Recent research suggests that infertility in both females and males is on the increase. In fact it is proposed that 1 in 5 women have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, commonly abbreviated as PCOS. Despite some women suffering symptoms such as obesity, abnormal hair growth and irregular menses many are unaware they have it until attempting to conceive. Despite its complexities however, there are many dietary and lifestyle behaviours that can be adopted to support the health of a woman’s body that has PCOS.
PCOS is a hormonal disorder however the exact cause is still unknown, there are several links including genetics, insulin resistance, inflammation and foetal development. It is diagnosed through a scan revealing cysts on the ovaries as well as blood tests which show excess androgens such as testosterone in the blood stream.
It is suggested that a low grade inflammation which CAN be caused my consuming a highly processed diet low in micronutrients MAY lead to insulin resistance. Insulin is released in response to blood glucose increasing from the intake of carbohydrates. In a healthy individual the insulin will move the glucose into cells to be stored as energy for later use; but in insulin resistant individuals the cells do not recognise the insulin and therefore the glucose remains high. This can lead to more insulin being released which triggers the ovaries to secrete more estrogen which can suppress ovulation. It also signals the ovaries to release testosterone hormone and inhibits the release of SHBG which leads to increased testosterone in the blood. This may cause symptoms such as acne, facial hair and male pattern baldness.
Many believe that this is just a disorder of the ovaries but it can have huge health effects from increasing the risk of diabetes to alterations in mood and infertility.
There are pharmaceutical treatment options which include an individual taking a contraception pill to regulate menstruation, however this does not help women who are trying to conceive.
There are however dietary alterations that an individual can make to increase their chances of becoming pregnant. Insulin resistance is a large part of the problem with PCOS, it not only makes it harder to reduce body fat to healthy levels, it also increases insulin levels and has a negative effect on ovulation and makes it more difficult for an embryo to implant into the uterus therefore having a direct impact on a woman’s ability to conceive; it is therefore vital to manage this effectively.
1. Eat whole foods
Micronutrients such as Vitamin E, Vitamin C, lipoic acid, folate, selenium and zinc are all vital for improving fertility. They play numerous physiological functions from protecting the egg from free radicals and boost endometrium lining to improving the egg quality. These nutrients are all primarily found in natural foods which have either grown in the ground or on a tree or have walked, swum of flew.
Process foods such as chocolate, crisps, ham and cereals should be kept to a minimum as they lack vitamins and minerals, otherwise known as providing the body with “empty calories”. The processing often involves the use of trans fats, artificial flavours and processed sugars all of which are not beneficial for overall health and wellness.
FOODS TO EAT: Green leafy vegetables, red peppers, sweet potatoes, aubergine, farm reared fish and poultry, grass fed beef, seeds, nuts and pulses.
2. Control your carbohydrates
Many people will attempt to cut out carbohydrates completely, however having some in the diet is important for hormonal function and metabolism. It is however the type and quantity of carbohydrate that needs to be considered.
There are two types of carbohydrates, fast release and slow release. Fast release carbohydrates include table sugar, sweets, white bread, bagels, popcorn and cornflakes and are digested rapidly, leading to an immediate increase in blood glucose levels and in turn high blood insulin levels. These foods should be kept to a minimum.
Slow release carbohydrates include wholegrains and take a longer time to be digested and absorbed into the blood stream, this results in a much smaller rise in blood glucose and therefore less insulin needs to be released. These are the foods that should be consumed in small portions at meal times.
FOODS TO EAT: Granary wholegrain bread x 1 slice, Sweet or new potatoes x 120g, pasta x 30g, long grain rice x 30g, berries x 100g , plum x 2, oats x 30g
3. Portion your protein
Pairing the slow release carbohydrate with a source of protein will further decrease the absorption time and therefore the insulin response will slow down too. It is important to consider the quality of meat and poultry that is being consumed as a protein source. As if the meat has been treated with hormones or pesticides these will then be eaten by the consumer. Ideally choose organic, farm reared or grass fed meats are the optimal choice.
FOODS TO EAT: Chicken, beef, salmon, eggs, turkey, lamb, cod, tuna, eggs, Greek yoghurt
4. Swap to plant based proteins
High quality animal protein sources are often expensive, but plant based proteins can not only reduce the cost of a shopping list but also increase intake of vitamins, minerals and fibre. It is however important to pair the correct plant based proteins together to ensure all essential amino acids are consumed.
FOODS TO EAT: Beans and rice, hummus and pitta bread, wholegrain toast and peanut butter, tortilla and pinto beans
5. Include fibre in every meal
Fibre helps slow down the digestion of carbohydrates further which supports preventing a rapid rise in blood insulin levels. It also promotes health estorgen metabolism to assist in reducing the elevated testosterone levels.
FOODS TO EAT: Wholegrains, vegetables and their skins, berries, oats, potato skins
6. Increase meal frequency
By regularly ensuring that three meals and two snacks are eaten per day will help prevent blood glucose dropping too low, meaning excess is released from the liver causing an insulin spike. Getting into the habit of eating at set times will help create positive health habits, prevent hunger and overeating.
7. Add in oily fish
Omega – three aids hormonal balance and improves insulin sensitivity, these fatty acids are essential, meaning the body cannot produce them and therefore they have to be consumed in the diet.
FOODS TO EAT: Salmon, mackerel, fresh tuna, sardines, flax seed
8. Reduce caffeine
Caffeine produces more estrogen, which is already and issue for women with PCOS, swapping from coffee to herbal teas and fizzy drinks to flavoured sparkling water are good choices.
9. Exercise regularly
Exercising helps improve insulin sensitivity, optimises metabolisms, supports fat loss and improves bone health and should ideally be performed for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week.
Performing a combination of aerobic, resistance and mobility training is most beneficial, but keeping intensity to moderate to prevent excessive inflammation.
Please remember these are basic guidelines and for personalised advice seeking the advice of a Registered Dietitian is important. Email info@RachelAnneHobbs.com with any queries
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