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Can Fibre Improve PCOS Parameters?

March 27, 2020
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I’ve written many posts about PCOS, and today I want to explore the relationship between PCOS and dietary fibre.

To recap, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common hormonal disorder in reproductive-aged women. Whenever I mention PCOS to my clients, many of them say that they don’t have cysts on their ovaries. Here’s the thing, you can be diagnosed with PCOS without having cysts.

To be diagnosed, you need at least 2 of the 3 following criteria:

  1. Delayed ovulation or irregular menstrual cycles (oligomenorrhea)
  2. High androgenic hormones like testosterone
  3. Polycystic ovaries on ultrasound

Whenever I’m suspecting PCOS, I like to run blood work to determine androgen levels. In addition, because insulin resistance is common with PCOS, it’s important to also assess those parameters.

Some of the tests I like to run:

  • Free testosterone
  • Total testosterone
  • DHEA-S
  • Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG)
  • Fasting insulin
  • Fasting glucose

A 2019 study looked at the relationship between fibre, insulin resistance and PCOS. It demonstrated that a low fibre intake in people with PCOS is a significant factor in insulin resistance, and people with PCOS consumed less fibre than those without PCOS.

Fibre is a complex carbohydrate that isn’t digestible. There are 2 types – soluble and insoluble. Soluble helps to lower things like blood glucose and cholesterol. While insoluble helps to bulk up stool, improve motility, and it can also increase insulin sensitivity.

However, many of us don’t eat nearly as much fibre as we should. A low-fibre diet is associated with many health problems including type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome (which is essentially a cluster of syndromes including increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels).

Fibre can help regulate blood glucose by slowing it’s absorption in the blood, which then improves glucose tolerance. The 2019 study also showed that in people with PCOS who did not eat much fibre, they tended to have increased testosterone and DHEAS levels. Moreover, insulin resistance may actually worsen high androgens.

This means that including more fibre-rich foods in your diet may lower insulin resistance and manage high androgen levels and improve those PCOS parameters.

Foods that are rich in fibre include fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, as well as grains. Some fibre-rich foods include:

  • Raspberries – 4g of fibre for 1/2 cup
  • Pear – 5.2g of fibre for 1 medium pear
  • Apple – 3.3g of fibre for 1 medium apple
  • Brussel sprouts (cooked) – 3.2g of fibre for 1/2 cup
  • Carrots – 3g of fibre for 1 large carrot
  • Lentils (cooked) – 10.4g for 2/3 cup
  • Black beans (cooked) – 7.5g for 1/2 cup
  • Peanut butter (chunky) – 2.6g for 2 tbsp
  • Brown rice (cooked) – 1.8g for 1/2 cup
  • Rolled oats (cooked) – 4.2g for 3/4 cup

Ideally people with PCOS should be aiming for 30-35g of fibre per day. As you increase your fibre intake, be sure to make sure you’re also increasing the amount of water you’re drinking per day (this is because fibre can bind water).

Reference

Cutler, D., Pride, S., & Cheung, A. (2019). Low intakes of dietary fiber and magnesium are associated with insulin resistance and hyperandrogenism in polycystic ovary syndrome: A cohort study. Food Science & Nutrition7(4), 1426-1437. doi: 10.1002/fsn3.977

PCOS in Pregnancy

March 20, 2020

When people with PCOS become pregnant, this may lead to some pregnancy complications. Complications are dependent on which PCOS criteria the pregnant person fulfilled prior to pregnancy.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common hormonal disorder in reproductive-aged women. To be diagnosed with PCOS, you need at least 2 of the 3 following criteria:

  1. Delayed ovulation or irregular menstrual cycles (oligomenorrhea)
  2. High androgenic hormones like testosterone
  3. Polycystic ovaries on ultrasound

Although not a criteria of PCOS, insulin resistance is also a hallmark of PCOS. High insulin (known as hyperinsulinemia) is more prevalent when features of high androgens (like testosterone) are present.

PCOS and Pregnancy Complications

Miscarriage

During pregnancy, miscarriage is more frequent in those with PCOS. It’s specifically influenced by BMI. High androgens as well as high insulin levels cause inflammation within the body that may lead to difficulties in embryo implantation, miscarriage and adverse pregnancy outcomes, some of which are outlined below.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is pregnancy-induced diabetes, that usually resolves in the postpartum. Studies show that women with PCOS have a 3x higher chance of gestational diabetes, from high androgen levels.

Risk Factors for developing gestational diabetes are:

  • Over 35 years old
  • Pre-pregnancy BMI is over 30 kg/m2
  • Ethnicity (Aboriginal, African, Asian, Hispanic, South Asian)
  • Family history of diabetes
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome, and acanthosis nigricans (a skin condition causing hyperpigmentation of skin, especially in the folds)
  • Corticosteroid use
  • Previous diagnosis of gestational diabetes
  • Previous ‘big’ baby

Around 24-28 weeks, pregnant people are offered screening for gestational diabetes. However, if there’s a high risk of gestational diabetes based on the above risk factors, screening or testing may be offered earlier and then repeated at 24-28 weeks if it was normal.

Pre-eclampsia

Pre-eclampsia is pregnancy-induced high blood pressure (formally known as hypertension) and protein in the urine, or other adverse symptoms; at or after 20 weeks gestation. Studies show that women with PCOS have a 3x higher chance of pre-eclampsia due to high androgen levels.

Symptoms of pre-eclampsia include:

  • Persistent headache
  • Visual disturbances
  • Abdominal pain at the upper right quadrant
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Chest pain/shortness of breath

Risk factors in developing preeclampsia are:

  • Antiphospholipid antibodies
  • Previous pre-eclampsia
  • Pre-existing diabetes
  • Family history of pre-eclampsia
  • Raised pre-pregnancy BMI

Blood Work to Consider

If you’re planning on becoming pregnant or are in the early stages of pregnancy, it may be worthwhile to do some blood work to assess your risk and possibly decrease it.

  • Complete blood count
  • Blood lipids
  • Fasting insulin and fasting glucose
  • Free testosterone, total testosterone, Sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG)

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately there isn’t much treatment for people who have PCOS during pregnancy, although adopting a healthy diet and physical activity is recommended – check with your health care provider to see what’s right for you.

References

Christ, J., Gunning, M., Meun, C., Eijkemans, M., van Rijn, B., & Bonsel, G. et al. (2018). Pre-Conception Characteristics Predict Obstetrical and Neonatal Outcomes in Women With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. The Journal Of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism104(3), 809-818. doi: 10.1210/jc.2018-01787

GESTATIONAL DIABETES MELLITUS: A review for midwives. Retrieved 20 March 2020, from https://www.ontariomidwives.ca/sites/default/files/Gestational-diabetes-mellitus-backgrounder-PUB_0.pdf

Hart, R. (2019). Generational Health Impact of PCOS on Women and their Children. Medical Sciences7(3), 49. doi: 10.3390/medsci7030049

Hypertensive Disorders of Pregnancy. Retrieved 19 March 2020, from https://www.ontariomidwives.ca/sites/default/files/CPG%20supplemental%20resources/HDP%20Summary.pdf

Palomba, S., de Wilde, M., Falbo, A., Koster, M., La Sala, G., & Fauser, B. (2015). Pregnancy complications in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Human Reproduction Update21(5), 575-592. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmv029

Why am I getting acne now that I’ve stopped birth control?

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January 9, 2018
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You started birth control years ago to deal with acne. 

Now you’re thinking it’s time to stop for good. 

But you’re worried that you’re going to start breaking out again. 

Does this sound familiar? You’re not alone. This is (unfortunately) a common thing that many people struggle with. Let’s figure out why this happens and what you can do about it!

Why does acne happen?

When  we start puberty, a bunch of our hormones get activated – estrogen, progesterone, androgens, etc. Sebum production increases from about 9 years old to 17 years old. Hormones like testosterone can trigger acne because it increases sebum production.

Birth control and testosterone

Birth control pills have a couple of effects on hormones:

  • Decrease androgens like testosterone, DHT and DHEA-S
  • Increases SHBG
  • Decrease serumproduction

The progestins used in birth control are actually pretty structurally similar to testosterone, and can therefore produce androgenic side effects. However the side effects are based on how ‘androgenic’ the progesterone is – this is known as the androgen index.

Progestins with a high androgen index may cause can cause acne, hair loss, weight gain, and insulin resistance. These progestins include: medroxyprogesterone acetate, levonorgestrel, norgestrel, and etonogestrel.

Progestins with a low androgen index may cause depression or anxiety, low libido, and suppress adrenal function. When you stop taking this type of progestin, your body may rebound by producing a lot of androgens because it doesn’t think any are available. These progestins include: drospirenone, norgestimate, cyproterone, and natural progesterone.  

Your skin on birth control

You might have noticed that when you started birth control, your skin became clearer. That’s because the hormones in the pill (estrogen and progestin) suppress androgens (like testosterone) and ultimately sebum. When your sebum levels are low, your skin will make more sebum to compensate. The estrogen and progestin will continue to suppress sebum production, and the cycle will continue on.

You’re probably not worried about this when you’re on the pill, because you’re not noticing any of it. Your skin is clear, your selfie game is strong, and you are able to get throughout the day without any embarrassment or frustration.

Your skin off birth control

At some point you’re going to want to get off the pill. Maybe you’re thinking of starting a family, maybe you want to experience a real period – whatever the reason is, you’re worried about what’s going to happen with your skin.

Because I believe honesty is the best policy – it’s important to know that you’re probably going to get acne once you stop the birth control pill.

Why does this happen?

It happens because sebum is not being suppressed anymore, and you have higher levels now than when you did when you started the pill. And because your ovaries are producing androgens again (another group of hormones that are effectively shutdown when you take birth control).

For the next 6-12 months your body is going to be withdrawing from the effects of the pill, which means that acne may be on the horizon for you.

Prepping your skin before you stop the pill

If you want to stop the pill, then consider prepping your skin about a month before you give the pill up for good.

Dairy-free diet

Cow dairy may cause inflammation and produce chemicals that increase inflammation and sebum production. This is especially seen with skim/non-fat milk products and ice cream. Dairy also contains hormones that can affect the body, by producing more testosterone.

Consider switching to alternative forms of dairy, or even choosing different animal dairy like buffalo (my fave), goat or sheep dairy. 

Sugar-free diet

Refined sugars may increase insulin, which can increase androgen production in the body. Plus let’s be honest, processed foods aren’t great sources of nutrients. If you can do better, choose better. 

Fix your digestion

Acne may pop up with leaky gut and food sensitivities. Normally whatever enters your gut, should (momentarily) stay in your gut. But if you have leaky gut, food from your gut may pass through some cells it shouldn’t, and end up elsewhere in your body. Your immune system will respond by mounting an attack against these food particles and cause a cascade of effects – acne being one of them.

So if you’ve cut the dairy and sugar for a couple of weeks, but are still experiencing acne – you may want to give the elimination diet a try.

Consider supplements

Supplements can be great at quick starting the healing process (especially since the pill depletes a bunch of nutrients). Ultimately, you should consider working with a health professional when supplementing because we make sure you’re taking the best product, dose, form and timing.

Some nutrients to consider are:

  • Zinc
  • Berberine
  • DIM
  • B vitamins

Go deeper

Acne may also be a sign of PCOS. Now before you tell me you don’t have polycystic ovaries (I hear this a lot), you can have PCOS without the cysts.

If you have irregular periods or don’t ovulate and have signs of high androgens (ex. acne), then it’s worthwhile to get some testing done. Check out my in-depth series on PCOS to learn more.

Next Steps

While the prospect of getting acne once you stop the pill is both frightening and frustrating (especially if you’re an adult), there is hope! Starting a skin-care plan before you stop is a step in the right direction.

And working with a professional can help you navigate all the ups and downs –particularly if you’re working with food sensitivities or PCOS. If you have any questions or tips and tricks, please share them below!