With greater awareness and increasingly accurate diagnosis, there are more opportunities to improve more women's lives through appropriate symptom management, focusing on lifestyle, foods, and dietary choices. Here nutritionist Denisa Dufkova explains what is PCOS, the link between diet, metabolism, weight and PCOS, and the best foods for managing PCOS.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a common condition that affects how a woman's ovaries work. It can lead to irregular periods, higher levels of androgens ('male' hormones), and polycystic ovaries (enlarged ovaries that contain fluid filled sacs).
The presence of PCOS doesn’t necessarily mean you have cysts in your ovaries, but your ovaries may become filled with little sacs called follicles, which are surrounding the eggs. This can have an impact on our endocrine system and the balance of our hormones, which can result in high levels of androgens, male hormones which may cause increased growth of facial or body hair, as well as causing havoc during ovulation and an irregular menstrual cycle.
Since the 1950s, when the early signs of PCOS were first fully understood, we now know that PCOS is common in many women and is more likely to run in families. The variety of symptoms, ranging from adult acne, increased body hair growth to disturbances in the menstrual cycle and infertility, makes the diagnosis difficult. While individual symptoms can be treated, there is no single treatment to combat PCOS.
Diet for PCOS
Besides targeted medical treatments and interventions, diet and lifestyle factors are the most common way of managing symptoms of PCOS.
Because PCOS is highly related to hormones, it can also effect how our body processes insulin.
As a result, more and more studies highlight the link between PCOS and metabolism, highlighting weight management as a viable way to prevent other complications. This can also include preventing the development of metabolic syndrome, which combines risk factors such as high levels of blood sugar, cholesterol and high blood pressure. Combined with a high waist-to-hip ratio, these can contribute to developing heart disease, diabetes and other conditions.
PCOS and Weight Loss
Studies show a strong relationship between PCOS and obesity. Adolescent obesity is a risk factor for developing PCOS later in life, while PCOS itself is a risk factor in causing obesity in adult women.
As a result, weight loss and a varied, healthy diet are among the most effective ways to control and manage symptoms of PCOS, and some foods and their nutrients are even more important for managing symptoms of PCOS.
Foods for PCOS
Those who suffer from PCOS are at a greater risk of developing metabolic and cardio-vascular complications later in life. Making sure your diet contains enough fibre, which can be found mainly in any plant-based foods, is an important part of both preventing such conditions as well as helping to maintain a healthy weight.
PCOS creates a risk of higher levels of cholesterol which clogs our arteries and increases the chances of cardio-vascular complications. As a result, it is important to maintain a healthy balance of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids in your diet to help balancing cholesterol levels.
Try to substitute foods that are high in saturated fats and reach for unsaturated fats such as omega-3 help to help protect the heart.
Consuming enough healthy fats helps protect your heart and also helps the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins including Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, and Vitamin K. Healthy fats also help make you feel fuller for longer, and alongside protein, they slow down the release of carbohydrates to help balance your blood glucose levels.
Including omega-3 rich foods in your diet such as fatty fish like salmon or sardines, flax seeds, or walnuts will also help reduce inflammation, which is another beneficial factor when preventing or managing other conditions linked with PCOS.
Protein is an essential building block in every diet, however it is even more important for PCOS - it is effective in supporting weight loss and relieving other PCOS complications linked with obesity.
Studies show that partially replacing carbohydrates in the diet with protein improves blood sugar metabolism in women suffering from PCOS, independent of weight loss.
Great sources of protein can be found in animal-based products such as lean meat, fish, dairy products or beans, pulses, and legumes.
While Vitamin D supplementation is recommended among all adults due to lack of exposure to sunlight in the UK, especially in winter months, for PCOS Vitamin D is even more important.
Vitamin D plays a role in improving resistance to insulin and the synthesis of serotonin. Serotonin is the key hormone that stabilises our mood, feelings of wellbeing and happiness.
Studies show those suffering from PCOS are more likely to suffer from mental health complications so having enough Vitamin D to support serotonin production can help to stabilise our mood.
Vitamin E is well known as a vitamin to reach for when trying to conceive. Similarly, for women suffering from PCOS and where fertility may be affected, Vitamin E can have a positive effect on their endometrial thickness, thanks to its antioxidant effects. In combination with omega-3, Vitamin E can also support in combating resistance to insulin and increased male hormone levels.
Whilst PCOS is affected by our dietary choices and good nutrition can improve symptoms and restrict the development of the condition, receiving a PCOS diagnosis is nonetheless overwhelming and can be caused by a number of factors.
Starting with small changes, such as introducing regular exercise and making small changes to your diet and weight management can have a real impact on symptoms as well as your mental and cardio-vascular health.
Whilst making nutritional changes to help with PCOS, considering a Daily Multi-Vitamin is a great way to make sure that you are covered at all the nutritional bases.
Discover our range of vegan supplements.
- Nutritionist Resource - https://www.nutritionist-resource.org.uk/
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