September is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) awareness month. PCOS is a hormonal disorder. Often times, PCOS can release too much insulin in your body. An excessive amount of insulin can trigger extra androgen production, which is a natural hormone common in men. If you already have been diagnosed with PCOS you already know that it’s more than just a “fertility problem.” PCOS can affect all aspects of life. It can affect mood, self esteem, and your physical appearance. If you do not have PCOS, you might know someone who does and maybe this article will help you understand the struggles they may endure on a daily basis. Most importantly, to know what life is like in their shoes.
How Prevalent is PCOS?
Between 5-10% of women of childbearing age (between 15-44 years) have PCOS (1). PCOS can happen at any age (2). Most often, women discover they have PCOS when they are trying to get pregnant and follow up with a doctor’s visit.
Symptoms of PCOS
PCOS has been known to be hereditary. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, common PCOS symptoms include:
- Irregular menstrual cycle, missed periods, absent periods, or irregular bleeding
- Hirsutism. Defined at excess hair on face, chin, or other parts of the body where men typically have hair
- Acne. Prevalent on the face, chest, and back
- Thinning hair
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Darkening of skin along neck creases, groin, and underneath breasts
Symptoms of PCOS vary. Often women will have insulin resistance (the body does not utilize insulin effectively) similar to type 2 diabetes. High cholesterol and/or blood pressure could also be present. Many women also experience pelvic pain or ovarian cysts. If you feel you could be at risk for PCOS, make an appointment with your health care professional for a complete workup.
What to Eat?
More research is needed to validate dietary supplements and diet to help with PCOS symptoms. Currently, there is no cure for PCOS. However, you can help manage your symptoms with healthy eating and exercise.
- Avoid skipping meals, especially breakfast. Aim for eating four to 5 small meals daily.
- Always include a hearty protein with all meals and snacks. Good examples are, natural peanut butter, (or any other minimally processed nut butter), grilled or baked chicken or turkey breast, low fat or reduced fat dairy, legumes, and quinoa (cottage cheese, string cheese, milk, etc.)
- Choose “whole” foods. Eating foods with minimal processing and less refined sugar can help prevent further weight gain and increase your fiber intake. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Healthy fats are important. Avoid fried foods, pastries, high fat meats, and high fat cheeses. Choose plant based fats, such as, walnuts, almonds, olives, coconut oil, and avocados.
- Stay hydrated with water. Avoid sugary drinks.
Could Inositol Help PCOS?
Inositol is a vitamin like substance naturally occurring in plants and animals. Inositol can also be made synthetically in a lab. Traditionally it is used for a variety of health disorders because it may balance specific chemicals in the body. Research has repeatedly found in clinical trials to improve insulin action, decrease androgen levels, and improve ovulatory function in both lean and obese women with PCOS (3-5). Alike any other condition, more research is needed to validate its effectiveness.
Working out may be easier said than done when you have PCOS. Health professionals recommend working out often 30 minutes of moderate intensity of a physical activity (walking, jogging, elliptical, stair climbing, etc.) often. Weight bearing exercise is important too to increase or maintain muscle mass.
(1) Trivax, B. & Azziz, R. (2007). Diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome. Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology;50(1): 168–177.
(2) Bremer, A.A. (2010). Polycystic Ovary Syndrome in the Pediatric Population. Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders; 8(5): 375–394.
(3) Nestler JE, Jakubowicz DJ, Reamer P, Gunn RD, Allan G. Ovulatory and metabolic effects of D-chiro-inositol in the polycystic ovary syndrome. N Engl J Med. 1999;340:1314-1320.
(4) Iurono MJ, Jakubowicz DJ, Baillargeon JP, et al. Effects of d-chiro-inositol in lean women with the polycystic ovary syndrome. Endocr Pract. 2002;8:417-423.
(5) Gerli S, Mignosa M, Di Renzo GC. Effects of inositol on ovarian function and metabolic factors in women with PCOS: a randomized double blind placebo-controlled trial. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2003;7:151-159.