This women’s health week, 5th – 11th of September, I want to shine the light on nutrition in reproductive health as 1 in 10 women of child bearing age, suffer from a condition known as Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Polycystic ovary or ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a common health problem that affect many women throughout Australia. PCOS is caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones which causes problems to occur with a woman’s ovaries. The main role of the ovaries are to make and produce eggs ready for fertilization. In PCOS, high levels of androgen (commonly a male hormone), can cause issues with the development of these eggs and ovulation.
Symptoms of PCOS
Not every presentation of PCOS is the same just as not every body is the same but here are some common symptoms that may occur. If any of these symptoms related to you, make an appointment to see your doctor for further investigation. It may not be anything but better to be safe and take care of your reproductive health.
- Irregular menstrual cycles causing cysts and infertility
- Insulin insensitivity causing high blood sugar levels with no history of diabetes
- Excess hair in places where men normally have hair (chin or face)
- Acne (face, chest, upper back)
- Thinning hair or hair loss
- Weight gain
- Darkening of skin
- Skin tags (small excess flaps of skin normally in armpits or around neck)
Nutrition for PCOS
A common misconception when it comes to PCOS is that you should avoid Carbohydrates, WRONG! Here is the theory behind this myth:
- In PCOS, the high levels of hormones not only affect the ovaries but can also affects insulin (another hormone) sensitivity.
- PCOS decreases insulin sensitivity which can cause high blood sugar levels.
- Normally, insulin is a hormone that is released to help your body bring sugars into your blood to give you energy.
- When sensitivity of insulin is decrease, it means insulin doesn’t work as well so therefore the sugar in the blood stays there instead of being used by the body causing the high blood sugar levels.
- Avoiding carbohydrates was once thought to help this scenario as carbohydrates (breads, pasta, fruit, cereal, rice etc.) when broken down create the sugars in our blood that the insulin is suppose to take up.
- So therefore, the thought was, no carbs = no sugar in blood = no high blood sugar levels.
The theory is very black and white thinking though and nutrition is a very grey science. An example is that in this black and white theory, the liver was forgotten. One of the roles of the liver is to store excess sugar and in times when there is no sugar for energy (i.e. cutting out carbs) the liver’s role is to release its stored sugars to help give your body energy. So sugars are released and insulin is also released but in PCOS, the insulin still doesn’t work well so sugar levels in the blood remain high and therefore the problem is still there.
Take home message
Don’t cut out carbs to help your PCOS. Instead include Low GI carb foods such as multigrain breads, brown long grain rice, lentils or legumes and whole grain cereals to name a few. Low GI foods are digested slower therefore giving the insulin time to work better. If you’re looking for more detailed support, talking to an accredited practicing dietitian is always a great place to start. They can help you understand your condition better and individualise nutrition recommendations to suit your lifestyle. Book an appointment to day with Jess to start your journey.