September is Polycystic Ovaries Syndrome (PCOS) awareness month, I recently posted about my own experience with PCOS and despite being diagnosed over 5 years ago, I was told to make many new changes to my lifestyle. So I decided it was high time I started to properly investigate what exactly is going on in my ovaries.
To give you a bit of background, PCOS is a common condition, it affects 1 in 5 women. According to NHS.uk polycystic ovaries contain a large number of harmless follicles up to 8mm in size. They are essentially underdeveloped sacs which are unable to release an egg, meaning ovulation doesn’t take place.
As with most syndromes, this one does come with side effects, but not everyone suffers from them. Common signs and symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular periods or not having periods at all.
- Difficulty getting pregnant (a result of irregular ovulation or failure to ovulate) – however, most women with treatment are able to conceive
- Excessive hair growth usually on the face, chest, back or bum
- Weight gain
- Thinning hair and hair loss on your head
- Oily skin or acne
Unfortunately, the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, it does often run in families though (thanks mum) and is related to abnormal hormone levels in the body, including high levels of insulin, a hormone which controls sugar levels in the body.
Can my diet affect it?
Women who suffer from PCOS have high levels of insulin, therefore their blood sugar levels can be high, causing them to be insulin resistant. High levels of insulin can cause your ovaries to produce more hormones like testosterone, leading to things like weight gain and hair growth.
This is where to PCOS diet comes in, according to Healthline women with this syndrome should swap out starchy and sugary foods for high fibre, lean protein and anti-inflammatory options.
So foods which are high in refined carbs, sugar and inflammatory should be avoided, this is due to them being highly processed and high in insulin meaning your body will have too much sugar and increase levels.
To eat and not to eat
|Foods to eat||Foods to avoid|
Red leaf lettuce
Green and red peppers
Beans and lentils
Processed and red meats
Technical terms to avoid if you them on labels:
Durum wheat flour
High fructose corn syrup
As with every lifestyle change, exercise is another big player. When it comes to having polycystic ovaries exercise has been shown to help insulin sensitivity, ovulation frequency, cholesterol and in some cases weight loss. A study conducted by the University of Oxford found that any form of exercise, no matter how long or intense had an impact on the improvements of PCOS.
According to PCOS Diet Support, the main way exercise helps PCOS is by causing glucose to be taken from the blood and moved to the muscles, lowering the need for insulin and improving the body’s sensitivity to it.
PCOS expert and researcher Professor Nigel Stepto, PhD, MSc, BSc Med (Hons), BSc, AEP (ESSA) from Victoria University, Australia, wrote in the Medical Observer that “All women should aim for 20 to 40 minutes daily of moderate intensity exercise, or 75 to 150 minutes weekly of vigorous exercise, or a combination of both. Less inactivity (sitting less) and more incidental activity on most days of the week. Muscle strengthening exercises (resistance training) twice a week.”
The annoying reality
While it’s not all bad, living with PCOS does impact you, from changing the pasta in your cupboard to red lentil from wheat and having to refuse that delicious looking cake with your coffee, it’s not all bad.
PCOS affects 1 in 5 of us, and while yes, difficulty getting pregnant is worrying to read, but it is treatable and isn’t impossible. Excessive hair growth is another annoyance, but it just means having to do a bit more upkeep.
Overall, living the polycystic ovaries is a bit of a pain and can make things more annoying, but its not the end of the world.