Yesterday we talked about insulin resistance and I said that it was only half the story with looking at diet for PCOS. That’s because there’s a growing body of evidence that PCOS is linked to or caused by chronic inflammation in the body. This comes as absolutely no surprise to many PCOS sufferers and there are conversations in PCOS forums going as far back as 2005 speculating about the link between PCOS and various autoimmune, inflammatory and metabolic disorders. I’ll add a bunch of references at the bottom if any of you want to read up on the research that has been carried out so far, but be warned that more than anything it highlights a need to look more into the links between inflammation and PCOS because the lack of research or any statistically significant body of data is shocking. What I’ve posted is a small fraction of the studies that have been done in relation to the link between inflammation and insulin resistance but there are many articles out there related to diabetes that also make interesting reading.
In any event, I hear you asking what this has to do with the PCOS diet. If chronic inflammation is a significant causative factor in PCOS then one of the main focuses of treatment needs to be reducing inflammation as far as possible. One of the main causes of inflammation we introduce into our bodies is via our diet, especially given the proportion of processed, chemically preserved and “modern” foods that we eat. There is also evidence that PCOS has a role to play in allergies and sensitivities, which includes food sensitivities or intolerances. When it comes to reducing inflammation, there is evidence that eating an anti-inflammatory diet can help with weight loss in PCOS and anecdotal evidence that it reduces other symptoms.
How you approach this is up to you. When I discussed it with my doctor he suggested that I start with a low FODMAP diet, which is classically prescribed for IBS. After having gone away and done some research, I decided that for me personally it was a bit too extreme. Cutting out all of those vegetable groups was a hard limit for me.
Having done a lot of research and deciding that I was going to start slowly, I first cut out gluten and wheat. Once I was comfortable with that restriction, I cut out dairy. I actually found that a lot harder than wheat – you’d be amazed how much of it you eat and I really (and I mean REALLY) miss cheese. But I did the research and it appears that in terms of inflammation, it’s not a lactose sensitivity that causes the issue, it’s A1 casein sensitivity. So all the dairy had to go, although I do occasionally eat butter because it has negligible casein levels in it. That was the turning point for me. My skin on my face and arms cleared up. I stopped coughing all the time. I wasn’t bloating as often or getting the stomach pains or the indigestion. I had planned to stop there but then I had an allergic reaction to celery and a couple of other things in the celery family, so they’re all out now too.
Please bear in mind here that I am not a doctor and I will not advise one thing over another, but it is my personal experience that cutting everything out at once was too hard and this is a lifestyle that you need to maintain for the rest of your life. Going in all guns blazing gets real tired, real quick. Try cutting out one inflammatory food at a time and see how it feels. Manage it for a month and then remove something else. Keep eliminating food groups until you achieve a balance where you’re not reacting to things and your symptoms are better and you’re happy with where you are. Keep a food diary. Write down the things that make you feel bloated or uncomfortable and make notes of any skin or systemic changes that you notice. Eventually you’ll find a correlation.
The good news is that it’s not all about cutting things out. There’s an awful lot to add in. There are a number of anti-inflammatory foods out there, many in the form of spices, and you can have a fulfilling and delicious diet that’s good for your gut and challenges you to find new, positive and tasty things. One of my favourite evening drinks is a turmeric and ginger latte, sometimes with added cardamom. In terms of every day foods, oily fish, whole nuts (up to a handful a day), green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, spinach and kale, brightly coloured berries such as raspberries and cherries, herbs, spices and beans are all great anti-inflammatory foods to include. If you’re struggling, then perhaps try a Mediterranean style diet, since that “typically” tends to be low or anti-inflammatory.
Later this month I’ll try and include some recipes that have worked for me and a few others in the community. In the meantime, get adventurous and explore some food. There’s a whole world of taste out there just waiting for you to view this as an adventure and an opportunity instead of a restriction.