PCOS: Why diet is everything—but so are daily orgasms.
Girl talk. Did you know that Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common reproductive disorders in the US, affecting approximately 1 in 10 women? Yes, genetics does play a role in the development of PCOS; however, modifiable factors like diet, lifestyle and environmental exposure are key drivers in its development as well. Therefore, while taking medication is essential, adjusting your diet and lifestyle may actually be more effective in treating the root cause of your PCOS symptoms.
Our bodies are strong and can heal themselves given the proper care; but our badass #BossBabe lifestyles leave us in constant over-drive, and so we may be #thriving on the outside, we may be compromising our body’s innate ability to repair itself.
So now what? How do we heal the body and continue to cultivate fulfilling careers, relationships and lives? The key is addressing the root causes of PCOS.
Let’s start with the basics. The main driver of PCOS symptoms (irregular periods, infertility, excessive hair growth, weight gain, acne) is hormonal imbalance. So, what causes this imbalance? The answer is insulin resistance. Quickie refresher on insulin—Insulin is the hormone responsible for moving the sugar in our blood to the cells in our liver, fat and muscles so it can be used by body for energy. Insulin resistance occurs when the body does not recognize insulin, so the sugar just builds up in the blood. As a result, the pancreas notices that we have high blood sugar, so it starts producing more insulin as a last-ditch effort to get sugar (energy) into our cells. This leads to excess insulin in the blood, which in turn leads to increased testosterone secretion and decreased sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG) production (responsible for eliminating estrogen). Insulin resistance is a common feature of PCOS. Studies show that as many as 80% of women with PCOS considered insulin resistant!
So, when it comes to diet, stabilizing our blood sugar is our #1 goal! But what does this mean?
Rule 1: Make breakfast your most important meal of the day
Don’t skimp on breakfast (or skip it completely). With PCOS, it’s important to eat breakfast within 30-60 minutes of waking up in the morning. I’m sorry, but a bowl of cereal just won’t cut it. Aim to eat 1 serving of protein along with at least ½ cup of slow burning, complex carbs like quinoa, sweet potato, or whole grain toast and 1-2 tbsp of healthy fat (avocado, nut butter, seeds, coconut butter).
Rule 2: Eliminate blood sugar wreakers
Ditch the big 3—refined sugar, caffeine and alcohol, which wreak havoc on your hormone levels and deplete the body of important nutrients like magnesium and B vitamins, which are essential to supporting fertility. Dairy is another inflammatory food for many women and therefore a trial elimination may be beneficial. If your usual order is a skinny vanilla latte listen up. Caffeine first thing in the morning on an empty stomach is a major no-no. Cortisol, the stress hormone responsible for our “fight or flight” response is naturally high in the morning. When we drink coffee right when we wake up we blunt the cortisol response and it starts to produce less. Overtime, we become reliant on caffeine for that morning boost of energy we normally get from cortisol. This creates a shift in our hormone levels contributing to hormonal imbalance in the body. For this reason, I recommend reducing (or kicking) your caffeine intake. If you are going to drink caffeine in the morning wait until after breakfast (between 10am-12pm is best).
Rule 3: Focus on a low glycemic, Mediterranean style diet
The glycemic index is a scale that is used to measure the ability of a specific food to raise your blood sugar. High glycemic index foods include anything with refined sugar or flour such as white bread, candy, soda, chips, juice etc. These foods raise blood sugar quickly and contribute to blood sugar imbalance and insulin resistance. Instead we want to focus on low glycemic foods such as whole grains (quinoa, teff, buckwheat, barely, farro, whole wheat), fruit, and vegetables. These foods are filled with fiber (and sometimes protein and healthy fat), which help to slow the absorption of sugar into the blood. The Mediterranean style diet focuses on eating primarily plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. It also replaced refined fats with healthy fats such as olive oil and avocado. Lastly, it focuses on lean protein, mostly from Omega-3 fatty fish like wild salmon, trout, or tuna. This diet eliminates refined flours, sugar, processed junk food, and excessive amounts of red meat and dairy.
The second root cause of PCOS symptoms is chronic inflammation—environmental toxins, stress, and food triggers are the main factors that contribute to inflammation in the body. These inflammatory factors overwhelm the body and disrupt our natural ability to detoxify and stay balanced.
Step 1: Reduce environmental inflammation
As much as us New Yorker’s love control, we will never be able to control our environment and live completely toxin free. However, you can start with the items that are within your control such as items in your home environment—cleaning products, personal hygiene, and makeup, plastics, etc.
Step 2: Stress less, orgasm more
Stress is another major contributor to inflammation in the body. Excessive cortisol can impair ovulation and fertility and contribute to insulin resistance. Incorporating meditation, yoga and even orgasms, help to flush excess cortisol from the body and reduce stressors. Sleep is another important factor. Aim to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night. To promote sleep, turn off all electronics 30-60 minutes before bed. Replace your late-night IG trolling, with a relaxing activity like reading, meditating or journaling. You can also try taking a melatonin supplement before bed to help promote a more restorative sleep.
Step 3: Eat so your cells feel #blessed
The liver is the main detoxifying organ; however, the gut also plays a role in toxin elimination. The liver requires specific micronutrients to support the breakdown of estrogen and other toxins—B Vitamins, Zinc, Magnesium, Iodine, Vit D. Because the liver requires specific types of micronutrients, it’s important to get tested and correct any nutritional deficiencies that can impair your body’s ability to repair itself.
When it comes to eating for your cellular health increase your intake of brassica vegetables like kale, cauliflower, broccoli, watercress, rutabaga, cabbage and antioxidant rich foods like organic berries. A high fiber diet is also essential, so aim for at least 35g of fiber per day. This can be easily achieved by eating 8-10 servings of vegetables and fruits per day. Ground flaxseeds are also a great way to enhance your intake of fiber and are important to help the gut and large intestine flush toxins out and excess estrogen. You can also try adding 1-2 tbsp of gut promoting foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, to meals.
Food is another cause of inflammation in the body, therefore we want to eliminate any food triggers that contribute to inflammation. Now that summer is over, you may want to trial a dairy free diet. Dairy tends to be inflammatory for many women because most conventional dairy contains hormones and environmental toxins that disrupt the endocrine system (If you do eat dairy make sure it is organic, hormone free and contains some fat). Other common food triggers include—soy, gluten/grains, legumes, nuts/tree nuts and nightshades. Be sure to work with a registered dietitian or licensed health professional when conducting an elimination diet to make sure you are getting proper nutrition.
Step 4: Spice things up a bit
Spices are an easy way to up your detoxification ante. Adding spices like garlic, rosemary, cinnamon, cardamom, onion, thyme, turmeric, ginger, fennel, oregano and dill, which contain the chemical compounds sulfur and phenol, help to support your body’s natural detoxification processes.
Step 5: Up your supplement game
While food is always the main component of good nutrition, research supports the use of some supplements in the management of PCOS. However, with all supplements always consult your doctor before adding them into your diet.
- Myoinositol—helps to reduce testosterone, improve ovulatory function and restore menstrual cycles in PCOS
- Vitamin D—helps support insulin action and egg development
- CoQ10—increases reproductive function and ovulation
- NAC—helps to support detoxification and improves insulin sensitivity
- Maca—helps support hormonal balance
- B12—helps support liver detoxification
- Magnesium—influences the release and activity of insulin and supports liver detoxification