PCOS affects an estimated 8-13% of reproductive-age women worldwide, with about 70% of them possibly undiagnosed1. I was surprised to learn it’s the number one reason that a woman doesn’t ovulate and is a primary cause of infertility. Interestingly, those with PCOS tend to be more likely to have other health conditions that we’ve been chatting lots about these last 2 weeks, including:
Given that, I want to chat about some root cause solutions and prevention for this prevalent condition.
According to John Hopkins, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition in which the ovaries produce an abnormally high amount of androgens, which are male sex hormones that are usually present in women in small amounts. One of the symptoms this can lead to is numerous small cysts (fluid-filled sacs) that form in the ovaries. Other common symptoms associated with PCOS can include irregular periods, irregular ovulation and/or fertility problems, excess facial or body hair (due to the excess androgens), and weight gain. Interestingly, only about ½ of women with PCOS struggle with their weight2 – metabolic disturbances with blood sugar may exist with PCOS in lean women too.
When your blood sugar spikes, your body releases insulin. This is completely normal, when in regular amounts. There will always be a spike and insulin release as your body breaks down food, but when the spikes are chronically high, and happen consistently, your body has to release a lot of insulin, and often. Insulin itself is a fat storage hormone and as it relates to PCOS, high insulin can signal to your ovaries to create testosterone and contribute to lack of ovulation (main symptoms of PCOS).
It is estimated that 50-90% of people with PCOS will also have insulin resistance. Exciting research shows that improving diet and lifestyle (which directly impacts insulin and blood sugar regulation) can improve symptoms of PCOS.
One study looked at 21 women with PCOS over a 24-week period. For the first half of the study (12 weeks), they were allowed to eat their regular diet. After 12 weeks, they started a low-glycemic diet ((essentially a diet to balance blood sugar) that was the same calories as their regular diet that they consumed during the first half of the study. After 12 weeks on the low glycemic diet, researchers found that insulin resistance had decreased significantly.
You may or may not know that the diabetes drug, metformin is sometimes prescribed for PCOS. Why? Because it improves insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels. According to research in the National Library of Medicine, several effects have been shown with metformin in PCOS patients including restoring ovulation, reducing weight, reducing circulating androgen levels, reducing the risk of miscarriage and reducing the risk of gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). So, what if we got to the root cause and addressed the high blood sugar and insulin resistance, rather than using metformin? That is exactly what we're doing in the Balance Your Blood Sugar Program and why I'm so passionate about it.
As you probably guessed, the first factor to focus on is blood sugar. In one study, when women focused on blood-sugar balancing foods for 8 weeks (vs their regular diet), which included pure animal protein, fish and shellfish, eggs, non-starchy vegetables, low-sugar fruits, avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, fats, red wine (yep!) and fresh high fat cheese, all markers of PCOS went down, including improved insulin sensitivity and reduced testosterone.
This is why I love suggesting continuous glucose monitoring, if you suspect a blood-sugar-related health challenge like PCOS, and why we’re running another round of the Balance Your Blood Sugar Program!! We use continuous glucose monitoring (or CGM) to get real-time feedback on how your blood-sugar works. You can then optimize your bio-individual blood sugar to eliminate blood-sugar-related health risks, like PCOS. Most importantly, by the end of the 4 weeks together you’ll feel in control of your body and food choices so that your results can easily be maintained long-term.
If you are experiencing hormonal imbalances and would like to understand the impact the food you’re eating is having, I really encourage you to join the Balance Your Blood Sugar Program, starting November 6th. It’s my group coaching program that is going to transform your understanding of how food affects your hormones, and equip you to make simple, life-long changes to balance your hormones and help you live your healthiest life. Click here to learn more about the program.