Last week we did an introduction to PCOS blog post. For the next few weeks, we'll be discussing all things PCOS and the ways in which nutrition can improve these symptoms.
One of the four main causes of PCOS is hormone imbalance. A number of our hormones are impacted by PCOS, and many of these are the sex hormones. The endocrine system is made up of glands that secrete hormones. One of these glands are the ovaries. When the endocrine system is imbalanced, our hormones are affected and this imbalance can be caused by different lifestyle factors, such as diet, exercise, as well as our genes.
What hormones are affected?
The sex hormones impacted by PCOS are FSH, testosterone, estrogen, luteinizing hormone (LH), prolactin and progesterone. These hormones interact with each other, so when one of their levels is imbalanced, it has a knock-on effect on the rest of our hormones. The most common hormonal issues arising for those with PCOS are either increased levels of testosterone, LH or prolactin, or decreased levels of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), which is a protein that binds to testosterone and reduces its effect.
Luteinizing hormone (LH) is one of the hormones that is responsible for ovulation by triggering the release of the egg from the ovaries - LH levels rise right before ovulation. As it also controls the menstrual cycle, LH can affect the regularity of periods and fertility. Women with PCOS often have irregular periods and issues with fertility, which is a result of high levels of LH.
FSH is made by the pituitary gland, which is in the brain. It stimulates the growth of eggs in the ovaries, and controls the menstrual cycle. FSH's levels are at their highest right before ovulation.
An imbalance in either LH or FSH levels can lead to many problems, such as infertility and problems with menstruation. It can also lead to early or delayed puberty in children. FSH and LH levels are normally equal, yet in women with PCOS, the LH levels are often 3 times the levels of FSH.
Prolactin is a pituitary hormone that allows women to produce breast milk when nursing. Prolactin is often at a normal level in women with PCOS, but it is still likely to have high prolactin levels. Excess prolactin is also responsible for irregular periods and infertility.
Although testosterone is the male sex hormone, it is present in women. Its imbalance can trigger issues such as irregular ovulation and periods. Testosterone levels are often higher than average for women with PCOS. This is the same for the hormone DHEAS - if these levels are above average in a woman, she likely has PCOS.
Estrogen is a female hormone, and the most active estrogen in the body is called estradiol. Estrogen levels tend to be within a normal range for women with PCOS. This is because the levels of testosterone are usually high, and this can often be converted to estrogen.
Progesterone prepares the uterus lining during pregnancy. During ovulation, if progesterone levels are high, then the egg has been released from the ovary. Sometimes, the body may mimic signs of ovulation but it has not actually ovulated. When progesterone levels are low, ovulation has not occurred. The body can have a hiccup and not actually release an egg from the ovary at the time of ovulation, and low levels of progesterone can mean a risk of infertility. Once a doctor detects this issue, they can adjust any fertility medication to adjust hormone levels for your next cycle.
LH interacts with FSH, which is responsible for the maturation of follicles that release estrogen and progesterone. The latter two are necessary for a regular menstrual cycle. When LH levels are high, FSH is affected, which impacts estrogen and progesterone, leading to an imbalance of the sex hormones, resulting in PCOS in women.
Nutrients to balance the imbalance
Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. We need omega-3's for a number of reasons, such as for brain and cardiovascular health, as well as to reduce inflammation and general management of PCOS symptoms. Examples of foods with lots of omega-3's include:
Fish such as tuna, sardines, salmon and anchovies
Vegetables like Brussel sprouts, broccoli and kale
Legumes such as lentils and kidney beans
Nuts & seeds like walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds and almonds
Oils, like olive oil and avocado oil
Increase your selenium intake. Selenium is important for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory purposes, making it a great nutrient to add for those with PCOS. Sources of selenium include brazil nuts, as well as most proteins like chicken, fish, turkey and eggs.
Adding more zinc into your diet is also important. Zinc is necessary for helping reduce inflammation, and can also plays a role in releasing the thyroid hormones. Zinc sources include legumes such as beans, soybeans, peas, chickpeas and lentils, as well as fish, seeds, nuts and eggs.
Even taking a magnesium supplement is beneficial, as it helps with brain health.
To tackle PCOS, you must look at your diet and lifestyle. Although there is no cure for PCOS, you can reduce and manage symptoms simply through the food you eat!
In our practice, we work with our clients to figure out what type of PCOS you have, and decide on a meal plan that is tailored to you and your needs.
We currently have a plan available specifically for PCOS if you want to work with us! Click the button below to be redirected there.
Over on our Instagram, we have a number of easy to digest infographics (if you're more of a visual learner!), so click here to go to our page, @lorrainekearneynutrition!