Today I am going to be talking a one the most commonly diagnosed hormonal conditions affecting more than 1 in 10 women, and that’s Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

One of the reasons it is so common is that symptoms are so broad and varied.

Symptoms of PCOS include

  • Pre Menstrual Tension (PMT)/Pre Menstrual Syndrome (PMS)
  • erratic ovulation or annovulation
  • irregular, infrequent or sometime heavy periods
  • sub-fertility and difficulty falling pregnant, largely due to ovulation issues
  • multiple cysts on the ovaries
  • difficulty losing weight
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • mood swings
  • acne or darkened skin patches
  • hair loss
  • excess face or body hair

 

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.

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.

Because there is quite a cross-over between PCOS and metabolic syndrome, which is characterised by increased abdominal fat, insulin resistance, difficulty losing weight, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

On the flip side, many women often go undiagnosed.  In many women, a diagnosis is not made until they try to fall pregnant.

Which is why there are calls for more awareness about menstrual health earlier in life.  Women often experience severe symptoms around their periods, however they dismiss them as normal.

The reality is, no amount of pain or cramping is truly normal.  If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, these should be investigated and treated.

And I don’t mean by going on the Pill.  The Pill is often prescribed to girls with painful periods, which is very effective in relieving symptoms.  However it doesn’t treat the underlying problem.  So when women do go off the Pill when they are trying to fall pregnant, all the symptoms and problems are still there.

So, if you are needing painkillers regularly during your period, this is not normal and you should be getting proper investigations and treatments to get to the bottom of the true cause of the problem.

Personally, I would do investigative tests and then look at appropriate herbal and nutritional supplements and incorporate diet and lifestyle modifications to help rectify the cause of the problem and the hormonal disturbance causing the symptoms.

PCOS suffers commonly have difficulty falling pregnant largely due to the hormonal and ovulatory issues associated with PCOS.

True PCOS sufferers often 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.

It’s difficulties with ovulation and getting the eggs out, which cause the fertility issues.

This is why many women with PCOS are able to conceive with proper treatment of the hormonal issues affecting ovulation.  And that’s what I like to work on with women with PCOS, is establishing better hormone balance and improving ovulation to improve chances of conceiving and carrying a healthy baby!  Which is what we all want

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.

There is no ‘cure’ for PCOS.  Medical treatment options are limited but fortunately there are many natural treatments as well as diet and lifestyle changes that can greatly improve symptoms and fertility outcomes.

Now, today I am going to talk about the simple dietary changes you can start making today to boost your fertility.

Diet and Lifestyle Modifications

LOW GI

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.

Now I am not talking about those crazy high protein no carb diets but a balance of low GI or slow carbs, high quality protein and good fats is ideal.

Now when I talk about low GI, I don’t like you to get hung up on the exact glycaemic index number of every food and look for low GI written on packets.  In fact I would prefer you avoid packets and I don’t feel that any kind of number counting is a sustainable diet choice.

What I do encourage you is to look at the GI principles, which you can then apply to your diet.  It again comes back to whole foods.  Whole foods in general naturally lower GI, because they have the natural fibre and fat which slows the release of any natural sugars.  So in general you want to be eating meals which include whole slow release carbohydrates, combined with either fibre, good fat or protein or all of the above.

AVOID SUGAR

Sugar fuels inflammation and insulin resistance which further contributes to weight gain and difficulty losing weight.

As I spoke about in a previous episode of Talking Fertility where I spoke about weight loss, insulin resistance and the associated weight gain disturbs the hypothalamic pituitary-ovarian axis, which is basically the feedback loop which regulates hormone production.

This hormonal disturbance affects the menstrual cycle and can disrupt our ability to create an egg or stop ovulation all together.

Which is a common issue related to PCOS.  Insulin resistance is also associated with increased risk of miscarriage.

So reducing your intake of sugar, especially refined sugar in processed foods, is super important in PCOS.

GOOD FATS

As I spoke about in the previous episode Weight Loss and Fertility, not all fats are bad, in fact, as they sound essential fatty acids are essential to life.

So including healthy mono and poly-unsaturated fats into your diet, and even small healthy amounts of saturated fats like coconut oil is a great way to lower the GI of foods and balance blood sugar.

Now we still want to keep saturated fats to a minimum, for example one serve of red meat would provide your daily recommended intake of saturated fats, however complete avoidance of saturated fats is not necessary and can actually be helpful in stabilising blood sugar.

Essential fatty acids also have the added benefit of supporting cellular health and hormonal balance as well as reducing inflammation.  Essential fatty acids can be found in foods such nuts and seeds, avocado, fish, olives, flaxseeds and olive oil.

CHOOSE ORGANIC

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.

Eat organic as much as possible to help 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 and if you can’t buy organic all the time, look at the clean 15 and the dirty dozen.  Which is basically a list of the best and the worst foods in terms of absorbing pesticides.  A general guide is the more porous the fruit or vegetable, the more pesticides it will absorb.  Unforutnately when it comes to pesticides it’s not just a matter of washing them off before you eat.  These foods have been grown with a steady intake of pesticides throughout the growing cycle so they can be found right through the foods.  So for example strawberries will absorb more pesticides than watermelon which has a tough exterior.

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 a healthy protein source as well nuts, seeds and good oils where possible.

So I hope that has given you some tips to help you improve your fertility outcomes with PCOS, I go into more detail about specific dietary guidelines in my upcoming course Your Fertile Pantry which I will be announcing very soon, as well an exciting first in best dressed bonus!  So stay tuned for that one.

So thanks for joining me today for this episode of Talking Fertility.

For more information, or to have your say on next week’s topic be sure to head over to the Conceive Baby with Tasha Jennings Facebook Group and join the discussion.