What is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)?
Physicians diagnose PCOS when someone exhibits at least two of the following:
✓ Irregular periods: They may be shorter than 21 days, longer than 35 days, or completely absent.
✓ “Cysts” in the ovaries: Confirmed by an ultrasound, these growths aren’t true cysts, but rather a build-up of egg follicles.
✓ High androgen levels, like testosterone: This is confirmed by a blood test or visible signs like facial hair, acne, or male pattern baldness.
Though not a diagnostic criteria, high insulin levels and a reduced ability to tolerate carbohydrates are also common.
Biology lesson: The PCOS hormonal cascade
PCOS likely originates in the hypothalamus, a small region in the brain which—among other things—is in charge of regulating hormones.
Anatomical figure of a woman. At the hypothalamus, there is a higher GnRH pulse frequency. At the pituitary gland, there is increased LH secretion. In the body, there is increased inflammation. In the pancreas, there is insulin resistance, leading to high insulin. In the ovaries, there is a lower progesterone-to-estrogen ratio, absent or irregular ovulation, increased testosterone, and excess ovarian follicles.
Lifestyle habits worsens the symptoms :
A sedentary lifestyle, poor nutrition, and obesity contribute to insulin resistance and excess inflammation.
This makes PCOS more likely, as well as worsens symptoms.
Getting adequate movement, good nutrition, and managing weight won’t cure you if you have PCOS, but they can improve symptoms, quality of life, and future health outcomes.
Modifying additional lifestyle factors, including alcohol consumption, psychosocial stressors and smoking, are also crucial in long-term treatment of PCOS.
Several environmental pollutants have been linked to PCOS, too.
These include brominated diphenyl ethers, polychlorinated biphenyls, organochlorine pesticides, perfluorinated compounds, phthalates, and bisphenol A (BPA). Major hormone disruptors, these chemicals are found in air, water, soil, and food, as well as in household cleaning supplies, food containers, and beauty products.
In a study of 122 women with PCOS, those who took herbal medicine and made lifestyle changes saw greater improvements in symptoms compared to those who only made lifestyle changes. These lifestyle changes were a calorie-controlled diet and at least 150 minutes of exercise each week.
Since lifestyle and Diet add up, follow the following advice
- Put the focus on what to eat rather than what not to eat. Aim for about 10 grams of fiber and 20-30 grams of protein (roughly one palm-sized portion) per meal by building plates around these nutrient-rich foods.
- Manage Weight. Many, but not all, women with PCOS are overweight.
- Lean proteins: meat and poultry, fish and shellfish, eggs, tofu and tempeh
- Colorful non-starchy vegetables: cruciferous veggies (think: broccoli, cabbage, and kale), lettuces, cucumber, celery, summer squash, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, and asparagus
- Low-sugar fruits: berries, apples, oranges, and plums
- Healthy fats: avocado, olives, nuts and seeds, and oils (olive and coconut)
- With the above taking up the most space, fill out your plate with smaller amounts of dairy, starchy veggies, or whole grains.