Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is the most commonly diagnosed hormonal condition affecting more than 1 in 10 women.
Recently there has been debate as to whether the name PCOS should be changed as many women suffering from PCOS do not in fact have any recognisable cysts on their ovaries. In fact research is suggesting that PCOS is over diagnosed due to the broad diagnostic criteria. Studies show that around 1 in 4 women show some characteristics of the syndrome and are being diagnosed with PCOS, when perhaps these symptoms may be due to other factors.
But whether the name changes or not, is probably irrelevant for suffers. The symptoms remain the same. And whether you have true PCOS or simply experience some of the symptoms, the treatment is the same.
Suffers can experience
- Pre Menstrual Tension (PMT)/Pre Menstrual Syndrome (PMS)
- erratic ovulation or annovulation
- irregular, infrequent or sometime heavy periods
- sub-fertility and difficulty falling pregnant due to ovulation (however women with true PCOS actually have increased ovarian reserve which is a positive fertility marker)
- multiple cysts on the ovaries
- difficulty losing weight
- mood swings
- acne or darkened skin patches
- hair loss
- excess face or body hair
The exact cause of PCOS largely unknown. Studies show it to be common among female family members indicating a possible genetic component.
Some suffers experience very few symptoms, whilst other women may suffer severe symptoms greatly impacting fertility and reproductive health. Due to the very broad diagnostic criteria, over diagnosis is common but on the flip side, many women often go undiagnosed. In many women, a diagnosis is not made until they try to fall pregnant. PCOS suffers commonly have difficulty falling pregnant largely due to the hormonal and ovulatory issues associated with PCOS, but as mentioned above, true PCOS suffers actually have a high ovarian reserve. This means that have a high volume of eggs available in their ovaries, which is a positive marker of fertility. This is why many women with PCOS are able to conceive with treatment of the hormonal issues affecting ovulation
There is no ‘cure’ for PCOS. Medical treatment option are limited but fortunately there are many simple diet and lifestyle changes that can greatly improve symptoms and fertility outcomes.
Diet and Lifestyle Modifications
A common symptom of PCOS is unstable blood sugar levels. Eating a low glycemic index (GI) diet helps to naturally improve blood sugar stability by reducing the insulin demand.
Low GI foods are more slowly metabolised and released into the system. This reduces the need for extra insulin which is required to reduce blood sugar levels after a meal high in refined carbohydrates and simple sugars.
The Medical Journal of Metabolism concluded that a low GI, low carbohydrate, higher protein diet improves insulin resistance and blood sugar balance whereas a high carbohydrate, low protein diet had the opposite effect.
Consuming a low GI diet also helps to support healthy weight and can support healthy weight loss in those who are overweight. Maintenance of a healthy weight will also support healthy blood sugar regulation and help reduce PCOS symptoms.
As an extension of the low GI diet, a diet high in fibre helps to naturally lower the GI of your food as well as supporting healthy estrogen metabolism and clearance. It also helps you feel fuller for longer, helping to curb cravings and reduce over eating. Fibre is found in the outer husk of most grains, which are often removed during processing and packaging. Therefore it is best to choose wholegrain and whole food options where possible.
Not all fats are bad, in fact, as they sound essential fatty acids are essential to life. Including essential fatty acids into your diet also lowers the Glycemic Index (GI) level of food. Essential fatty acids also have the added benefit of supporting cellular health and hormonal balance as well as reducing inflammatory markers. Essential fatty acids can be found in foods such nuts and seeds, avocado fish, olives, flaxseeds and olive oil.
Organic food is grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides and other toxins. These toxins have been shown to negatively affect hormonal balance, increase inflammation and overload detoxification pathways. In fact consuming a high level of fruits and vegetables containing these pesticides is linked to sub-fertility and infertility.
Eating organic as much as possible helps to reduce the toxic load on and already overworked hormonal system. Especially look for free range and organic meats where possible to avoid artificial hormones.
Regular Small Meals
To further support healthy blood sugar levels, PCOS sufferers can benefit from 5 smaller meals throughout the day, rather than the standard 3 large meals. This helps to stabilise blood sugar throughout the day, reduce cravings and help support healthy weight maintenance. Ideally all meals and snacks should incorporate wholegrains, organic fruits and/or vegetables as well as a healthy protein source as well nuts, seeds and good oils where possible.