This post was updated on April 5th, 2020
If you suffer from PCOS then at least one or two of the following symptoms are likely to be familiar to you:
- Irregular or non-existent menstrual cycle
- Difficulty in managing weight-gain (particularly in your stomach area)
- Skin problems like acne or eczema
- Unwanted facial hair growth or male pattern baldness
- Difficulty with anxiety and/or depression
None of these symptoms is any fun, which is why I hear from so many women, who like me, suffer from this unpleasant disorder and are looking for things they can do to get better.
In this article, I’m going to take a look at how gut health and inflammation affect PCOS so that you can understand how you can mitigate your PCOS symptoms simply by going on to a PCOS diet that eliminates certain foods.
This is not something most doctors will talk to you about when you go to see them (unless they are functional practitioners) yet this one change alone can have such a major impact on your PCOS. I hope that one day instead of being given band-aid solutions like birth control pills, which only mitigate the effects of your symptoms, doctors will educate their PCOS patients about gut health, food and lifestyle changes and help their patients solve the underlying problem at the root of those symptoms.
Until this starts to happen, I’m determined to spread the word organically as much as I can through blogging about the best types of foods to eat for PCOS and through my Free 30 Day PCOS Diet Challenge.
PCOS is associated with chronic low-grade inflammation
The best way to understand the link between food and PCOS is to look at the relationship in reverse order, starting with PCOS and working our way back to food.
Here’s how it works:
While the underlying cause of PCOS is still not well understood, what the medical community does know for sure is that our PCOS symptoms can all be linked back to chronic low-grade inflammation as a key cog in the “cause and effect machinery”.
Inflammation is the response of our immune system to potential threats, which while essential for our survival under normal circumstances, for women with PCOS, is being inappropriately triggered resulting in the unpleasant symptoms we’d rather do without.
If you have PCOS, then you will also have low-grade chronic inflammation, and inflammation is a driving force behind your PCOS.
Understanding that we already have an underlying problem with inflammation is valuable knowledge because it tells us that minimizing other potential causes of inflammation in the body will reduce our PCOS symptoms.
Poor gut health causes inflammation
One of the most common causes of inflammation is poor gut health, which generally presents as trouble with digestion. Thanks to the amazing powers of our gastrointestinal tract to select “good” molecules from “bad” for absorption into our bloodstream, we can put up with eating small amounts of disease causing bacteria and many otherwise toxic compounds in our gut without becoming ill.
The problems with inflammation start when the complex maintenance and operations of our digestive system can’t keep up. If we bombard our GI tract with the wrong food it can become more permeable letting more “bad” molecules through the selective barrier, and letting less “good” ones through in the process.
Without an immune system, the increased permeability of the gut could possibly kill us as the drip of dangerous molecules passing from our intestines and into our bloodstream would soon turn into a flood. The reason this does not happen however is thanks to inflammation. Inflammation repairs the ‘holes’ in our selective food barrier, and kills off any unwanted “invaders” that have managed to get through. The problem is, by needing inflammation to repair and protect our gut; we have also activated a key driver of our PCOS symptoms.
Inflammation is the perfect protection system; however, its use means we have just made our PCOS symptoms worse.
Clearly taking better care of our gut health is a vital part of keeping our PCOS symptoms under control.
How food affects gut health and your PCOS
While gut health can be negatively affected by a range of variables including a lack of digestive enzymes, parasites, yeast overgrowth, zinc or magnesium deficiency and heavy metal toxicity to name a few, research tells us that the main cause of poor gut health are food allergies and intolerances.
While severe food allergies provide an acute and obvious effect on our guts, there are also many foods that provide milder, less obvious effects meaning you may not even be aware of them.
Particular problem foods of this kind include:
- Fructose (found in sugar)
This is the main reason why I remove dairy and gluten from the meal plans in my Free 30 Day PCOS Diet Challenge.
In 2011 I did a food intolerance test and found out that I was intolerant to eggs, gluten AND dairy (among other things like cranberries, bananas, and sesame seeds)! It was a major lifestyle change for me to stop eating everything I had an intolerance to but when I did, not only did my PCOS symptoms improve, but many other health issues like my chronic acid reflux also disappeared. The good news is that women with PCOS who stop eating foods they are sensitive to will probably experience something similar as there is a very long list of health issues caused by food sensitivities!
Eliminating Food Allergies & Intolerances from your PCOS Diet
Given that unknown food allergies and intolerances can have a direct effect on our PCOS symptoms it makes perfect sense that if you suffer from PCOS then taking the time to understand your allergies is a worthwhile exercise on your road to wellness.
If you’ve decided you can no longer tolerate your PCOS and are ready to take action, a food elimination diet is the best way to pick out which foods you are allergic to.
You can also get your allergies and intolerances tested, however I must warn you that doing so properly can be very expensive. You also need to be very careful here that you use a scientifically proven and quality controlled lab to do your testing. It is outside the scope of this blog post to explain the complexity of lab testing for food allergies and intolerances but just know that most labs at this point do not have an accurate way to reliably test which foods you are intolerant or allergic to.
Cyrex laboratories LLC is one of the only labs that I know of where you can get accurate testing done so you can’t go wrong if you ask your doctor about getting your tests done with them (I am not affiliated with them just so you know ). They do have labs across multiple countries including the USA so hopefully this is a helpful suggestion for many of you in the countries they serve.
A Very Positive Note
Having PCOS can be a problematic disorder, especially if you are trying to get pregnant. The good news however is that this is one disorder that can be effectively improved and managed through the most natural therapy of all, food and nutrition. Finding your food allergies and intolerances and eliminating them from your PCOS diet can cost you nothing if you do an elimination diet, so this is one treatment that everyone can afford.
Kym Campbell is a Health Coach and PCOS expert with a strong passion for using evidence-based lifestyle interventions to manage this disorder. Kym combines rigorous scientific analysis with the advice from leading clinicians to disseminate the most helpful PCOS patient-centric information you can find online. You can read more about Kym and her team here.