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The PCOS Solution

What you eat affects your PCOS: Here's the stop / slow / go list

Monday, November 19, 2012

How What You Eat Affects Your PCOS

Here’s the ‘go’ ‘slow’ and ‘no’ quick reference list for women with PCOS:

NO! (These foods will make your PCOS worse)

Sugar: This seductive substance feels good in the moment, but it will bring on mood swings and a tubby tummy – which creates more estrogen, which leads to more hormone disruption. You can find yourself on the energy rollercoaster, which will take you through the euphoric highs of a high blood sugar level, followed by the sweats and shakes of a hypoglycaemic attack. Watch out for sneaky sources of sugar, like fructose. Bottom line: If it tastes sweet, it contains sugar.

White grains (bread, cakes, biscuits, pasta) – these are pure ‘fast release’ carbohydrates which act like sugar. The more you eat, the more you want. White grain foods promote fat deposits on your tummy.

Bad fats (Processed fats like margarine, deep fried food, trans fats) – have a pro-inflammatory effect, which will have a nasty effect on your skin, and unfavourably change your cholesterol balance to help clog up your arteries. Sugar and white grains will help clog your arteries too – they also have a pro-inflammatory effect.

GO SLOW (These foods can make your PCOS worse if you eat too much)

Whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, oats) – provide fibre, and ‘complex’ carbohydrates (which means they take a long time to digest, so your blood sugar level is less likely to spike. But you need them for energy. Half a cup of complex carbohydrates is all you need at each meal if there are no starchy vegetables on your plate.

Fruit: Good in small quantities (2 pieces per day). Fruit supplies vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre.

YES! (These foods can help improve your PCOS)

Fibre: Boosts ‘sex hormone binding globulin’, a protein circulating in your blood which helps ‘mop up’ excess hormones. Legumes (like chick peas, broad beans and the like) are particularly good.  A half cup of cooked legumes every day is all you need, plus lots of non-starchy vegetables.  Aim for about 35g of fibre every day – more if you can, mostly from non-grain sources.

Good fats (oily fish, tree nuts (not peanuts), flaxseed, avocado, olives) – These fats have an anti-inflammatory effect, helping create softer skin. A ‘shot glass’ portion of raw nuts and seeds every day is good. Use olive oil for cooking. Make your meals more satisfying by including a small amount of oily food like olives and avocado. Try to eat a portion size (around 90g) of oily fish almost every day.

Vitamin A from orange vegetables and red meat – improves your skin, reducing acne. Aim for a portion of red meat (200g kangaroo or 100g beef or lamb) almost every day. Aim to include orange vegetables like carrot, sweet potato and pumpkin in your diet every day.

Protein: Satisfies your appetite, boosts your metabolic speed (making it easier to lose weight). Protein reduces the blood sugar boosting effect of carbohydrates, because it takes much longer to digest. Aim for some high quality protein at every meal, plus protein based snacks.

Zinc from seafood, meat, mushrooms, eggs: Zinc improves your skin and boosts your immunity.

Vegetables: Have a gentle phytoestrogenic action, helping balance your hormones. Green veg will help you generate better looking skin. Most people hold back unnecessarily on their vegetable portions. Aim to include vegetables at every meal. (Like this: Home made baked beans with mushroom and egg for breakfast; a salad for lunch with some animal protein, and a large serve of non-starchy vegetables with your evening meal. Cover half your dinner plate with vegetables.)

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PCOS: After the Diagnosis

Monday, November 12, 2012
You suspected something was wrong: With your menstrual cycle, with your fertility, or you might have been experiencing acne, facial hair growth, or finding it almost impossible to lose weight. So you consulted with your doctor, and she says you have PCOS. As you leave the doctor’s rooms, perhaps feeling shocked and lost, you wonder “what do I do now”? 

In this article are the steps you can take to understand more about the syndrome known as PCOS, and practical steps to take to help you decide on the best treatment for you. You’ll soon feel more informed, more empowered, and ready to take the next step.

First, before you leave the doctor’s surgery, make sure you have picked up a copy of any blood test results; you’ll need to refer to them later in your treatment. If you’ve somehow left without them, phone your doctor and arrange to collect all of them. Start a file.

Next, know that you can choose what style of treatment you want. There are two major treatment groups, orthodox medical and natural, and some parts of these treatments overlap. In many cases you can utilise both forms of treatment, as managing PCOS relies a great deal on lifestyle changes. If you decide that orthodox medical treatment is what you want, your doctor can tell you what medical treatments are available.

If you want to treat your PCOS naturally, your next stop after your doctor’s office is to make an appointment with your naturopath.  If you don’t already have a naturopath, you can locate one easily through the internet – just check that they are accredited with a professional association to ensure they’re actually qualified. In Australia, the ATMS (  is one of the largest accrediting bodies for natural therapists. 

Whichever style of treatment you opt for, medical or natural, you need to become better educated about PCOS to feel fully empowered to choose the treatment that’s right for you. Head over to your local library, and borrow the books that will give you a good overview. Even a brief internet search will uncover PCOS associations and support groups with links to even more information. 

Some of the most powerful treatments for PCOS are based around improving your nutrition and your lifestyle in ways that cause your hormones to become better balanced. The decisions about which changes you need to make depends on your unique situation. To save yourself a lot of time, effort and angst, consulting with a clinical naturopath can provide the information you need to make a difference.  

Feeling a little more empowered now?

What was your experience of diagnosis with PCOS? What did you do?

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Recipe: Chicken leek and mushroom stew for one

Monday, April 02, 2012

As the weather cools, we all naturally gravitate to warmer, ‘comfort’ foods. But you don’t have to eat pies or other fatty foods to feel comforted. This stew cooks quickly, becoming an effective comfort food when served on a bed of mashed sweet potato. Even better, it’s ready within 30 minutes.

Ingredients for one person.

1 clove garlic

1 spring onion

Finely sliced leek, about 25g

1 chicken thigh fillet

One tablespoon cornflour

50g fresh mushrooms

1 cup chicken stock, heated separately.

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley


Cut the chicken into large bite-sized pieces and roll in the cornflour.

Heat a little olive oil in a saucepan and brown the chicken pieces with medium-high heat. Remove to a clean plate.

Turn the heat to low, saute the leek, garlic and mushroom in the remaining oil until soft.

Return the chicken to the pot, add the chicken stock and spring onion and stir.

Simmer gently for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce will thicken.

Add the parsley and serve on a bed of mashed sweet potato, with plenty of steamed green vegetables.

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How your hormones work together to create your menstrual cycle

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Although it seems complex at first, once you understand the interplay of hormones through your cycle, you’ll be able to more easily feel the changes in hormones as they affect your symptoms, especially between estrogen and progesterone. Here’s what happens on each day of a ‘normal’ 28 day menstrual cycle.

Days one to five: The first day of your period is classified as ‘day one’ of your menstrual cycle. While you’re bleeding, all your reproductive hormones are generally present in minimal quantities, although FSH (follicle stimulating hormone from your pituitary gland) is already telling your ovaries to start preparing for ovulation around day 14.

Days five to 13 are known as the ‘follicular’ phase as your ovaries are stimulated by FSH and LH (luteinising hormone) to develop several potential eggs for ovulation. Estrogen levels climb steadily, prompting your pituitary to secrete LH, and also prompting your uterus to grow a new lining, ready for a fertilised egg. One of the eggs, the one with more LH receptors on its membrane, develops more fully and is ready for release by day 14.

Day 14, mid-cycle, is the ‘official’ day of ovulation: A spike of LH from your pituitary gland causes your ovary to release that one matured egg, which then begins its journey down the fallopian tube. LH, having done its job, should then decline rapidly and remain low until early in your next cycle.

You are now in the ‘luteal’ phase of your cycle, which continues from now until your period begins. On your ovary, a collection of cells remains where the egg departed. This is known as the ‘corpus luteum’, and it secretes progesterone for the next week or so. The progesterone sends the message to your uterus to mature and maintain your uterine lining, because the egg may be fertilised and ready to implant.

If the egg is not fertilised, hormonal feedback from the disintegrating egg results in diminishing progesterone production from your ovary, and a fall in oestrogen. The lining of your uterus disintegrates, you experience a period, and the cycle starts again.

This is a description of a perfect menstrual cycle. PCOS cycles are often less than perfect, or don’t happen at all for several months.

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Linseed and legumes will help treat your PCOS

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

If you’re suffering from PCOS, its good to know that there are foods easily available that can help balance your hormones. There’s two specific foods, linseed and legumes, that you can easily incorporate into your diet and reap the benefits.

Linseed (flaxseed) and legumes are both classed as phytoestrogens, containing lignans and isoflavones. They’re called phytoestrogens because their molecular structure closely resembles the molecular shape of oestrogen, so they can ‘latch on’ to oestrogen receptors on your cell membranes. Although they’re 100 times weaker than real estrogen, their action can help make up for insufficient oestrogen production, and help block the effects of excessive circulating oestrogen, an underlying problem in PCOS.

Too much oestrogen can lead to pre-menstrual tension, mood swings, and some other unpleasant symptoms like pre-period bloating. In women who are menopausal or peri-menopausal (the years just preceding menopause), this phytoestrogenic action of linseed and legumes can help balance hormones, minimising unpleasant symptoms like hot flushes. Research continues to try to confirm whether a good dietary intake of phytoestrogens can reduce the incidence of breast cancer.

Because phytoestrogens are converted to their active form by good bacteria in your intestine, and good bacteria need fibre to thrive, the best way to get your phytoestrogens is through whole unprocessed food that includes fibre – seed mixes, beans etc. Even better, by eating whole foods you’ll get lots of extra goodies – including fibre, plant oils, vitamins and minerals.

Here’s how you can easily incorporate linseed and legumes into your daily diet:

1. Make up a seed mix of two tablespoons linseed, one tablespoon each of walnuts, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. Grind and sprinkle on your high fibre cereal or stewed fruit. About two tablespoons of seed mix a day is a good ‘dose’. Keep the remainder in the fridge in a sealed container. I like to mix up 1/3 cup oats, 100g plain yoghurt, two tablespoons seed mix and one grated apple to create a sustaining afternoon snack.

2. Include legumes in your diet almost every day: Sprinkle chick peas on your lunch time salad, or use a lentil stew as a side dish with dinner, or enjoy baked beans for breakfast. Legumes are easily added to your slow cooker casserole too.

There are lots of other foods you can eat and actions you can take to help balance your hormones – but linseed and legumes are a particularly useful combination.

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What a hormone is, and how it works

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

This blog post will give you the background education you need to fully understand how your hormones work together. 

Hormones are messengers

Your endocrine (or hormone) system is a major messenger within your body. Your brain needs to issue instructions to the rest of your body about what to do, and when; it does this through chemical and electrical messengers. Your hormones are chemical messengers.

Only the right hormone 'key' fits the right receptor 'lock'

Hormones are just small molecules, shaped in unique way to ensure they will only ‘latch on’ to cells that are actively seeking them. Like the right key for the right lock. The lock that opens the front door of your home will only work on your door, and your key can’t open any other doors.

Its all happening in liquid

One of the reasons that hormones create change so slowly is that they have to ‘swim’ from the originating gland to the target cells.

Your cells actually live bathed in a rich fluid (one of the reasons our bodies are mostly water). This fluid provides the way for oxygen, nutrients and messengers to travel from your bloodstream to the cell; and for waste products to travel from the cell to your lymph ducts to be cleaned. Materials ‘float’ gently from one location to another. The more mobile you are, the more easily everything moves around: Another reason to exercise regularly. 

The hormone is produced and 'floats' to its destination

The originating gland produces the hormone it wants to deliver, and squeezes it out into the surrounding tissue fluid. The hormone molecule moves away from the gland, towards your blood vessel, squeezes through the wall, and is swept away into the bloodstream. Sometimes the hormone will travel on its own; sometimes it will bump into a ‘carrier’ molecule and hitch a ride for more effective delivery to the right destination.

The right cell for that hormone is waiting for it, with receptors that fit

Upon arrival in the target gland’s neighborhood, the hormone squeezes through your blood vessel wall and into the fluid surrounding the gland. Unique receptor ‘docking stations’ are waiting on the receiving cell membrane. They’re unique because they’re shaped to only fit one hormone type. When the hormone docks with the receptor, magic happens! Inside the target cell, the instructions delivered by the hormone cause the cell to create new products or behave in particular ways.

There's usually feedback provided

Having delivered its message, the hormone may then release itself to travel to another cell; or it may choose to disintegrate. The cell sends a return message to the originating gland or another gland to let it know that the hormone arrived, and whether more or less hormone is required.

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Stop the vicious cycle of the metabolic syndrome

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Feeling a bit tubby around the middle? Energy levels going up and down during the day like a rollercoaster? You suspect that your health is suffering, and its confirmed when you visit your doctor for your annual health check; to be sternly informed that your cholesterol level is too high, and so is your fasting glucose level. The combination of these symptoms is commonly known as the ‘metabolic syndrome’. It’s a vicious insulin resistance cycle that develops from our modern western diet and lifestyle habits.

Here are three major reasons people develop the metabolic syndrome, and how to break the cycle:

  1. A lack of exercise is increasing your insulin resistance. Glucose is assisted into your cells by insulin, a hormone that’s easy to remember as a glucose ‘salesman’. If you aren’t exercising, your cells won’t open the door to let glucose in, and your blood glucose level rises. Your insulin levels do too, as your body frantically tries to get rid of the excessive glucose. Eventually it gives up and stores the glucose in fat cells, especially your tummy. The more tummy fat you have the more insulin resistant your body becomes, making it even easier to put on more fat deposits.
  2. Eating ‘on the run’ usually means choosing more highly processed foods, which are higher in sugar and saturated fat content, and lower in fibre, vitamins and minerals.
  3. Stress, and feeling like there’s never enough time to get everything done. This is a problem because then you might decide that there isn’t enough time for you to exercise, or to prepare proper meals.

You can break the cycle of the metabolic syndrome: Here’s how:

  1. Start exercising, every day, and make it a habit, just like brushing your teeth. Expect to feel some resistance, but get yourself out the door and do it anyway. This is by far the most effective step in breaking the metabolic syndrome. You may feel tired before you start training – but exercising will actually give you energy.
  2. Plan your meals for the coming week, before you go shopping, so you’re prepared on busy days (which is every day really, isn’t it!) Now you know what to buy so you’ll have the ingredients for a fast healthy meal right there in the fridge/freezer, along with healthy snacks. Looking at your meal plan, you can see at a glance if you’re getting your 2 fruit and 5 veg, and enough fibre every day.  Plan to cook double of some dinners and freeze for those really busy days.
  3. In your weekly meal plan, include seafood, nuts/seeds and legumes almost every day. This will change the fat and fibre content of your diet.

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Four Ways To Boost Your Fertility Naturally

Thursday, November 06, 2008
fertility PCOS hormonesSo, you have decided to have a baby. How can you increase your chances of becoming and remaining pregnant? You need to look at your diet, assess what your hormones are doing already, monitor your stress levels, and consider any pollutants you may already be exposed to.

There are three major classes of infertility: Primary, where there has been no prior pregnancy; secondary, where pregnancy has occurred in the past but for some reason hasn’t happened now or doesn’t continue full term; and the third is an absence or shortage of eggs and/or sperm. Most types of infertility can be treated naturally.

Mother nature likes regularity and balance when making babies: Female hormones should ideally follow their 28 day rhythm, oestrogen and progesterone levels rising and falling at the right times, and ovulation occurring around the middle of the cycle. Irregular or absent periods, acne or facial hair may indicate that your ovaries are not following their natural rhythm. Herbs, nutrients, homoeopathics or acupuncture can be prescribed to gently coax hormones into a fertile rhythm.

Do you know when you are ovulating? Test kits are readily available in shops, or you can learn how to track your ovulation through temperature and vaginal mucus changes. Look for books on traditional natural fertility markers in your local library.

Your nutritional status plays a big part in promoting fertility. If you have become pregnant in the past but have not been able to carry the baby to term, this is an area you particularly need to look at. Scientific research has highlighted the negative effect a western diet has on fertility. You need a balanced diet, but how does your current diet measure up? You need to ensure also that the food you’re eating is top quality: Choose to eat food as close to its natural form as possible, and avoid pollutants by choosing to eat organic.

Zinc is an important fertility boosting mineral for both men and women. The reputation oysters have around making babies is well earned, so enjoy them! Your naturopath can easily assess your zinc status through a taste test. 

Insulin resistance can affect your hormone balance too, and poor blood sugar regulation may be hampering your best efforts to fall pregnant. Signs of insulin resistance include a tubby tummy, cravings for sweet starchy foods, and an energy slump mid afternoon. Exercise (enough) is the key to overcoming insulin resistance.

Chronic stress seriously disrupts hormones, so exercise regularly and make time to wind down every day.

Men need to pay attention to their stress levels and diet just as much, as they need the right conditions to produce lots of healthy sperm.

Fertility - or the absence of it - is a complex field. There's no reason why you have to do this alone, so engaging the right practitioner to help you is essential.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy "How a Muffin Top Affects Your Ovaries"

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Olwen Anderson @olwenanderson


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