Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – what is it and how can we manage it?

MAGDALENA MARVELL, OUR RESIDENT NUTRITIONIST, HELPS US TO BETTER UNDERSTAND A COMMON HORMONAL CONDITION KNOWN AS PCOS.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) affects around one in 10 women and it is thought to be the most common hormonal condition. Polycystic ovary syndrome can affect fertility, periods and ones appearance. Although there is still no real cure for PCOS, managing the symptoms with a healthy lifestyle can help to reduce the symptoms and long term health risks.

PCOS is a condition which mainly affects women’s reproductive hormone levels. Excess levels of androgens (testosterone and DHEAS) control the development of male traits, and can impair ovulation and trigger the following symptoms: irregular/lack of periods, infertility, weight gain, skin tags, silky skin, acne, hair thinning or facial hair.

Polycystic ovaries are egg follicles which haven’t been released during ovulation and remained on the ovaries forming an ovarian cyst. The causes of PCOS are not known. Most experts think that several factors including genetics, excessive levels of androgens and disrupted insulin levels, play a role.

Insuline sensitivity
Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar and controls how the food we consume is converted to energy. Between 50% to 70% of women with polycystic ovary syndrome are affected by insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is when the body’s cells do not respond normally to insulin. As a result, the insulin levels become higher than normal. Many women with PCOS who have insulin resistance are reported to be overweigh or obese, have unhealthy eating habits, do not get enough physical activity, and are genetically predisposed to develop diabetes (usually type 2 diabetes). Over time, insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes.

With high levels of glucose in the body the pancreas has to produce more insulin to transport it to the cells. Over the long term the body can stop responding to insulin and develop insulin resistance which can lead to type 2 diabetes. Balancing blood sugar and insulin are therefore crucial to manage PCOS symptoms. High levels of insulin can affect ovulation and increase production of androgens by the ovaries.

Reducing refined carbohydrates and sugar while incorporating colourful fruit and vegetables and foods high in fibre to ones diet can help, as well as good fats and good sources of quality protein.

Supplementing with specific nutrients such as magnesium, vitD, Omega3 fatty acids and Zink can help to reduce inflammation in the body and support skin and gut health to better manage PCOS symptoms. Alpha-lipoic acid (found in spinach, broccoli, yeast, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts. Red meat, particularly organ meat) and vitamin B8 (Inositol – found in chocolate, lentils, dry vegetables (dried beans and peas), certain vegetables (cabbage, mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, avocado, carrots, soya, yeast) can help to improve insulin resistance.

Disrupted gut health
Research also suggests that gut health can play an important role in managing PCOS symptoms. Alteration in gut bacteria (dysbiosis) can contribute to inflammation and metabolic disorders. The increase of bad bacteria in the gut can disrupt the effective elimination of metabolised hormones from the body which can aggravate PCOS symptoms.
Researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine highlighted that women with PCOS have less diverse microflora in the gut compared to women without it1.

The research also suggested that a lack of diversity in the gut bacteria was associated with an increased level of testosterone and other androgen. Taking a probiotic supplement and eating probiotic foods such as kimchi and kombucha can help to regulate sex hormones such as androgen and oestrogen, lower the inflammation and reduce insulin resistance.

According to the American Society Of Microbiology the V9 strain of Bifidobacterium lactis may positively influence hormone levels in women with PCOS2. Research suggests that another strain, Lactobacillus acidophilus has a positive impact on the insulin sensitivity and Lactobacillus rhamnosus significantly decreases inflammatory responses in the body.

Weight loss and exercise
Healthy eating habits and regular physical activity can help reduce PCOS-related symptoms. Losing weight may help to lower blood glucose levels and improve how the body process insulin. This may help to bring reproductive hormones to the normal levels. Studies suggest that even a 10% loss in body weight can help to regulate the menstrual cycle and improve ones fertility chances3.

References:
1. health.ucsd.edu/news/releases/pages/2018-01-23-women-with-polycystic-ovary-syndrom-have-less-bacterial-diversity-in-gut.aspx
2. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6469956
3. womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/polycystic-ovary-syndrome

About the author: Magdalena Marvell is a Nutritional Practitioner and Founder of the Persea Clinic which helps support clients who want to optimise their health in areas such as gut health, hormonal balance, skin conditions, weight management, family nutrition. To find out more about her work please visit www.persea.clinic.