PCOS - with Tracy Mann of Everyday Nutrition
PCOS, which is polycystic ovary syndrome, affects 6-13% of U.S. women, so it’s possible you or someone you know has the condition. It is an under-diagnosed, under-funded, and under-treated condition that unfortunately can affect quality of life and a couple’s ability to conceive.
I first became interested in this condition when I realized that oral contraceptives are a common treatment for PCOS symptoms. It also occurred to me that difficulty conceiving children may lead women and their spouses to seek out means for having biological children that go against Church teachings. For these reasons I wanted to use my nutrition expertise to help in some way. Being a devout Catholic and someone who rejects the use of birth control in any form, I thought there must be women who wish to uphold the teachings of the Church without having to suffer through the symptoms.
Having PCOS or other fertility-related issues doesn’t mean you are destined for birth control or other immoral treatments and it doesn’t mean you have to give up on having children. While medications can be appropriate at times, and not all medications are immoral, it can be helpful to know there are other options available that you may not hear about from your healthcare provider.
It may help to first understand what PCOS is.
PCOS is largely a condition of excess male hormones (called androgens). All women have male hormones, but with PCOS they become elevated outside of normal ranges. Common signs and symptoms include:
irregular or non-existent periods
excess hair growth in unwanted areas (face, between breasts, belly button, inner thighs)
cysts on ovaries diagnosed via ultrasound (but you do not have to have cysts on your ovaries for diagnosis).
excessive and unwanted weight gain, which could occur despite no changes to nutrition or exercise and even despite increased activity and decreased caloric intake
Women usually seek me out initially due to weight struggles. Some have previously been diagnosed and sometimes I am able to direct them for further evaluation for diagnosis based on my assessment. While it is outside of my scope of practice to diagnose a condition, my role as a dietitian often lends more time to discussing past medical history and family history and evaluating physical signs of PCOS.
I could go on and on about PCOS and what it is, but the main focus of this blog is to share potential treatments that can help you or a loved one avoid the use of oral contraceptives. Of course I highly recommend working with a registered dietitian who has experience with PCOS when making diet and supplement changes.
PCOS often causes disregulation of blood sugars and insulin in the body. Therefore, making nutrition changes to support healthy blood sugar regulation can be helpful. This may include eating more fiber and fewer processed sugars, as well as eating regularly throughout the day to avoid spikes and drops in blood sugar and insulin. High glycemic index foods can spike blood sugars but there are ways to combine them with fats and proteins to decrease the glycemic load (for example, pairing a fruit with nuts decreases the glycemic effect). Walnuts and almonds specifically have been shown to reduce insulin response, decrease average blood sugars, reduce androgens, and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Often women with PCOS report craving sweets; there are supplements available that can help curb these cravings such as inositol. Anti-inflammatory foods like fatty fish, ground flax seed, and omega-3 supplements have been shown to benefit many symptoms associated with PCOS. A high protein + low carb plan (along with monthly dietary counseling) showed decreased weight, loss of body fat, lower waist circumference, and lower blood glucose levels. I am often asked about the ketogenic diet; my response is it has not been highly researched in the PCOS population, therefore I don’t usually recommend this extreme of a plan. Also, when trying to conceive we don’t yet know the long-term effects to the baby in this diet. Exercise is important for overall health and strength training in particular can be beneficial in PCOS.
Being a convert, I feel we as Catholics have a better understanding of “suffering” and its role in our relationship with Christ. However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t try alternative treatments to improve symptoms and outcomes of PCOS and infertility. Along with trying nutrition and exercise changes, prayer can offer peace. Our Catholic faith offers us the gift of the saints’ intercessory prayers. A few suggested saints relating to symptoms of PCOS are Sts. Gianna Berreta Molla, Gerard Majella, Charles Borromeo, and Erasmus of Formiae (St. Elmo).
In His strength,
Tracy Mann, MS, RD
Everyday Nutrition LLC
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