September is PCOS awareness month, and I want to use this blog post to bring awareness to this condition so you can take charge of your health and provide better care for those around you who suffer from this condition in silence.
Why PCOS is A Serious Concern?
PCOS is an underdiagnosed condition that affects a woman’s hormone and reproductive health. As many as 50% of women with PCOS are undiagnosed, and without proactive measures, 50% of women with the condition will go on to develop metabolic disorders such as type II diabetes, insulin resistance, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Women with PCOS are also at higher risk of estrogen related cancers such as endometrial cancer.
What Is PCOS?
Previously, polycystic ovarian syndrome describes the condition where fluid-filled sacs are found growing in the ovaries, and it is usually detected by an ultrasound. Now PCOS is understood to be a condition that comes with multiple manifestations rather than the mere presence of polycystic ovaries.
PCOS is a metabolic condition that is linked to insulin resistance and impaired glucose metabolism. Increased insulin levels in the body lead to excessive androgen production, resulting in increased risk of metabolic conditions and unwanted characteristics such as acne and excessive facial hair. Ovarian cysts can also produce androgen, which exacerbates hormone imbalance.
What Are Some Symptoms?
Due to the lack of ovulation, many women with PCOS experience irregular periods, characterized by long, drawn out cycles (fewer than 9 cycles per year) or missing cycles.
Some women with PCOS also experience:
● Painful periods due to hormone imbalances. The uterine lining is not shedding on a regular basis, causing abnormal bleeding, bloating and cramping.
● Acne due to hormone and blood sugar imbalance
● Excessive hair growth on the face, chest and back
● Male pattern baldness
● Unwanted weight gain or difficulty losing weight
● Thickening and darkening of the skin creases in the neck, elbows and knees
Nutrition Tips For PCOS
Due the to metabolic nature of PCOS, it’s important to focus your nutrition strategy around:
1. Balancing Blood Sugar Levels.
A high glycemic load is linked with increased risk of diabetes. Plan your meal around antioxidant-rich vegetables and make sure to get enough protein from both plant and good quality animal sources every meal. To reduce your carbohydrate load, the best tip is to reserve refined carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, rice for no more than one meal a day. Some lower glycemic index carb alternatives to consider are: chickpeas, sweet potatoes, zucchini noodles, cauliflower rice.
Reducing carbohydrates can feel hard at first but once you try it for a week your metabolism will eventually get better at accessing stored sugars or converting protein and fats to fuel sources.
One key nutrient that is lost due to high insulin levels is inositol, which is beneficial for lowering high insulin levels. This nutrient can be taken in food form such as beans, wheat germ, brans and organ meat or as a supplement form.
Other blood-sugar balancing nutrients are magnesium (almonds, kale, spinach), chromium (romaine lettuce, broccoli and mushrooms), zinc (oysters, grass fed lamb and beef, pumpkin seeds) and selenium (brazil nuts and free-range turkey).
Some other helpful supplements that can support blood sugar balance are:
Berberine activates AMP-protein kinase, an enzyme that allows cells to acquire energy from diverse fuel sources. Some studies demonstrated that 500mg of berberine 3 times a day has a similar effect on blood sugar control compared to metformin.
Alpha lipoic acid is an antioxidant our body produces naturally. Research suggests that supplementing with 600mg ALA twice a day can improve insulin sensitivity by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the body
2. Reduce Inflammation
Chronic inflammation in the body also contributes to the androgen production of polycystic ovaries. Due to the inflammatory nature of ovarian cysts, the body sends immune cells to the ovaries, which increases the inflammatory load in someone with PCOS. This is why it’s important to reduce inflammatory load in someone with PCOS.
Food sensitivity is a main source of inflammation. Some common food sensitivities are gluten, soy, dairy and corn. When stress and suboptimal digestion compromises our gut lining, these benign foods can trigger silent immune reactions that contribute to inflammatory load in the body. You can discuss with your nutritionist to explore your food sensitivities.
Another important aspect of combating inflammation is having an adequate amount of anti-inflammatory nutrients in the body such as minerals, antioxidants and fiber, to combat environmental and internal stressors. One tip is to aim for 6-9 servings of vegetables (kale, broccoli, chards, cabbage, beets, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, cauliflower cucumber, celery etc) and 1-2 servings of low sugar fruit (berries, kiwi, apples etc).
Fresh spices and herbs are also extremely rich in antioxidants (basil , cilantro, parsley, dill, turmeric and ginger). Lifestyle Considerations
● Reduce Physical and Mental Stress
Stress is a major roadblock in supporting hormonal imbalance for PCOS. The stress hormone cortisol steals female hormone precursors, making it difficult for the body to restore the natural hormonal rhythm.
Over exercise and intense exercise routine is counterproductive for someone with PCOS as activities that spike too much cortisol can lead to difficulties in weight loss. Gentle exercises such as brisk walking, swimming, cycling, yoga and moderate weight lifting can help improve insulin sensitivity.
● Making Sleep A Priority
Even one night of sleep deprivation can lead to disrupted blood sugar patterns the next day. Chronic sleep issues are associated with weight gain. If you struggle with PCOS, it’s important to allow the body to get enough rest and allow at least two days a week to let the body wake up naturally instead of being harassed out of bed by the alarm clock.
● Natural Feminine Hygiene Products
Fragrances, bleaches and plastic particles are known hormone disruptors according to the Environmental Working Group. Choosing natural products is important to support the body’s hormonal health. There is a solution for every style to keep your period toxin-free:
❏ Diva cup
Tahlia Sage (Certified Nutritional Practitioner, Bsc Food, Nutrition & Health) is the founder of Tahlia Sage Wellness (tahliasagewellness.com) and a partner at Healing House Natural Wellness (healinghouseherbal.com), she is also an instructor at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition.
Her coaching practice helps clients achieve their wellness goals by embracing functional foods and healthy lifestyle changes. Tahlia’s own health challenges and weight issues prompted her to pursue an education in nutritional science and holistic nutrition. Tahlia empowers her clients to regain balance with easy, concrete steps. Connect with Tahlia for a free 15 min discovery session (https://square.site/book/0NC74C2PZ4VD0/healing-house-tahlia-sage).