Your Plan Of Action – The Natural Approach
PCOS is extremely responsive to changes in diet.
- Changing your diet by reducing carbs and sugar can have a profound impact on symptoms, cycle regularity and fertility in PCOS
- Get support for weight management and ensure that your diet is well balanced
What Is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?
Firstly, the ‘cysts’ in PCOS are not really cysts – they are follicles. In each menstrual cycle, follicles grow on the ovaries. Eggs develop within these follicles, one of which will reach maturity faster than the others and be released into the fallopian tubes. This is known as ovulation. The remaining follicles (sometimes hundreds) will degenerate. In the case of polycystic ovaries, however, the ovaries are much larger than normal, and there are a series of undeveloped follicles that appear in clumps, rather like a bunch of grapes.
Women with polycystic ovaries may have trouble ovulating given that many follicles are competing for growth and maturation. Sometimes this will cause delayed ovulation and irregular periods. Other times it might affect the quality of the eggs produced. Polycystic ovaries can also go unnoticed and have no symptoms. Often women only find out when they are trying to conceive and they go for an ultrasound which shows these excess follicles, often referred to as a ‘bunch of grapes’.
We know now the PCOS is a spectrum and you don’t not need to have to full degree of hormonal imbalance to experience difficulties conceiving. A woman can have polycystic ovaries without having the full syndrome but all women with PCOS will have polycystic ovaries. However, where these hormonal imbalances exist, there are usually many more symptoms.
What Symptoms Could You Experience?
With the most extreme form of PCOS, you could be overweight, have no or very few periods, be prone to acne, grow unusually heavy body hair, often on the face, breasts and inside of the legs, and be susceptible to mood swings. And with this can come problems with fertility and often recurrent miscarriages. Women with PCOS may be seven times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes because of problems with blood sugar balance.
Diagnosis of PCOS
The most widely accepted criteria for the diagnosis of PCOS says that you should have two out of these three problems:
- Infrequent or no ovulation
- Signs (either physical appearance – hirsutism or acne – or blood tests) of high levels of male hormones
- Polycystic ovaries as seen on an ultrasound scan
We can organise an ultrasound scan for you at my Harley Street clinic and also give you a referral for blood tests to check for hormone imbalances that would indicate PCOS.
Can Nutrition Help?
Over the last few years, research into the nutritional approach to PCOS has revolutionised the treatment of this problem and the simple answer is yes, nutrition can most definitely help with PCOS. A good PCOS diet aims to reduce the impact of the hormone insulin on polycystic ovaries. This can help whether you have the hormonal imbalance or not. Polycystic ovaries have a much stronger reaction to insulin and it can be helpful to keep insulin levels as low as possible throughout the day. This is achieved by eating a low carbohydrate diet, particularly low in refined carbohydrates and sugar. Each meal should be well balanced with protein and healthy fats. Pulses such as chickpeas, lentils or beans can help support hormonal balance. Regular meals help to balance blood sugar and insulin release throughout the day.
As women with PCOS lose weight, hormone levels start to return to normal. Testosterone levels fall, serum insulin levels go down, SHBG levels go up and the symptoms of PCOS diminish, with significant improvements in the growth of excess hair as the women lose weight. Along with the weight loss comes a remarkable change in ovarian function. In one study, 82 percent of the women who were not previously ovulating showed improvements, with a number of successful pregnancies during the study, even though many of these women had a long-standing history of infertility.
So dramatic have been some of the results, that it has now been suggested that changing a woman’s diet should be the first move if she is overweight and failing to conceive. One study found that 11 out of 12 women who had been overweight and not ovulating conceived naturally after reducing their weight.
In general, women with high levels of luteinising hormone (LH) in the first half of their menstrual cycle seem to have a greater risk of miscarriage. So miscarriages are more likely to occur in women with PCOS because of the high levels of LH. But, in a study of women with PCOS who were asked to change their diets, the rate of miscarriages dropped from 75 percent to 18 percent once they had lost weight.
So as well as eating a healthy diet, supplementation is beneficial to help improve PCOS.
Certain nutrients can help to regulate insulin levels and balance your blood sugar. The B vitamins are important for hormone balance, chromium helps with blood sugar balance, magnesium is essential for controlling blood-sugar and insulin levels, zinc is vital for insulin regulation and hormone balance, alpha lipoic acid releases energy by burning glucose, so that your body has to release less insulin to deal with blood-glucose levels and co-enzyme Q10 helps to lower insulin levels.
Tests for PCOS
A PCOS Profile (blood) will check for imbalances in hormones including testosterone, LH, FSH, SHBG and others.
Do you want to know more about exactly what vitamins and minerals you need? Our Nutritional Profile MGL4 (blood) can help you to find out what you are deficient in so that you can get your hormones back in balance.
Where to Start?
Make sure you are eating well to support your symptoms. If you would like personalised advice on what to do next then request a consultation with one of our qualified nutritionists.