Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition in which a women’s ovarian function is altered. Present in about 1 in every 5 women, three main features are experienced in the PCOS: irregular periods due to infrequent ovulation, excess androgens (high levels of male hormones) leading to increased hair growth and acne, and polycystic ovaries. In order to be diagnosed, 2 out of the 3 symptoms must be present. Other common symptoms also include thinning of the hair and weight gain. Managing PCOS firstly involves diet and lifestyle changes and is closely followed by medication to help regulate the menstrual cycle.
PCOS suffers often have abnormal hormone levels. Insulin, the hormone which regulates sugar levels in the body, is often raised. The body develops resistance to the action of Insulin and therefore the body attempts to produce more insulin to overcome the resistance. Weight gain is a problem many women face when living with PCOS. The more overweight an individual is, the greater the insulin resistance. This puts many women at risk of developing type two diabetes later in life.
Diet and lifestyle choices play a massive role in helping to manage the symptoms of PCOS. It can be hard for anyone who is looking to lose weight however can be especially hard with those battling with the hormonal issues seen in PCOS. Quick fixes of crash diets and crazy exercise plans will not work. It is important to make sustainable changes to your life if you are suffering from PCOS to help maintain a healthy lifestyle life long.
Improving diet helps to control symptoms of PCOS, aid weight loss and improve hormone balance. How can you improve your diet?
- Reduce processed foods: Junk food like biscuits, cakes and fizzy drinks have little or zero nutritional value yet carry a high calorie tag. This means when you eat them you will not feel full leading to eating higher quantities. These simple carbohydrates cause a surge in the sugar level which further exacerbates the problem with insulin.
- Eat fibre: PCOS suffers have a high level of the female hormone oestrogen. The GI tract is one of the ways in which oestrogen is removed from the body. Maintaining gut health is therefore essential. A high fibre diet also helps to slow down digestion and reduce the surge in blood sugar levels. Fibre is found in wholemeal products, green veg, sweet potatoes, beans, lentils and fruit
- Healthy fats: Good intake of omega 3’s has been highlighted as improving hormone balance and improving insulin levels in PCOS sufferers. Swap your processed and fried foods for healthy fats such as salmon, tuna, avocados and nuts. Healthy fats are also essential in maintaining positive mental health, something else which is important for managing PCOS
Coming hand in hand with diet, is the topic of exercise. Weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight for ladies with PCOS is important for managing the condition. Different exercise techniques work for different people, however here are some general tips that you can apply to your workout regimes to help kick start zapping away that excess weight.
- High intensity interval training: This form of exercise is known to increase insulin sensitivity and is effective at weight loss. It essentially involves doing an exercise or circuit at a high intensity i.e. you give it your all and push yourself as far as is safe to go, for a short period of time before taking a small break. This is repeated numerous times. Exercising in this way is perfect for those new working out, have a busy schedule or no access to gyms as many workouts are suitable for home. This being said, I do not think HIIT should be the sole form of exercise used to lose weight and resistance training should also be incorporated.
- Resistance training: Working with weights and resistance helps to increase lean muscle which helps to reduce insulin resistance as a direct result of reducing fat. This type of exercise allows for muscles to continue to burn calories after exercise is complete, helping further to reduce stubborn fat. Resistance training also helps to build strength which has a million benefits throughout daily life.
With any condition, reducing stress has a massive effect on how we view the problem and the way it affects us. Specifically to PCOS, the stress hormone Cortisol is produced by the body using Progesterone. Progesterone is another hormone important to the female menstrual cycle and is found to be low in PCOS. The more stressed a person is, the greater impact is has on the levels of Progesterone. What particular tips can we apply to life in general to help manage PCOS?
- Improve sleep: Sleep has a big role to play on hormone production and the time in which they are made. Irregular sleep and not enough of it can cause further problems with hormones, but it also exacerbates stress
- Stress management: This is a hard one because everyone has stress in their life from different sources. What is important is finding ways to reduce how this is affecting you. This may be through making time to have a hobby, spend time with family or friends or perhaps even seeking professional help to combat thought patterns that need adjusting.
I hope those who have PCOS find this post useful. Please let me know what strategies you use to manage your PCOS. Always remember to consult your doctor or dietitian before making changes to your diet.