks and supplements, both single or mutli-strain however it is suggested a mixture may be more effective.

There has been interest in their health benefits for years, however further high quality studies are required to provide conclusive answers.

If I have PCOS should I take pre and pro-biotics?

As previously mentioned, PCOS has been associated with less diverse gut bacteria. Therefore, unsurprisingly it has also been linked with an increased prevalence of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) a gastrointestinal (digestive) condition.

If you believe you do have IBS, there is some evidence which suggests probiotics can help to alleviate IBS symptoms, as the condition can be as a result of an imbalance in the microbiota. However, this is still an emerging field of research and which strains are most effective remains unclear. With both conditions, it is important to receive a diagnosis, and explore treatment options with a healthcare professional. Lifestyle changes are often considered a first line of treatment.

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