What is PCOS? Managing Symptoms & Sugar Intake

What is PCOS? Managing Symptoms & Sugar Intake

How much do you know about PCOS, or poly-cystic ovarian syndrome? Would you know how to spot the symptoms? Do you know that 1 in 10 women of reproductive age, or 1 in 5 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander women, are affected by it right here in Australia, according to Endocrine Society of Australia. No? Neither did we!

We decided it was important to shed some light on this complex syndrome impacting so many Australian women, to do so, we turned to expert PCOS Nutritionist, Solaine Douglas. Below, Solaine breaks down this ambiguous condition, we chat symptoms, diagnosis and culprits (within your control!) that could be unknowingly flaring up your symptoms.

Understanding PCOS

"Whilst PCOS can certainly involve poly-cystic ovaries it is more correctly defined as a multifactorial syndrome that affects the endocrine system and metabolism” explains Solaine. “PCOS is typically characterised by high levels of androgen hormones (like testosterone, DHEA-S, or androstenedione), ovarian dysfunction and metabolic issues such as insulin resistance.”

Spotting the Signs
“The most common symptoms of PCOS include irregular menstrual cycles, difficulty losing weight, oily skin and acne which often presents across the jawline, chest or back and hirsutism (facial or body hair growth).” Solaine highlights. The World Health Organization also explains that PCOS symptoms can also include night sweats, hair fall and even unusual bouts of anxiety and depression. Some of these symptoms come alone, some altogether, some women have some but not the others, making the identification of PCOS difficult. If you’re a woman with a prolonged experience of any of the above symptoms, it’s best to chat to your medical provider.

Getting Diagnosed

“To seek out a PCOS diagnosis it is best to speak to a doctor, who’s able to refer you for any further testing and check for any other conditions which may share symptoms of PCOS”, suggests Solaine. She explains that although there is no one specific test for PCOS, the Rotterdam Criteria is used for diagnosis, stating women must meet 2 out of 3 of the below criteria to qualify for a diagnosis:

  • Oligo-anovulation (irregular ovulation patterns or lack of ovulation)
  • Hyperandrogenism (high levels of androgen hormones like testosterone, DHEA-S, or androstenedione) either measured on a blood test or observed in symptoms
  • Poly-cystic ovaries (many cysts on the ovaries) on ultrasound.

Approaching PCOS Symptoms Naturally

“PCOS is thought to have a genetic component” Solaine points out. “This is amazing news for people with PCOS because it means that by altering environmental factors such as nutrition, lifestyle changes and natural supplementation they can experience remarkable improvements in their condition”. According to Solaine, the key to addressing your PCOS diagnosis is understanding the driving factors behind your PCOS symptoms. Revealing that one of the most common driving factors is insulin resistance.

“Across the board in all PCOS cases the strategy that has the biggest ROI on symptom improvements is balancing blood sugars, which can be achieved through eating a balance of veggies, protein and healthy fats.” Solaine recommends aiming for 50% of your plate being non-starchy veggies, a palm to hand sized piece of protein and 2 tablespoons of healthy fats.


Sugar's Role in PCOS

We all know sugar spikes insulin, Solaine clarifies “When insulin is high it can cause high levels of androgen (testosterone) production in the ovaries, and it can reduce something called sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG)”. The role of SHBG is to discard extra testosterone and oestrogen, says The National Library of Medicine. Solaine continues “When insulin is high in those suffering with PCOS, your ovaries produce more testosterone and because you have less SHBG you are not able to bind up the extra testosterone”. The PCOS Nutrition Centre also explains that excessive sugar consumption for those with PCOS can become a vicious cycle leading to troubling symptoms like hormonal weight gain that’s hard to shift. They mention that increased Insulin instigates further sugar cravings, leading further over consumption, and the cycle continues.

Opting for Sugar Alternatives

Luckily, for those of us who have a sweet tooth, there are healthier alternatives. Solaine suggests opting for natural sweeteners for your day-today use. “These natural sweeteners don’t have the same impacts on blood sugars as regular sugar or liquid sweeteners like honey and maple syrup.” Solaine opts for Lakanto products in her kitchen because of its clever combination of monk fruit extract and erythritol, making it a great substitute for your sweet tooth that doesn’t come with the aftertaste that can accompany pure stevia options.

Starting Small with PCOS
“It can be incredibly overwhelming when you are diagnosed with PCOS but know that it is a condition that responds incredibly well to the right nutrition and lifestyle changes” says Solaine. “Rather than overhauling everything and getting stuck in the ‘off and on the bandwagon’ cycle. Slow and steady wins the race with PCOS.”