As a holistic nutritionist and hormone expert, I see many women suffering from hormone imbalances. Hormonal imbalances can manifest in many different ways, including Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). I’ve worked with many women with PCOS and I’m excited to share some strategies that I use with my own clients to help them manage and sometimes even reverse the symptoms that come along with PCOS. It is estimated that as many as 1.4 million Canadian women have PCOS and it’s said to be one of the most common endocrine disorders among women 1. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome can be a tricky area to navigate as there is a lot of conflicting information out there, but hopefully these tips will help you feel confident and in control of your health.
5 Essential Foods For PCOS
5 Essential Foods for PCOS
What is PCOS?
PCOS stands for polycystic ovarian syndrome, you may be thinking, what the heck does that mean? Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is characterized by cysts in the ovaries, but don’t let this fool you, many women who have PCOS do not have cysts in their ovaries. Other symptoms of PCOS is higher levels of androgens or male hormones like testosterone, male pattern hair growth around your face, belly button and chest, acne, thinning hair, oily skin, weight gain and the inability to lose weight, missing periods, and fertility struggles. As you can see, PCOS can present itself in so many ways. A hormone test and ultrasound are the most accurate ways to diagnose PCOS.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, just like many other health concerns, has a root cause or a reason for establishing itself in your body. PCOS is often rooted in high levels of internal and external stress, eating the wrong diet for your body, and imbalanced hormone levels. That being said, the symptoms can be drastically reduced by balancing blood sugar levels, reducing stress, using specific supplements, eating a fiber and healthy fat-rich diet, and focusing on gut-healing foods.
Top 5 PCOS Foods
Nuts and Seeds
These little powerhouses are packed full of fibre, healthy fats, and protein. Whenever we talk about hormones, we need to remember that hormones are made by the body, but also need to be eliminated from the body. Without proper elimination and detoxification, hormones will continue circulating in the body, causing an excess of hormones. Fibre is key for proper detoxification and elimination.
Fibre also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and feeds the good bacteria in our gut. Research has shown that women with PCOS often have more bad bacteria than good bacteria 2, this can contribute to hormone imbalance, high testosterone levels, and weight gain.
My favourite nuts and seeds for PCOS are:
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Brazil nuts
I also love the FATSO nut butters because they are loaded with fibre, thanks to added flax and chia!
Collagen and Bone Broth
Whenever we talk about hormones it’s important to also address gut health. Our gut produces and secretes hormones. Hormones like serotonin, melatonin, estrogen, and progesterone are made in the gut. When we talk about PCOS, we’re talking about an abundance of testosterone and oftentimes estrogen and not enough progesterone, given progesterone is partially made in the gut, we need to heal the gut.
Collagen, both in the form of collagen peptides as well as bone broth is key for supporting gut health. Collagen is the most abundant form of protein we have in our bodies and unfortunately as we age, collagen production declines, therefore supplementation is key. Since collagen is a type of protein, it’s amazing for balancing blood sugar levels which is imperative for people with PCOS.
There is an enzyme called 5-Alpha-Reductase. This enzyme can convert testosterone into a more potent and dangerous counterpart Dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Women with PCOS have been found to have more DHT circulating through their bodies. Interestingly, DHT is also the hormone responsible for enlarged prostate in men.
Thankfully, there are plants and herbs that can help inhibit this hormonal conversion, which can help reduce the symptoms that come along with PCOS. I definitely recommend working with a natural health care practitioner to find the best herbs for you and your body.
Green Tea: helps to decrease blood sugar levels and has also been shown to decrease free testosterone levels in women. Green tea is also a wonderful source of antioxidants, specifically polyphenols, which are also anti-inflammatory.
Spearmint Tea: just two cups of Spearmint tea daily has been shown to significantly reduce free testosterone in the body and also the appearance of hirsutism, also known as male pattern hair growth. Spearmint tea has been used for centuries in the Middle East for its anti-androgen effects.3
Adaptogens: are mushrooms and plants that help the body to adapt to stress. For PCOS, reishi mushroom is a very effective adaptogen to use for its effect on DHT. Reishi Mushrooms have an anti-androgen effect in the body, which means that they inhibit the conversion of testosterone to DHT by reducing levels of 5-Alpha Reductase.
The body requires healthy fats, like omega 3 to function. Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid meaning, the body cannot make it and needs to obtain it from external sources, aka food! Omega 3 is essential for brain health, healthy hormones, and is anti-inflammatory.
Fats promote healthy cell membrane fluidity meaning they help our cells function, but from a PCOS-perspective, they are essential for hormone production. All of our steroid hormones, like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone require fats to be produced (specifically cholesterol).
Fish, specifically wild caught, cold water, fatty fish is an incredible source of omega 3 fatty acids. I recommend incorporating fish like salmon, mackerel, cod, halibut, trout, and arctic char into your diet 2-3 times weekly.
If you aren’t a fish fan, then you definitely want to be taking an omega-3 supplement.
Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, kale, cauliflower, bok choy, and cabbage contain compounds called Glucosinolate and Glucobrassicin. These two compounds are broken down into Indole-3-carbinol (I3C), and when digestion happens I3C is broken down further into Diindolylmethane (DIM). DIM is an antioxidant and a phytonutrient, and has been shown to be anti-inflammatory. Research indicates that Diindolylmethane modulates estrogen in the body and optimizes estrogen detoxification through the liver.4
Cruciferous veggies, like the ones I listed above, are super important for PCOS, not just because they help with estrogen metabolism but they are also packed with fibre! Fibre, as we talked about with nuts and seeds is important for PCOS to help eliminate excess hormones from the body.
Incorporating 2 servings of cruciferous vegetables daily is a wonderful way to increase fibre consumption and include those amazing hormone detoxifying compounds into your diet!
These tips may sound complicated or overwhelming, but simply start with one thing at a time. First try increasing your water intake, then try incorporating some of these foods one at a time, so on and so forth. Set manageable, realistic goals for yourself. Small lasting changes create lifestyle habits, which have the biggest impact!
If you would like a more personalized strategy and someone in your corner to help you manage and get to the root cause of your Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, I would recommend booking a consultation with a natural health care practitioner. You can always book a Free 15 minute hormone freedom call with me, here.
About the author
Elizabeth Raybould is a holistic nutritionist and women’s hormone expert. Elizabeth is the founder of Elizabeth Raybould Wellness. She teaches women how to feel incredible in their bodies and live their best life by balancing their hormones.
Elizabeth believes that every woman deserves to love their body and have a healthy period and healthy hormones that don’t get in the way of life. Elizabeth lives in Toronto, Canada and attended the Institute of Holistic Nutrition and graduated top of her class. You can learn more about Elizabeth at elizabethraybould.com or across social media channels @elizabethraybouldwellness.