September brings awareness to a health and reproductive condition that affects 5 to 10 percent of women of childbearing age. On average 30 percent of women have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS. This hormonal condition affects 200,000 women annually. PCOS is brought on by a spike in androgens, a male hormone that when elevated cause cysts to form on the ovaries.
General symptoms include excessive facial hair or hair growth in other areas like on the chest, stomach, and thighs. Other symptoms are acne, weight gain, pelvic pain, and irregular periods (menstrual cycles). Why one woman might suffer from PCOS in a completely different way than another woman is a medical mystery. However, some research indicates that the condition might be hereditary or environmental.
“No one knows exactly what causes PCOS, although evidence suggests a definite genetic link to the disorder. Many women with PCOS will have polycystic ovaries, but it is possible to be diagnosed with the syndrome without this sign, and not all women with polycystic-appearing ovaries will have PCOS.”
Environmental Causes Of PCOS
- Eating plastic-packaged food
- Drinking alcohol
- Consuming fruit with pericarp
- Contact with pesticides
The research concludes that while more research is needed to prove the hypothesis, how we treat our body and what we consume might reduce chances in developing PCOS:
“The existence of an association between EDs and PCOS was proved. Plastic-packaged food, fruit with pericarp and drinking alcohol should be avoided as possible as we can. However, the causal relationships among these factors and PCOS should be proved by further research.”
How Clean Eating Can Help PCOS
What is clear from research is that processed foods exacerbate PCOS. Usually, PCOS sufferers have higher insulin levels. Essentially, consuming processed foods means you are eating “simple” carbohydrates that lead to a spike in insulin.
So, consuming food in its most natural state is the healthiest approach. Also, avoid refined sugars and packaged foods that contain less than 5 natural ingredients. For the most part, consuming lean meat and complex carbs is recommended. Alcohol beverages equally exacerbate PCOS and should be limited to an occasional indulgence.
Clean Eating: When In Doubt, Organic Is the Way To Go
Eating complex carbohydrates are preferred over consuming simple and refined carbohydrates because refined carbs increase inflammation. So, removing inflammation-causing foods and eating clean can significantly reduce PCOS symptoms. Some foods that cause inflammation are fried foods as well as too much processed meat. However, some rumors that red meat might cause inflammation are not fully substantiated. In general, red meat especially from grass-fed animals offers marketable nutritional value.
“Two different controlled trials have measured inflammation markers in response to increased red meat intake, and both have found that red meat does not elevate these markers. The first study concludes that increasing red meat consumption by replacing carbohydrates in the diet of non-anemic individuals actually reduces markers of inflammation.”
Eating organic meats, fish, and produce is a healthy direction to take when making dietary choices. Reducing the chances of PCOS symptoms flaring up can be accomplished by simply making better food choices. Eating clean also means limiting gluten in your diet and eating food in its most natural state, meaning, not packaged, canned, or preserved. Finally, drinking plenty of water is always a great way to keep your body hydrated while limiting chances of inflammation.
Further evidence that exercise benefits PCOS was published in Hormone and Metabolic Research:
“We report for the first time that exercise is associated with improvements in AMH in overweight women with PCOS without associated structured energy restriction. This suggests the mechanisms associated with ovarian dysfunction can be improved by exercise independent of weight loss in PCOS.”
Exercise limits the rate of PCOS by reducing insulin resistance especially united with a healthy high protein, complex carb diet. Staying mobile also helps with blood and oxygen circulation, provides more energy, and prevents weight gain. You can begin with something as simple as 15 minutes of exercise and increase from there. If you are running low on time, you can also try doing 20 minutes of high-intensity training otherwise known as TABATA. There are also plenty of creative ways to stay fit if you have kids. Even if you are a busy mother and or have a toddler, you can also lose weight doing some “Mommy and me” toddler exercises.
PCOS & Your Period
PCOS can affect menstruation and fertility by preventing successful ovulation or the release of an egg. This term is called anovulation, which is what causes ovarian cysts because the egg is not released. Therefore, irregular periods can occur. Aside from anovulation, absent periods (amenorrhea) or less frequent menstruation approximating 6 to 8 periods a year (oligomenorrhea) can occur. PCOS can also cause painful periods (dysmenorrhea) and longer than normal menstrual cycles (menorrhagia.) Exercising on your period can actually help reduce pain, bloating and give you a burst of energy. So, don’t shy away from the gym when it’s that time of the month. Even if you go for a simple walk and track your miles, it’s better than nothing.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, how you treat your body plays a big role in the rate of polycystic ovary syndrome flare-ups. While there isn’t a set cure, eating a clean and balanced diet in addition to staying fit benefits PCOS sufferers. Most importantly, consult with your doctor and schedule regular check-ups with your OB/GYN. This is especially true if you have ongoing PCOS issues. While there are plenty of things you can do to holistically treat PCOS or reduce symptoms, make sure you are also consulting with your doctor.