The Food Remedy - Polycystic ovary syndrome

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition where at least two of the following occur, and often all three:

  • The development of almost 12 follicles (tiny cysts) in your ovaries. (Polycystic means many cysts).
  • An altered balance of hormones that are produced in the ovaries. In particular, your ovaries make more testosterone (male hormone) than normal.
  • Monthly ovulation is affected. In PCOS, although the ovaries usually have many follicles, they do not develop fully and so ovulation often does not occur. If you do not ovulate then you do not have a period. 

Therefore, it is possible to have polycystic ovaries without the typical symptoms that are in the syndrome. It is also possible to have PCOS without multiple cysts in the ovary. 

PCOS is one of the most common female endocrine disorders. According to Verity - the UK charity for women whose lives are affected by PCOS - polycystic ovaries affects around 20% of women, while the actual ‘syndrome’ affects 5–10% of women.

The exact cause of PCOS is currently unknown, but there is a growing debate over whether the condition is genetic or an auto immune disease. Research into PCOS shows there is a strong link with insulin resistance and is often found in women with diabetes. This means it is likely to be, in part, a result of changes in our diet, lifestyle and environment.

There is an overwhelming evidence to suggest that diet plays a substantial role in the management of PCOS. Research has shown that when women with the condition lose excess weight, their hormone levels start to return to normal. Testosterone levels fall, serum insulin levels go down, the sex hormone-binding globulin levels go up and the symptoms of PCOS diminish. There is also a significant reduction in the growth of excess hair through weight-loss.

A 1994 study focused on the effects of a diet of low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates. The diet reduced insulin levels and weight in obese, hyperinsulinaemic women significantly more than a conventional diet with the same energy. The study supports the idea that a low GI diet may provide the greatest benefits for women with PCOS and insulin resistance.

The glycemic index is the rate at which different foods cause the sugar levels in your blood to rise following a meal. High GI foods (such as refined bread, pasta and rice) cause high levels of sugar and therefore high levels of insulin. Low GI foods (such as wholegrains, meat, eggs and pulses) stimulate much lower levels of insulin.

Choosing foods that have a low GI can help you keep your blood sugar levels balanced. This is very important as imbalanced blood sugar levels can over-stimulate your adrenal glands which produce the stress hormone adrenaline and too much androgen - the male hormone which interferes with ovulation!

Eating food such as chickpeas, lentils and peas could also be beneficial as these food are known as phytoestrogens, which could help control levels of testosterone in the blood.

A typical daily diet for women with PCOS could look like this:

  • Breakfast - Two poached eggs on one slice of wholegrain toast with a little butter. 
  • Snack - hummus and two oatcakes.
  • Lunch - homemade vegetable and lentil soup.
  • Snack - smoothie (blend two tsps of live natural yogurt, two tsps mixed ground seeds, a small punnet of berries blueberries/strawberries/blackberries, juice of half a lemon plus a small glass of water to give it a easy to drink consistency)
  • Dinner - chicken breast with roasted Mediterranean vegetables (courgettes/ peppers/ onions/cherry tomatoes/basil ) with a small cup of basmati rice.

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