Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS occurs in 5-10% of women, so it’s more common than you might have thought. It’s not something that a lot of people have heard of and is underdiagnosed, often taking several doctors visits before a diagnosis is received, which can be frustrating (1). Dietary changes can assist with the management of PCOS symptoms and IBS independently, but what about when you need to manage both at the same time? The good news is managing them at the same time is possible.
Firstly, what is PCOS?
PCOS is a hormonal imbalance where women of childbearing age produce higher amounts of male hormones. This can cause the formation of cysts on the ovaries, although, this doesn’t occur in all women with PCOS. Common symptoms of PCOS are irregular periods, heavy flow during periods, hair growth on the face or body, acne and weight gain.
A diagnosis must be made by a doctor using the Rotterdam diagnosis; where two of the following three must be present:
- Oligo/anovulation (Frequent, irregular or the absence of ovulation)
- Hyperandrogenism (increase in male hormones)
- Hirsutism (hair growth on the face or body) or alopecia (hair loss or balding)
- Raised testosterone levels
- Polycystic ovaries found on ultrasound (the presence of many cysts on the ovaries)
Is there a link between PCOS and IBS?
IBS is more common in women so it isn’t unusual for women to experience both PCOS and IBS. One study suggests that those diagnosed with PCOS may be more likely to have IBS when compared to those without PCOS (2). It’s important to note that this study had a small sample size of 65 women, 36 of which had PCOS. Currently, there isn’t much evidence available that explores this further to determine why this might be the case, so more research is needed to fully determine if there is a link.
Does a low FODMAP diet help PCOS?
Without IBS there is no strong evidence suggesting that a low FODMAP diet may help PCOS. Weight loss (for those who are overweight or obese) has been shown to help regulate the menstrual cycle and assist with controlling unwanted hair growth (3). The best way to manage PCOS is by working towards and maintaining a healthy weight. It may be helpful to include carbohydrates that have a low glycaemic index (GI). GI is how fast carbohydrates are broken down to glucose (sugar) in your blood. Low GI means this process happens slower, allowing for better blood sugar control. These foods can help manage weight and help you feel fuller for longer.
How can I manage both IBS and PCOS?
If you have IBS and PCOS then a low FODMAP diet with low GI carbohydrates may help relieve IBS symptoms such as bloating, gas, stool inconsistencies whilst assisting with weight management. Incorporating low FODMAP and low GI together might sound difficult but it’s easier than you think! The golden rule is to aim to choose whole-grain, low FODMAP carbohydrates and you’ll be feeling fuller for longer in no time! Try these recipes to get the ball rolling:
Breakfast: Baked eggs – A delicious and quick hot brekky. Eggs are low GI and low FODMAP as well as a good source of protein, winner all round!
Lunch: Asian beef salad – Make it the night before for a low GI, low FODMAP workplace friendly lunch.
Dinner: Salmon Patties – One the whole family can enjoy! Serve with a low FODMAP side salad or with salad in a GF whole grain bun. The kids will enjoy them with good old tomato sauce.
Snack: Low FODMAP veggie sticks with beetroot dip – A quick and easy snack suitable for lunchboxes and platters alike!
If you feel you may be experiencing symptoms of PCOS, see your doctor.
For more information on the Glycaemic Index visit: https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/glycemic-index
- Lorena I. Rasquin Leon; Jane V. Mayrin. Polycystic Ovarian Disease (Stein-Leventhal Syndrome)
Mathur R, Ko A, Hwang LJ, Low K, Azziz R, Pimentel M. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Is Associated with an Increased Prevalence of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Digestive Diseases and Sciences. 2010;55(4):1085-9.
- Swingler, R., Awala, A. and Gordon, U. (2009), Hirsutism in young women. The Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, 11: 101-107. doi:10.1576/toag.220.127.116.11483
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