In honor of PCOS awareness month, I’d like to continue the conversation that Christine started last week in her informative article, Addressing Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. (Check out her post for a clear overview of what PCOS is and how it is most effectively diagnosed and treated). As Christine mentioned, PCOS is one of the most common endocrine disorders facing American women today and sadly it often goes undiagnosed. The silver lining? With natural interventions that address the root causes of PCOS, it’s possible to successfully manage and/or reverse the condition entirely.
If you are struggling with the symptoms of PCOS (including insulin resistance, cystic acne, unwanted facial hair, trouble losing weight, long menstrual cycles or infertility), it’s best to work with a qualified heath practitioner to establish a clear diagnosis and treatment plan.
Here at Double Happiness Health, we take a multifaceted approach when treating PCOS. Aside from acupuncture, herbal medicine and supplements, we rely on the wisdom of functional medicine to evaluate and address the root causes of the condition. This includes improving nutrition and overall gut health, stress management, sleep and healthy detoxification. In today’s post, I’ll walk you through some of the nutritional insights we most often recommend to those struggling with PCOS.
Healthy nutrition is of paramount importance in women with PCOS as diet is one of the most effective ways to increase insulin sensitivity, balance blood sugar and reduce excess testosterone. The main medication used to achieve these goals is Metformin – but it’s entirely possible to do this naturally with the steps listed here.
Focus on fresh, whole foods and ditch what’s packaged and processed.
Balance your energy throughout each day with hormone healthy proteins, good fats and slow carbs with a pound of vibrantly colored vegetables and low glycemic fruit. Including fat and protein with each meal improves glycemic control and weight loss, lowers androgen levels and reduces PCOS symptoms.
Hormone healthy proteins include organic poultry, low mercury fish like salmon, sardines and halibut, and plant-based options like legumes, nuts and seeds.
High quality fats like olive oil and avocados help reduce sugar cravings, support the nervous system and aid in the assimilation of fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, K and E. Other great sources include coconut oil, organic ghee, nuts like almonds and walnuts and seeds like pumpkin and sesame seeds.
Slow carbs are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Include a heaping dose of green veggies (focusing on cruciferous foods like broccoli and cabbage) and low to moderate amounts of low glycemic fruits, starchy energy vegetables like sweet potatoes, parsnips and winter squash, and gluten free grains like quinoa and millet. You may have been told to avoid carbs altogether but such extreme restriction can activate the stress response which makes it harder to lose weight and maintain healthy glucose levels.
Kick to the curb all sugar and white flour products, soda, fruit juice and alcohol. If you can eat small amounts of natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup without increasing your sugar cravings, stick to 1 tablespoon per day.
Timing is everything! When and how you eat throughout the day is almost as important as what you eat. Insulin sensitivity is often highest in the morning so you should consider eating your biggest meal of the day for breakfast. Lunch should be slightly more moderate and it’s best if dinner is rather light. If you struggle with sleep, try including some slow carbohydrates like sweet potatoes or a half a cup of cooked gluten free grain with dinner. And be sure to eat at least 2-3 hours before bed so your body has adequate time to digest before sleep.
Aim for foods especially high in these 3 nutrients
Research has shown that Vitamin D is an especially important nutrient for women with PCOS as it helps to balance blood sugar, improve ovarian follicular development and increase progesterone. As many as 85% of women with PCOS have been found to have low serum concentrations of Vitamin D (less than 20ng/ml) so it’s a good idea to have your levels checked and supplement accordingly. The best food sources are cod liver oil, salmon and sardines.
Quercetin is a type of flavonoid antioxidant that has been shown to improve the metabolic features of those with PCOS. (For more details, see the resources below for a couple of interesting studies on the potential therapeutic benefits). Foods high in quercetin include apples, grapes, dark cherries and berries, cruciferous vegetables, dark leafy greens, olive oil, red onions and citrus fruits. Inositol
Inositol has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, reduce serum testosterone levels, increase ovulation and conception rates in women with PCOS. Often, supplementation is recommended (especially in a combined form with myo-inositol and d-chiro inositol) but you can increase your intake through consuming myo-inositol rich legumes like garbanzo beans, kidney beans and lentils. In a recent meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials included below, myo-inositol was as effective as the pharmaceutical Metformin in improving the metabolic profile in women with PCOS and was considered a safer option without risks of side effects!
A quick note about stress…
The HPAO (Hypothalamic, Pituitary, Adrenal, Ovarian) Axis is a complicated system that governs your stress response. The long and short of it is this: more stress has the potential to reduce insulin sensitivity, increase testosterone, and trigger a cascade of other metabolic and hormonal symptoms that make it harder for your body to heal. Most of us are spending the majority of each day in our sympathetic “fight or flight” nervous system and this takes quite a toll on our bodies over time – especially in women with PCOS. My favorite practices for calming the nervous system include acupuncture, deep breathing exercises, restorative yoga, walking in nature and meditation.
If you’d like to learn more about the other strategies we use to effectively treat PCOS (like improving gut health, sleep and healthy detoxification) we’d love to connect with you. Feel free to reach out via phone or schedule an appointment online.
Wishing you well on your path to better health!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) and Diabetes
National Institute of Health Vitamin D Fact Sheet for health professionals
Oral Quercetin Supplementation Enhances Adiponectin Receptor Transcript Expression in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Patients: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Double-Blind Clinical Trial.
Slow Carbs, not Low Carbs. The truth about low carb diets.
Short-term effects of metformin and myo-inositol in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS): a meta-analysis of randomized clinic trials.
The Role of Vitamin D in Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
Therapeutic potentials of Quercetin in management of polycystic ovarian syndrome using Letrozole induced rat model: a histological and a biochemical study.