Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a hormonal disorder affecting one out of ten women. It is the leading cause of female infertility and manifests in different ways among the female population. The most common symptoms include irregular periods, increased hair growth, acne, and weight gain. Even though we still do not know for sure what causes PCOS, studies suggest that the offset of the disorder is due to genetic and environmental factors.
PCOS has been linked to insulin resistance, weight gain, and metabolic syndrome. It is a highly inflammation-driven disorder which is why, similar to diabetes, a well-designed plant-based diet can be the solution to dealing with it, as it included many anti-inflammatory foods. The elimination of inflammatory foods from your diet, including meat, dairy, eggs, and fish has proven to help with the symptoms and pathology of PCOS.
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Insulin Resistance and PCOS
Insulin resistance is observed in 65-70% of women with PCOS, suggesting that there is a strong correlation between the two. In a healthy body, the hormone insulin rises shortly after having a meal. The pancreas produces insulin to help glucose leave the bloodstream and enter your muscles and liver, where it is used for energy. Insulin is responsible for lowering blood glucose to keep it in a normal range. When someone is suffering from insulin resistance, the cells don’t respond normally to insulin, and glucose levels increase in the blood, causing high blood sugar.
Insulin resistance is a very common symptom of PCOS, and it can impair the normal ovulation process and cause the ovaries to produce excess testosterone. In addition to the effect insulin resistance has on the reproductive system, it is also correlated with obesity and rapid weight gain and increased risk for gestational and type 2 diabetes.
Usually, women are recommended to lose weight and increase their physical activity to help with the insulin resistance, or, in extreme cases, they are given contraceptive pills to regulate their cycles.
How Can a Plant-Based Diet Help With Insulin Resistance
Taking everything we know regarding insulin resistance into consideration, the optimum diet for some who has PCOS is a healthy low-fat diet that doesn't cause too high a spike in blood sugar.
Insulin resistance is actually often by caused is too much fat in the bloodstream.
Due to a buildup of fat in the muscle cells, the insulin can’t let the glucose into the muscles and regulate our blood sugar. Instead, the glucose just sits in our blood stream, raising our sugar levels higher and higher.
How does this excess fat get there? From the foods we eat — specifically, a high fat diet.
While foods with a low-glycemic index are good choices to avoid raising blood sugar levels, low-fat foods are key, too. The good news is a plant-based diet can plenty of low-glycemic and low-fat options. Fruits, vegetables, beans, chickpeas, and lentils can be consumed regularly without the risk of sending your blood sugar levels off the roof, while delivering vital vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals to your body that fight inflammation.
On the contrary, highly processed foods, and foods that are known to cause inflammation in the body, such as high-fat animal products, should be avoided in order to prevent accumulation of saturated fat and added sugar in the body.
The Best Plant-Based Foods For Managing PCOS
Fiber-rich foods, low in saturated fats and added sugar are excellent foods for managing the symptoms of PCOS, from weight gain to acne to infertility. Some of the best plant-based foods to fight against PCOS are listed below:
- Whole grains
- Leafy greens
- Herbs (oregano, marjoram etc)
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a highly complex hormonal imbalance, occurring in ten percent of the female population.
- PCOS is associated with insulin resistance, weight gain, and obesity.
- A diet high in whole plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, and legumes, and low in animal products is the best diet for PCOS.
Rafaela Michailidou is a Vegan Lifestyle Coach, and a freelance health and wellness content writer, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.