What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal imbalance that affects women of reproductive age where the ovaries produce excess male hormones. Unfortunately, the prevalence of PCOS is increasing, as many people’s quality of diet and lifestyle continues to lessen. In this post, we are diving deep into all things PCOS, including its signs and symptoms, underlying causes, and our approach to managing PCOS through, you guessed it – diet and lifestyle!

Common Signs and Symptoms of PCOS

While the severity of PCOS varies between people, its symptoms remain consistent. Moreover, given that PCOS is due to a hormonal imbalance, its symptoms are systemic, affecting everything from energy, skin and hair health, and fertility. 

Signs and Symptoms Associated with PCOS

  • Acne 
  • Male-pattern hair growth (both thickening and balding of hair)
  • Disturbances in mood (depression, anxiety, irritability) 
  • Partial/total infertility (don’t worry, this does not have to be permanent!)
  • Irregular periods
  • Weight gain/ trouble losing weight 
  • Insulin resistance
  • Fatigue 
  • Low sex drive
  • High levels of estrogen

Once the underlying cause of PCOS is addressed and treated with a health practitioner, these symptoms will begin to subside and go entirely away in the case of many of our clients!

Underlying Causes of PCOS

In conventional medicine, the cause of PCOS is thought to be unknown. Although, a few factors are believed to play a role. In contrast, integrative medicine recognizes that the onset of PCOS is multifactorial, where one’s diet and lifestyle play a role. 

Root Causes of PCOS

  • Insulin resistance (due to poor diet)
  • Genetics (while this puts you at greater risk, you still have control!)
  • Metabolic syndrome (high blood sugar, high blood pressure, excess abdominal fat, high triglyceride levels)
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
  • Excess inflammation (due to inflammatory diet and environment)
  • Excess androgens (hormones that contribute to growth and reproduction like testosterone)

In reading the list above, you may have come to realize that only one root cause of PCOS was not modifiable – genetics, and even so, you can still do your best to help mitigate and minimize the onset and symptoms of PCOS! We strongly believe that diet, lifestyle, and environment play a critical part in the onset and management of PCOS, given it is a hormonal imbalance and hormones are super sensitive!

How diet influences PCOS

Now for our favorite things to talk about relating to PCOS – diet! To prevent and manage PCOS, we like to focus on balancing blood sugar, lowering inflammation, and detoxification (notice how they are all root causes of PCOS!). 

Perhaps the most recognized cause of PCOS is insulin resistance. Putting it simply, insulin resistance occurs due to excess sugar consumption where the body is trying to keep up and balance blood sugar levels. Insulin resistance can lead to a host of conditions such as weight gain, fatigue, dizziness, prediabetes, diabetes, and more. The solution? Focus on eating a combination of protein, fat, and fiber with every meal and avoid eating carbohydrates on their own. 

Inflammation is not all bad, but excess inflammation is harmful. Excess inflammation can be caused by numerous things such as diet, lifestyle, environment, and genetics. In an effort to decrease inflammation, we recommend focusing on whole-unprocessed foods, avoiding inflammatory oils (safflower, canola, sunflower, etc.), added sugars, and added colors/flavorings. 

Lastly, detoxification is a process your body does naturally and how your body excretes excess hormones. However, this process can be slowed down by diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors, which is why it is up to us to support our body here. Therefore, we like to focus on lots of veggies, especially cruciferous veggies (think: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels, kale, etc.). 

Our Favorite Foods for PCOS: 

  • Leafy greens and green juices (just watch out for the sugar content!)
  • Crucerifious veggies
  • Healthy fats (rich in Omega 3’s – Avocado, extra virgin olive oil, chia seeds, wild-caught fish)
  • Complex carbs (Sweet potato, carrots, oatmeal, quinoa)
  • Foods rich in magnesium (bananas, pumpkin seeds, dark leafy greens)
  • Eggs (a great source of protein and fat, plus key nutrients!)
  • Food containing Inositol (cantaloupe, oats, and nuts)
  • Magnesium-rich foods- in bananas, pumpkin seeds, dark leafy greens
  • Green tea
  • Turmeric and Ginger

In addition to these foods, it is critical for your hormones and blood sugar balance to eat regularly and not skip meals! If you’re feeling overwhelmed, just remember to focus on whole-unprocessed foods and pair protein, fat, and fiber together, especially when eating carbohydrates!

Lifestyle and Environmental Factors of PCOS

As mentioned above, hormones are super sensitive where your lifestyle and environment can easily disrupt your hormones! For example, if you live life constantly on the go with little downtime, chances are you are stressing your body and your hormones out. The same goes with your environment, where you would be surprised how many home and beauty products contain hormone-disrupting chemicals. 

Lifestyle and environmental tips to manage PCOS

  • Get quality sleep (8-10 hrs/night)
  • Get moving! (Gentle exercise is key! Think: walking, pilates, weight training)
  • Remove toxins from your home cleaning and beauty products
  • Try Acupuncture
  • Get outside in nature!
  • Slow down! Block out time for you in your calendar!
  • Create a morning and nighttime routine
  • Engage in mindfulness practices (meditation, journaling, affirmations)

The Bottom Line

A diagnosis of PCOS does not mean you are stuck with these symptoms for life; instead, it is a sign that your body and hormones are stressed out and need a reset! Therefore, finding the root cause of PCOS is imperative. At ISN, we focus on balancing blood sugar, lowering inflammation, detoxification, reducing stress, and cleaning up the environment. 

Need help managing your PCOS and want to feel better? Click here to work with us!

Written by Alison Richman MS, RDN