The Connection Between PCOS and Your Gut
PCOS is one of the most common endocrine disorders impacting women today causing symptoms of infertility, irregular menstrual cycles, higher levels of androgens, insulin resistance, obesity, and chronic low-grade inflammation. Although there is no clear-cut cause of PCOS currently, recent research is looking at the relationship between PCOS and our gut health, further showing that the body is more connected than we give it credit. Well, to be fair, Chinese medicine has been stating this for over 2000 years :-)
The Link Between Gut Health and PCOS
Women with PCOS tend to have fewer types of gut microbiota (less healthy bacteria in their gut) which relates to an increase in androgens in the body1. Androgens are male sex hormones such as testosterone that are seen higher in women with PCOS, which can cause symptoms such as acne, male-pattern balding, hair growth in unwanted places, and cysts on ovaries. Poor gut health also contributes to an increase in inflammation in the body and we know that inflammation plays a large part in PCOS and is associated with increased health risk and infertility.
So, how does an imbalanced gut microbiome occur? Causes of dysbiosis in your gut can include having a diet low in fiber, vegetables, and good-quality fats, while being high in sugary and processed foods, a history of antibiotic overuse, chronic stress, lack of exercise, and poor sleep. It is important to note that there is not one trigger that will offset your gut microbiome but rather it involves chronic exposure over time to certain lifestyle choices that will eventually lead to your body unable to sustain a healthy microbiome. Therefore, after a long time of poor diet and lifestyle choices, dysbiosis in your gut occurs, and with a combination of other factors, may also lead to a diagnosis of PCOS. The positive news though is there are lifestyle shifts that can help improve your gut bacteria thus improving both your endocrine and metabolic functions which improve many of those unwanted symptoms I listed above. Plus, many of the women we have seen have been able to have babies too after a few months of implementing the following:
Lifestyle Shifts For A Healthy Gut Microbiome and to Regulate Your Hormones and Inflammation Related to PCOS:
Eat a variety of plant foods. Eating a variety of plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains will ensure your microbiome is being fed with the proper nutrients it requires for health. Plant foods also contain a lot of healthy fiber that will also support microbiome health and ensure regular elimination. A particular plant source that can be beneficial for gut health is vegetables from the Brassicaceae family which includes broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and collards. These vegetables contain phytoestrogens which have been shown to be beneficial for the microbiome and help reduce inflammation in the body2. I invite you to also check out our Acubalance Fertility Diet for nutritional and lifestyle tips to optimize your hormones.
Get regular exercise. Regular exercise supports your entire body and mind, from improving your mood and mental health, contributes to a healthy body weight, supports proper detoxification through regular sweating, and ensures regular elimination. Having a healthy balance of exercise helps optimize your hormones so they are working efficiently.
Gut-healthy bacteria. Pre- and probiotic rich foods and supplements can contribute to a healthy microbiome. Probiotic rich foods include kombucha, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, which work towards repopulating your but microbiome. Prebiotic rich foods include artichokes, garlic, leeks, onion, asparagus, and legumes, which all contain fructo-oligosaccharides and inulin, special forms of starch, that good bacteria in your gut thrive on.
Play outside. On top of the healthy food choices for your gut, I also love to recommend activities that bring you in contact with all the healthy bacteria that the earth has to offer as well. This includes activities such as gardening which allows you to get your hands into fresh soil3, taking care of plants in your home, hiking or walking in nature, and having pets, especially a dog that spends time outdoors to increase your exposure to microbial diversity.
Care for your mental health. Recent research has been showing the connection between the gut-brain axis, making it clear that depression and anxiety may also be a gut imbalance. Gut dysbiosis can lead to inflammation in the brain thus causing an increased risk of depression and anxiety. Women with PCOS tend to suffer from higher incidence of anxiety and depression due to various causes such as dealing with cystic acne, unwanted hair growth, and weight gain that is difficult to lose. Care for your mental health can include reducing stress in your life or at least how you deal with your stress, having a meditation practice, partaking in activities that bring you joy, having a community to be a part of, and also taking care of your gut via the above lifestyle changes.
Acupuncture. Regular acupuncture treatments have been shown to optimize your hormones, regulate the nervous system, manage symptoms of PCOS, and regulate an irregular period. At Acubalance we see a variety of women for hormonal imbalances, including PCOS. We take our time to get to know you and your hormonal history to design an individual treatment plan tailored for you.
Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLLT). Another study published demonstrated that LLLT can improve ovarian activity in rats with PCOS. In this study, 45 adult female rats with induced PCOS were irradiated with light three times per week for 2 months. Results showed that the rats had healthier BMI’s, reduced ovarian mass, decreased LH levels, increased number of healthy ovarian follicles and corpus luteum, and a reduction in the number of ovarian cysts. These findings show that the hormonal imbalances and resulting anovulation associated with PCOS decreases drastically with the application of low level laser therapy.
In the future I can share the supplements that have shown promise for treating symptoms associated with PCOS.
If you're interested in working together to achieve your health goals, I invite you to request a free 15 minute discovery call to find out how we can help you.
Zhao, Xiaoxuan et al. “Exploration of the Relationship Between Gut Microbiota and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): a Review.” Geburtshilfe und Frauenheilkunde vol. 80,2 (2020): 161-171. doi:10.1055/a-1081-2036
Ionescu, Victor Stefan et al. “Dietary Phytoestrogens and Their Metabolites as Epigenetic Modulators with Impact on Human Health.” Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 10,12 1893. 26 Nov. 2021, doi:10.3390/antiox10121893
Blum, Winfried E H et al. “Does Soil Contribute to the Human Gut Microbiome?.” Microorganismsvol. 7,9 287. 23 Aug. 2019, doi:10.3390/microorganisms7090287