Understanding Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Updated: Feb 13
I have been dealing with menstrual issues my entire adult life. For years, I have suffered from extreme menstrual cramps (known as dysmenorrhea) so bad that they not only induced nausea but vomiting. I have missed countless days of work due to the intense pain I experience during my menstrual cycle. Now, at 31 years of age, I have been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). I feel relieved that I finally know why I suffer so much during my menstrual cycle but also frustrated that I have spent years visiting various medical clinics only to leave with another bottle of pain medication. My Paleo diet alone has helped me manage many of the symptoms but not I am working with a naturopath and acupuncturist to help bring my body back into balance.
What is PCOS exactly? PCOS is an underlying hormonal imbalance. The body produces too much testosterone and the ovaries do not produce eggs. This can cause a woman’s period to become irregular or cease altogether. Though testosterone is a natural hormone that occurs in both men and women, women with PCOS have much higher levels than normal. This is often related to high insulin levels circulating in the blood due to diets high in refined processed foods and sugar. Insulin resistance is when your body’s cells reject insulin, not allowing glucose to pass through. It develops due to high stress, unhealthy/lifestyle or genetics. A diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar triggers cells to ignore the presence of insulin and demand the body to produce more insulin. This creates an excess of insulin in the bloodstream that stimulates the ovaries to produce excess testosterone. Large amounts of testosterone stimulate follicular growth and halt development. Stopping the eggs from reaching full maturity. These underdeveloped eggs are what create small cysts on the ovaries. Women with PCOS may have anovulatory cycles that last weeks or months instead of the standard 28 days. Since the follicle doesn’t reach maturity, no ovulation takes place. Therefore, no progesterone is produced and no luteal phase, which leads to abnormal cycles. Occasionally, ovulation will result as a follicle matures and a woman with PCOS has a chance to conceive. However, the pregnancy may be at a higher risk of miscarriage due to hormonal imbalances. Women with PCOS may have elevated estrogen levels, anxiety, depression, dysmenorrhea, hirsutism (excess facial hair), weight gain, or difficulty losing weight and elevated blood glucose levels. Additionally, infertility can be a side effect of PCOS.
Tips for Managing PCOS:
Eliminate refined and processed foods, excess sugar and excess starch. I didn’t say they were easy steps! But it is necessary for optimal health to eat optimal food.
Low glycemic load foods. The body breaks these foods down slowly over time. Meaning you will be able to balance your blood sugar more effectively and avoid blood sugar spikes. Check out my post on ‘Combating Hangry’: Your guide to Emotional Eating.
Buy organic. Pesticides are known as endocrine disruptors and greatly affect our ability for normal hormonal production and balance.
Exercise! Getting a minimum of 30 minutes of activity per day can help to balance your hormones.
Adopt a Paleolithic diet and eliminate all grains! I believe this to be our most natural diet as our bodies still have the same metabolisms and physiologies as our Paleolithic ancestors. Learn more about the Paleo diet here.
Take it one step at a time. After following my Paleo plan for a month. I suggest trying a Ketogenic Diet (or Keto for short). There has been much research on the benefits of a keto diet in women suffering from PCOS. Looking back now, that explains why I always felt my best while following a Keto program. The reason I asked you to start with Paleo first and gradually move into a Keto program is that it’s just easier. Easier on the body to adapt to all the dietary changes you are making and easier on your mind to remove excess carbohydrates in steps. Check out my Keto Meal Plans!
Get one-on-one nutritional support. Book a consultation and receive a customized nutritional program.
Bartlett, Emily and Erlich, Laura. Feed your fertility. Fair Winds Press (Beverly). 2015.
Batta, A. Ketogenic diet and its role in eliminating medicinal treatment in various diseases. Med. Res. Chron. 2016; 4(3): 309-322.
DeUgarte, C.M., Bartolucci, A.A., Azziz, R. Prevalence of insulin resistance in the polycystic ovary syndrome using the homeostasis model assessment. Fertility Sterility. 2005; 83(5): 0015-0282.
Mavropoulos, J.C., Yancy, W.S., Hepburn, J., Westman, E.C. The effects of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet on the polycystic ovary syndrome: a pilot study. Nutr. Metab(Lond). 2005; 2(35).
Northrup, Christiane. Women’s bodies, women’s wisdom. Bantam Books (New York). 2010.
Paoli, A., Rubini, A., Volek, J.S., Grimaldi, K.A. Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. European J. of Clin. Nutr. 2013; 67: 789-796.