The Paleo Diet Cures PCOS

doctor patient

Hello everyone! The following is a guest post by one of my favorite primal bloggers. Please welcome Peggy, The Primal Parent, who discusses how to cure PCOS through a paleo diet and lifestyle!

For a full guide by a great friend of mine – Stefani Ruper – take a peak at PCOS Unlocked.

The choice to change our diets often happens when doctors have failed us, medicine isn’t working, and there seems to be no hope of recovery from modern illness.

For many of us it’s weight gain. For some it’s joint pain or depression. For women it’s usually some set of hormonally related symptoms.

Simply eliminating packaged foods and switching to a whole foods approach works for many, but a lot of us can’t seem to achieve any semblance of health without taking an evolutionary approach to our diet and lifestyle.

We are finding that the silver bullet for most modern afflictions is the Paleo/Primal diet. The Primal eating strategy and lifestyle almost miraculously brings us back into balance and restores health and happiness.

This is what happened to me. All of my life I suffered from a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, and I cured it with diet.

This hormonal condition affects about 4 million women in the US alone. While there are synthetic drugs meant to control it, they often don’t thoroughly eliminate symptoms and many of us end up looking to diet and herbs for the cure that our doctors never offered.

What is PCOS

PCOS is a hormonal imbalance. In women with PCOS the ovaries produce too much male hormones (androgens), making it difficult for the ovaries to release an egg. The increase in androgens can cause a host of embarrassing and debilitating symptoms.

Symptoms of PCOS

  • Irregular or absent periods
  • Pelvic pain
  • Cysts on the ovaries
  • Infertility
  • Depression
  • Acne
  • Weight gain
  • Facial hair growth (hirsutism)
  • Sleep apnea

Causes of PCOS

Like with every other modern health condition PCOS can be avoided or controlled by diet and lifestyle changes. (Genetics can predispose a person to develop the condition but genetics are rarely the cause of disease. Check out this article on Mark’s Daily Apple for more information about the relationship between genetics and disease.)

Insulin Resistance

While there are many factors which can predispose a woman to develop PCOS such as obesity, genetics, and exposure to synthetic estrogen, insulin resistance is the root cause of polycystic ovarian syndrome, which is a totally avoidable and treatable condition.

Insulin resistance comes about from a constant need for the body to lower blood sugar with insulin. In time, the cells become desensitized to it.  This is problematic in two ways:

  • When cells are desensitized to insulin the pancreas produces more of it – thinking that the reason the cells aren’t taking glucose is because there isn’t enough insulin.
  • Insulin helps glucose pass through cell walls. When cells become resistant to insulin glucose must make its way to the liver to be converted to fat instead of being used as energy by the cells.

Now you have excess insulin floating around in the bloodstream. This free-floating insulin stimulates the ovaries to produce excess testosterone. This prevents the ovaries from releasing an egg each month (a leading cause of infertility).

Hormones are in delicate balance. When one gets out of whack, the others must compensate in order to keep us alive (this is called homeostasis). This “compensation” results in symptoms.

Xenoestrogens

Pollution, exposure to plastics, other chemicals, and conventional beef treated with synthetic hormones can also contribute to hormonal imbalances because they contain xenoestrogens (synthetic or environmental estrogens). These environmental estrogens wreak havoc on our delicate hormonal processes by tricking the body into thinking that there is too much estrogen, causing it to produce excessive amounts of other hormones in attempt to balance it out.

The Vicious Cycle of PCOS

  • “The secretion of insulin from pancreatic beta cells is a complex process involving the integration and interaction of multiple external and internal stimuli. Thus, nutrients, hormones, neurotransmitters, and drugs all activate — or inhibit — insulin release.” From Medscape.
  • “An extended period of physical or psychological stress, will produce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, that can interfere with the synthesis of the brain neurotransmitter, Serotonin.” From The Seratonin Connection
  • High levels of insulin can cause the body to dump magnesium into the urine which is needed in order to produce serotonin. Without high enough levels of serotonin we can feel depressed and are subject to food cravings (refined carbohydrates make tryptophan more available for the body to utilize which is a precursor of serotonin).
  • Fluctuating blood sugar levels can trigger the release of adrenaline which causes the liver to produce glucose in expectation of the brain needing extra fuel (flight or fight). This can in turn trigger the release of insulin which, when not properly utilized and is left free-floating in the blood, can increase testosterone, leading to all the nasty symptoms of PCOS.
  • Excessive Weight training or low body weight can also increase the production of stress hormones and, consequently, androgens.
  • Food allergies and intolerances compromise the absorption of nutrients, causing a cascade of symptoms. Even if you’re doing everything right with diet and lifestyle, if you don’t absorb the nutrients, you can’t heal. Of course, it is often nutritional deficiencies which cause allergies in the first place, but once they’ve surfaced the nutritional deficiencies continue because the body can’t absorb the nutrients it needs to heal from them. Many women who have PCOS also have food sensitivities. This is a really common correlation.
  • A high carbohydrate diet, allergies, and a diet which includes lots of processed, dead foods can, in time, imbalance gut flora. For some, the extra fiber that we have been told to increase is actually a problem for people with digestive problems and it can be helpful to cut down or even eliminate it altogether for a time.

How to Control PCOS

Most women will find that a simple move to the Paleo diet will balance their hormones and free them from the ugly symptoms of PCOS. But for some of us the road to recovery is a little longer because our bodies have been damaged for so long and by so many different variables.

The Paleo diet eliminates the elements of modern eating that leads to insulin resistance. These foods include grains, added sugars, artificial chemicals, and processed oils. And it adds back into the diet many of the missing links to recovery like protein, saturated fat, and added nutrients.

Some women will need to be more strict than others but in general there are some things to avoid when recovering from hormonal imbalances.

  • Keep carbohydrate intake low, no more than 80 grams a day. For many it may need to be as low as zero.
  • Avoid foods that you are intolerant to.
  • Avoid vegetable oils to balance omega6 and omega3.
  • Avoid dairy.
  • Avoid grains.
  • Avoid processed foods of all kinds.
  • Avoid artificial ingredients.

Things to help ensure adequate nutrition and recovery:

  • Eat organs.
  • Drink bone broth.
  • Eat oysters and other highly nutritious seafood.
  • Eat eggs (if well tolerated).
  • Take cod liver oil, magnesium supplements, and B-vitamins.
  • Get sunshine.
  • Exercise lightly every single day.
  • Eat lots of saturated fat to avoid cravings and improve mood.
  • Don’t eat anything that will impair digestion.
  • Relieve stress.
  • Reduce fiber (helpful for some women).

For a more personal glimpse into my own experience with PCOS please visit my blog. Mine was a tough case and I had to resort to some pretty extreme dietary measures to get it under control.

Peggy Emch has a B.S. in mathematics and a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Colorado. She has spent the last 10 years since researching nutrition, writing blogs, articles, a novel, and is currently working on her first of a series of books about the Primal lifestyle, starting with pregnancy.

 

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Comments

  1. says

    Great article!
    In my years of helping patients from an alternative medicine perspective I have seen conditions like this resolve themselves with proper dietary changes. I truly believe that one of the best things anyone can do who want to reclaim their health on their own is to start eating right. http://wp.me/p1tUnr-5t

  2. Julie says

    I am sharing this…hope it is ok. Anything we can do to increase awareness is helpful to so many…especially young women today. PCOS is so much more common than it was when I was growing up with it.

    THANKS!

  3. Chelsea Dyer says

    I have had PCOS for 8 years and this is the first time I feel I truly understand what is going on with my body. Thank you so much for this article. Truly.

  4. says

    At the beginning of the summer, I embarked on a palep journey to cure my pros and infertility. My cycles have moved from 46 days to 30 days, but I don’t know if that’s the paleo or fertility drugs. I’ve been documenting my journey via my blog(paleoandpcos.blogspot.com), and will get bloodwork in a few weeks to see how/if it helped. My infertility journey is over, but I’d sure like to beat pros and insulin resistance anyway!

    The thing is, I do feel better, so even though I didn’t get pregnant, I am going to stay with it.

  5. Melissa Close says

    what kind of herb that I can take naturally to help with even out my hormones. I have more androgens in me instead of estrogen.. Please help. I want to beat PCOS not PCOS beat me. Thank you

  6. Amanda says

    Hi. Great info about the Paleo diet helping PCOS. The only question I have is with the excessive weight training being a poor idea for women with PCOS. I know that many people in the Paleo community suggest lifting heavy as part of the whole lifestyle. I was curious what exactly constitutes excessive here and what exercise is suggested overall for women with the syndrome.

    Thanks!

    • says

      I think it all depends on the individual. I personally engage in just bodyweight exercises. This is definitely safe for anyone. Are you able to do a full push-up, pull-up and bodyweight squat? If yes, then start doing those. Simplefit.org is a great program that is easy to follow. I thoroughly enjoy these quick workouts.

  7. says

    I don’t create a bunch of remarks, but i did a few searching and wound up here The Paleo Diet Cures PCOS. And I do have 2 questions for you if it’s allright. Could it be only me or does it look like some of the comments come across as if they are written by brain dead people? :-P And, if you are posting at other sites, I’d like to keep up with anything fresh you have to post. Could you make a list of the complete urls of all your public pages like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

  8. fitness lady says

    I’m not trying to come across as rude, but anyone who reccomends low/no carbs knows nothing about nutrition. I can go into a whole scientific speech, but I’ll spare everyone & just say the 3 nutrients we need are protiens, carbs & fat. Just balance out your macros, workout & balance your macros. Carbs are essential for life & brain function. In fact, knocking out precious fruits & natural Carb sources will hurt you & can make your pcos worse. Watch how much lower your energy will be & worse your depression is on low/no carbs!!

    • Nima7 says

      That and “eat lots of saturated fats”??? My God, my arteries will be screaming…lol. I seriously thought I was reading that wrong.

          • Rocio Sparrow says

            If my cells are resistant to insuline and will not alow carbs to go inside the cells. Why the hell should I follow the dietary recomendations and keep eating 55% of carbs in my diet? It doesn’t really makes sense to me to eat “fuel” that my body will never use and that it would be store as fat. I think that dietitians should think a little more about it. I don’t follow a paleo diet yet but I follow a low glycemic index diet and sometimes low carb, I eat more fat than I use to, and less carbs…and miraclously I have lowered my cholesterol levels and improved my insuline resistance. I think we should experiment more and as Todd says, challenge what we are told. Nobody believed Galileo Galilei when he told the world that the earth wasn’t the center of the universe bu he choose not to belive in what he was told. You are never a real scientist if you just take as a fact what some statistics studies are telling you and make them the truth for the whole word population and that’s what nutrition is pretending to do.

  9. Mary says

    I am on a Candida/leaky gut diet. Not much different than the Paleolithic diet, just more restrictive. I am having amazing results as far as how I feel. My A1C is 6.4 with just the diet and off metformin. Amazing, because I started out at almost 10. My only problem is I’m still having weight gain and the doc is scratching her head. She said the proof is in the numbers how you are eating. This is frustrating, but I fig it may take sometime to set my hormones to normal levels. I’m not giving up, but sure would like to take this off!!

  10. Jennifer says

    I was just diagnosed in December and after reading this I feel like I have a better understanding of what PCOS is and how it affects me and my body. I loved that this was put into terms that I could understand and identify easily. I have to admit the past few months have been a huge struggle for me in trying to adjust to this and its been hard because I havent fully understood it until now. Thank you!!!!!!

  11. Ritu says

    In addition to eating the PCOS diet, supplements have shown
    to be effective in helping those with PCOS. The overall goal with PCOS is to
    balance blood sugar levels in the body, maintain hormonal balance, and promote
    healthy digestion for improved estrogen metabolism, while also working to
    promote regular ovulation and menses. Natural therapies such as homeopathic
    remedies including OM 24 and female liquesence and herbs like M 2 tone and
    Hyponidd are important, this is because these remedies increase resistance to
    mind-body stress and enhance overall vitality.

  12. Heather says

    Um. Wrong. PCOS is a genetic disorder that you are born with, and there are no known cures. The diet eliminates most symptoms, but the disorder is still there. Don’t make false claims of a cure when you obviously know very little about the real condition…

  13. Jennifer says

    I just found this post and I am so greatful, I was diagnosed with PCOS in July of 2013 and have been struggling with a low calorie diet since then. I started vigorous exercise 4-5 days a week but wasn’t really geting any results and I felt so hungry ALL the time. I started Paleo last week and I haven’t felt better EVER. The weight loss is definitely a plus but honestly to be able to feel this good (and full) all the time is worth so much more. And now I understand much better why Paleo works for me because of my PCOS and the things going on inside of my body, so thanks for posting the article!

  14. Sophie says

    Is there ANY way to do this diet as a vegetarian? Via supplements (chia, hemp, pea protein etc)..I know…prob not. If that is the case, would fish alone be be a suitable replacement for (all other) meats?
    Thank you.

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