Polycystic ovary syndrome is the most prevalent endocrine disorder diagnosed in females, affecting between 5 percent and 10 percent of girls and women. PCOS is associated with many unpleasant symptoms, such as irregular menses, cysts on the ovaries, acne, abnormal body and facial hair, depression, weight gain and thinning scalp hair and, if untreated, may ultimately lead to infertility. Diet and lifestyle changes are the foundation of the treatment of PCOS.
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High Insulin Levels and PCOS
Although the underlying cause leading to the development of PCOS is still unknown, hyperinsulinemia and insulin resistance appear to be present in many women diagnosed with PCOS. Insulin is the hormone responsible for controlling your blood sugar levels. However, with PCOS, your insulin is not effective because your body is not sensitive to its action, which is called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is also associated with hyperinsulinemia, or high insulin levels in the blood. Insulin resistance wreaks havoc on your hormonal balance and contributes to your PCOS symptoms.
Grains, Carbohydrates and Insulin
The main nutrient in your diet promoting the secretion of insulin by your pancreas is carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are present in fruits, sugar and some dairy, but the bulk of the carbohydrates consumed in the typical American diet are provided by grains, such as bread, rice, pasta, breakfast cereals, oatmeal, granola bars, muffins, sandwiches, pizza, cookies and cakes. If your diet is rich in grains and carbohydrates, it can overstimulate the production of insulin by your pancreas and contribute to your problems of insulin resistance and PCOS-associated symptoms. Moreover, consuming too many calories from carbohydrates in the presence of high levels of insulin is associated with increased fat storage, or weight gain. Excess body fat, which is common in women with PCOS, further contributes to the insulin resistance problem.
Grain and Gluten Sensitivity
In addition to their high carbohydrate content, grains contain protein, such as gluten, that may be problematic in people that are sensitive to it. Nutritionist Melissa Diane Smith, author of "Going Against the Grain," claims that in her experience, 85 percent of women with PCOS are also gluten intolerant. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye and oats, but other grains contain other types of protein that can cause intolerances in some people. If you are grain intolerant, eliminating grains from your diet could help you get rid of your PCOS symptoms. According to a study published in December 2005 of "BMC Endocrine Disorders," a grain-free diet could improve insulin resistance and the conditions associated with it.
PCOS Grain-Free Diet
To figure out whether a grain-free diet could help you manage your PCOS, try completely eliminating all grains from your diet for a period of four to eight weeks. Get controlled amounts of carbohydrates from legumes, fruits, milk and yogurt instead of grain-based foods. Space your carb intake throughout the day and complete your meals with adequate amounts of protein and healthy fats. Take notes on how you feel, track your weight and monitor your periods and other PCOS symptoms to see if they improve.