6 steps to help manage PCOS

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By Tina Jenkins, Naturopath, Natural Fertility Educator, Fertile Ground Health Group

Polycistic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects a woman’s health and her fertility. PCOS involves hormonal imbalances which are associated with a woman not ovulating regularly. One of the important factors affecting the hormone balance in PCOS is blood sugar levels and what is often referred to as insulin resistance.

Learning how to support a healthy blood sugar balance and improving your body’s ability to respond to insulin are important factors in trying to minimise the hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS. Supporting a healthy blood sugar balance may help improve your chances of ovulating more regularly and thus improve your chances of getting pregnant.

Below are five ways to help improve your blood sugar balance and improve your chances of ovulation and conception.

1. Maintain a healthy weight and waist circumference measurement

If you are overweight your body tends to produce more hormones in its fat cells and this adds more of a burden on the already existing hormonal imbalance. It is also important that you are not underweight either as your body will “shut down” ovulation if it thinks it does not have enough fat stores to support a pregnancy. A healthy waist circumference is just as important. Use the guidelines below to see if you fall into the healthy or unhealthy range and if you do, make a time to talk to your naturopath about what positive changes you can make to help.

A. Healthy body weight = Body Mass Index (BMI) of 20-25.

Calculate your BMI by dividing your weight (in kgs) by your height (in metres) squared.

B. Healthy waist circumference: <8cm (women) and <94cm (men).

To check your waist circumference, take the measurement against your bare skin and approximately halfway between your lowest rib and the top of your hipbone.

NB: Normal weight and thin women can also have PCOS and are just as likely to experience insulin resistance. While weight loss in these instances is not the goal, blood sugar and ovulation regulation remain key factors. Every patient has different needs and weight is only one piece of the puzzle. Your naturopath can help you determine the right path for you.

2. Eat small meals more frequently

Try to eat something every 3-4 hours i.e. breakfast, midmorning snack, lunch, mid afternoon snack and dinner. Although eating more often may seem odd, you are not actually increasing the total amount of food you are eating for the day; rather, you are eating the same quantity but just dividing it up into more meals throughout the day. However, the type of food you eat is very important.

3. Aim to avoid sugar as much as possible

Read labels and check ingredient lists; you will be surprised at how much sugar is in cereals, sauces, yoghurts, peanut butter and processed foods. Avoid snacking on dried fruit and choose protein-rich snacks such as raw nuts (e.g. walnuts, almonds) instead. If you feel like you are “addicted” to sugar and can’t imagine how you could cope without it, consider Sarah Wilson’s 8 week “I Quit Sugar” plan. I have seen many women find this approach inspiring, easy to follow, fun even and there are some great, yummy recipes in there to help keep you going! “I have seen a lot of women move from craving sugar daily to not missing it at all. You will be surprised at how much better your body, mind and emotions can work without it.”

4. Try to have some kind of protein at each snack/meal

Protein-rich foods include fish, chicken, tofu, meat, soy, dairy (e.g. milk, yoghurt, cheese), nuts, turkey and egg. Snacks may consist of a handful of almonds and pumpkin seeds OR some plain unsweetened yoghurt mixed with frozen berries/fresh fruit and ground nuts/seeds OR sliced apple with almond nut butter. Often making these changes involves working out a plan with your naturopath however, some of my favourite cookbooks which follow these principles are listed below.

Be inspired by:

– Jennie Brand-Miller “The Low GI Guide to Managing PCOS”.

– Dr Kate Marsh, Jennie Brand-Miller and Prof Robert Moses “Bump to Baby Diet”

– Michael Moore “Blood Sugar” (this book if for the “foodies” and is written by a chef who has diabetes. Personally, I use this cookbook a lot as I find the flavours and combinations delicious and easy to prepare).

5. Exercise regularly

Ahhhh!!! We all know we should exercise regularly, right? But did you know that regular exercise can not only help reduce weight and relieve stress, but it can also have a positive effect on your blood sugar balance. Overweight women with PCOS generally need to exercise more and be more careful with their diet in order to lose weight, compared to women without PCOS. However, ”the combined benefits obtained with regular exercise mean that even if you are seeing a gradual reduction in weight, ovulation can resume fairly quickly. So get moving!” Aim for at least 30 minutes a day and include some form of weight-bearing exercise (e.g. weights, walking, jogging, running, dancing etc) at least 3 times a week. Also increase your incidental exercise as much as possible – take the stairs, ride to the shops etc. Ask yourself “can I do this and move at the same time?”. Move whenever you can. Look for every opportunity to get on your feet and get moving!

Irregular periods may also be related to low body weight (or body fat content) as your body needs a certain amount of fat to produce hormones. Discuss your individual exercise requirements with your naturopath if your body weight is below normal.

6. Consider supportive treatments such as supplements and herbs

There are various nutrients (e.g. Chromium, B vitamins, Magnesium) that are required for blood sugar metabolism and may be useful to help assist in supporting healthy blood sugar control. Speak to your naturopath about your individual requirements to help tailor a treatment plan for you. Well prescribed individualised herbal medicine approaches are also very effective. Of course acupuncture is a great support in regulating cycles, managing stress and increasing energy.

As you can see there are a lot of steps you can take to help in the management of PCOS. I have seen many women conceive naturally when they are well supported with this information including a return of regular periods. A check-up with your naturopath can help you to identify the most important factors for you to focus on and the good news is that a lot of these guidelines are great for your general health as well. Start making positive changes for your health today!

Tina is a highly qualified naturopath, with nearly 20 years of experience. Tina also has the unique experience of 4 years working as a naturopath in an international IVF clinic in South-East Asia alongside a leading IVF specialist. Coupled with Tina’s extensive qualifications this experience brings an enormous benefit to Tina’s patients in the area of infertility.