14 Diet & Lifestyle Tips For Managing PCOS

One in ten women suffer from PCOS – a condition which can lead to hormonal acne, weight issues and fertility struggles. Fortunately, diet, sleep, movement and stress management are all proven ways to manage the various symptoms. Here’s what the experts recommend…

Get A Diagnosis

“Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder which affects one in ten women. It’s the most common cause of infertility. And yet, despite its prevalence, this complex disorder remains difficult to treat. The three main features of PCOS are hyperandrogenism (meaning excess levels of testosterone, irregular periods and polycystic ovaries. If you have at least of the following features, you may be diagnosed with PCOS: irregular periods (generally meaning you aren’t ovulating regularly); polycystic ovaries (when your ovaries appear enlarged and contain many fluid-filled sacs, also known as follicles, that surround your immature eggs); and hyperandrogenism, the term used for high levels of male hormones. Women with these symptoms are considered to have non-insulin resistant PCOS. Some women will also have high blood sugar in addition to two or more of these symptoms, which is considered insulin resistant PCOS. Understanding the disorder can help you target your treatment.” – Emily Moreton, nurse & patient liaison at Hertility

Adopt A Mediterranean Diet

“Many people with PCOS show resistance to the hormone insulin, regardless of their body size, which occurs because of the increase in androgens (male hormones), reducing your sensitivity to insulin. To stabilise your blood sugar, avoid skipping meals and consume regular meals and snacks, ensuring everything you eat is balanced with fats, carbs and protein. One of the risks of PCOS is higher cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease. A Mediterranean style diet – including wholegrains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil and oily fish – teamed with a reduction in salt can help lower cholesterol levels.” – Emily 

Don’t Ditch Carbs

“A lot of PCOS advice recommends cutting back on carbs to control blood sugar and insulin. However, removing carbs (or gluten) entirely from the diet can leave you dealing with insufficient nutrients. Focus on swapping high-GI carbs such as white bread, cakes, white pasta and sugary drinks with low-GI carbs like fruit, vegetables, beans, pulses and wholegrains. At the same time, protein can help stabilise blood glucose, reduce insulin and androgen hormones, keep you feeling fuller for longer and in control of your appetite. Opt for lots of plant-based sources including soya products, legumes, pulses, nuts, seeds and wholegrains as opposed to too many animal products, which can promote insulin resistance and inflammation.” – Emily 

Only 8% of women with polycystic ovaries will have PCOS but up to 80% of women who don’t ovulate will have PCOS.

Improve Your Sleep 

“Sleep disturbances are more common in people with PCOS, and poor sleep is associated with the symptoms linked to PCOS. Aim for seven to nine hours of undisturbed sleep every night by avoiding blue light before bed, avoiding caffeine after midday, ensuring your room is cool, having comfortable bed sheets and pyjamas and doing a mind dump before bed to get distracting thoughts off your mind.” – Emily 

Cut Back On Caffeine

“If you are dealing with PCOS, try to reduce the amount of caffeine you drink as well as other stimulants that send your insulin rocketing up and down. Try decaffeinated versions of your favourite drinks, or swap coffee entirely for Barleycup, a coffee alternative made with barley and cereals. Adding cinnamon to your food can also help balance insulin, and you can add it to hot drinks, too. Herbs like burdock root can also help balance insulin and support the liver, which can in turn tackle hormonal breakouts.” – Natasha Richardson, medical herbalist & founder of Forage Botanicals

Keep An Eye On Your BMI

“Due to increased insulin levels, PCOS can lead to weight gain. Studies suggest insulin resistance is present in 30% of non-obese people with PCOS and 75% of those who are obese. As the cycle of insulin resistance spirals out of control, the body eventually loses its ability to regulate blood sugar, leading to type 2 diabetes, which is ten times more prevalent in PCOS sufferers. If you are overweight, losing 5-10% of your body weight can make a difference.” – Dr Michael Mosley

Keep Blood Sugar Balanced

“With PCOS, it’s vital to make sure your blood sugars are balanced at all times and that you aren’t eating foods that can contribute to hormone imbalances. Try to avoid gluten, dairy and sugar if possible, which are known to wreak havoc with hormones. Many people are also intolerant to them, and an intolerance can contribute to hormone imbalances and inflammation. Try not to skip meals, either. Whilst intermittent fasting can be useful, it’s essential to balance your stress hormones and blood sugar when dealing with PCOS. Until you have spent a few months eating the right foods, fasting could do more harm than good. If you are unsure, speak to a wellbeing coach.” – Claire Snowdon-Darling, hormone expert & founder of the Balanced Wellness Clinics 

Make Fat Your Friend

“Fat is essential with PCOS, so make sure you are eating nuts, butter, olive oil, avocado and even old favourites like suet and lard. Fat helps rebalance your hormones. Ditch anything labelled ‘fat free’ and avoid processed fats like buttery spreads or margarine.” – Claire 

Eat Plenty Of Fibre

“Recent studies have suggested a link between PCOS and gut health. Eat a fibre-rich diet, aiming for at least 30g of fibre daily and try to reduce artificial sweeteners to enable your gut bugs to thrive.” – Alex Williams, nutritionist at the PCOS Collective

Studies have shown that in people with PCOS, lifting weights can improve ovulation, reduce insulin resistance and promote weight loss.

Swap Running For Weights

“Exercise is extremely important when it comes to conditions caused by hormone imbalances, but even more important is doing the right form of exercise. High impact activities such as running can create extra cortisol in the body, exacerbating your condition. In the case of PCOS, resistance training is an excellent tool to alleviate symptoms. Studies have shown that in people with PCOS, lifting weights can improve ovulation, reduce insulin resistance and promote weight loss as it lowers insulin and excess oestrogen and reduces testosterone. The imbalances of these hormones are the main causes of PCOS.” – Claire 

Be Savvy About Exercise

“PCOS can affect sleep and cause fatigue and low mood, making it harder to prioritise exercise. However, the double-edged sword is that by doing the exercise you reduce the hormones causing the fatigue which helps you feel better physically and emotionally. Consider having ‘exercise slots’ in your diary and sticking to them where possible. On the days you feel exhausted, work gently, and on those days when you have more energy, go for it. Gentle movement with lighter weights is as beneficial on tired days as the bigger workouts on energised days.” – Claire 

Try To Stress Less

“There is a proven connection between levels of cortisol (your stress hormone) and levels of progesterone, suggesting stress can impact PCOS. We refer to this as ‘the progesterone steal’. When your body makes hormones, they can either become progesterone or cortisol. But because cortisol requires progesterone to be made, we end up using our progesterone stores to be stressed. Progesterone is the hormone we use to grow and maintain the endometrial lining and low levels are one of the main reasons why you may have a shorter cycle. I’ve had so many patients who were told to lose weight to improve their PCOS but instead I found it was their stress levels that were contributing to insulin resistance and lack of ovulating rather than their diet. Taking a vitamin B supplement can help your stress response, while Forage’s Rested Resilience contains ashwagandha to support you during long-term stress.” – Natasha 

Supplement With Inositol

“Vitamin B8, also called inositol, is a helpful supplement for treating PCOS. Inositol plays a role in androgen synthesis and glucose uptake in the ovaries, and supplementation has been shown to increase ovulation, improve insulin resistance and lower androgens. Acne and increased hair growth – both of which are common signs of PCOS – also indicate excess androgen levels, so if you are struggling with your skin or excess hair, it could be one to look in to. It could also be worth drinking spearmint tea – more research is required, but studies have suggested drinking two cups of spearmint tea daily can help lower androgen levels.” – Alex 

Be Patient

“It’s important to remember that PCOS is very common. Although the name stands for polycystic ovarian syndrome, we now know you don’t have to have polycystic ovaries to have PCOS and scientists have tried to have the condition renamed. Only 8% of women with polycystic ovaries will have PCOS but up to 80% of women who don’t ovulate will have PCOS. Whatever lifestyle changes you make, be consistent. PCOS can be stubborn to treat and will take a minimum of three months of dietary improvements and stress management with adaptogens and relaxants to see periods begin to be more regular and other symptoms to reduce.” – Natasha 

 
For more information head to HertilityHealth.com, ForageBotanicals.co.uk, TheFast800.com, BalancedWellness.co.uk and PCOSCollective.co.uk

DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.

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