Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition among women of child-bearing age in which levels of estrogen and progesterone hormones are out of balance. This imbalance causes the growth of cysts on a woman's ovaries which can lead to issues with her menstrual cycle, fertility, outward appearance and even cardiac function.
A vast amount of research on PCOS has revealed that genetic, epigenetic, endocrine, metabolic and environmental factors may all be contributing to the development of this puzzling disorder. PCOS currently affects around 5 million women in the United States and although the precise cause is still unknown, medical professionals believe that women are more likely to develop the condition if their mother or sister has also suffered from it.
While it is always important to consult your doctor about serious conditions, there are a few well recognized diet and lifestyle changes that can help reduce the severity and prevalence of PCOS symptoms.
1. Balance Your Daily Intake Of Protein & Carbohydrates
One contributing factor to PCOS may be an overproduction of the hormone androgen. This can affect the development and release of eggs during ovulation. Excess insulin, the hormone that helps convert sugar and starch into energy, is linked to higher-than-normal androgen levels.
Eating equal amounts of protein and carbohydrates assists in keeping your insulin levels even, therefore maintaining a healthy balance of hormones. The type of carbohydrates that you eat is also an important factor in this process. Try to consume only wholegrain, or sprouted grain products as they naturally contain more protein and fiber than their processed equivalents. Avoid heavily processed carbohydrates such as white flour and white rice as these cause a spike in insulin levels, while providing almost no nutrient value.
Fiber is another important element that assists in managing PCOS, as it slows the digestion of sugars within the body. This reduces the severity of a spike in insulin and promotes healthy estrogen metabolism, which assists in lowering androgen levels. Some of the best sources of fiber include broccoli, celery, leafy greens, apples, and wholegrains.
2. Eat and Drink Wisely
In balancing your protein and carbohydrate intake, it’s also important to consume only organic animal proteins whenever possible, as commercial products are high in added growth hormones (estrogens). This can be very damaging if you're suffering from PCOS as it will disrupt the balance between estrogen and progesterone in your body. Studies have also shown that organic foods contain more vitamins, minerals and healthier proteins.
Another thing to be mindful of is the potential presence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as BPA in your food and water. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) describe a combination of widespread pollutants often found in food products that have been transported in plastic containers or wraps. EDC's are currently being investigated as possible contributors to PCOS after strong evidence from in vitro and animal studies showed them to be capable of causing ovarian symptoms similar to those that occur with PCOS.
3. Eat Low-GI & Low-GL Foods
Low glycemic index (GI) foods are carbohydrates that are absorbed into the body slowly and therefore don’t result in such a dramatic spike and subsequent drop in insulin levels. The glycemic load (GL) refers to the amount of the food you consume and how it affects your blood sugar levels.
By decreasing the amounts of high-GI foods that cause sugar spikes, such as refined sugars, white bread, simple starches and processed foods, your blood sugars will be kept in balance which will result in less extreme cravings and mood swings. Furthermore, androgens are stimulated by high blood sugar, so a low-GI diet will help to keep them in check.
4. Stay Active & Fit
Exercise is an important component in treating PCOS as it improves insulin sensitivity, enhances metabolism and helps to shed any excess weight which might come about as a result of hormone imbalances. A variety of different exercise is recommended, ranging from resistance training to aerobic workouts. Researchers have found that people who participate in resistance training showed better improvement in insulin sensitivity than those who only took part in aerobic exercise. Having said that, be sure to avoid overdoing the intensity of your workouts, as too much exercise can overload the adrenal glands which may increase inflammation and irritate your PCOS further. Try brisk walks, gentle weight lifting, yoga, or pilates. The optimal amount of exercise to aim for is 30 minutes per day for 5 days each week.
5. Take It Easy On The Coffee
Some health experts believe that caffeine can intensify PCOS. A study conducted by Fertility and Sterility shows that drinking two cups of coffee a day increases levels of estradiol, a natural estrogen, while drinking 4 - 5 cups of coffee a day produces 70% more estrogen in the follicular phase of a woman's menstrual cycle. This has the potential to substantially affect hormonal balance.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome can be a painful and discouraging condition to deal with, but with the right attitude, an active lifestyle and a wholesome diet, you can minimize its severity and continue to live a vibrant, happy life!