Having PCOS is hard to deal with, believe me. I’ve been diagnosed since I was 15 and it affects every part of my life – from mental health, to my metabolic and hormonal function, my menstrual cycle and ovulation, to my libido, and physical health. I’ve come to realise, from extensive research and chatting to friends, that it’s important to identify the type of PCOS you have.
It is an important first step to take in order to try and fix the problem from the root cause.
I have inflammatory/lean PCOS and it took me some time to figure that out. People with this specific type of PCOS (and even the other three types) often have low-grade inflammation, which is when it stimulates polycystic ovaries to produce androgens, which may then lead to heart and blood vessel problems, such as high cholesterol and other cardiovascular disease. Before this problem even occurs, it is super (!!) important to know the right diet to incorporate into your lifestyle.
Not only will it help to prevent heart problems, and getting diabetes (another risk for people with PCOS), it could also help to reverse PCOS, combined with some form of exercise or yoga.
In inflammatory PCOS, ovulation is usually prevented, because of the hormonal imbalances and the high androgen levels. It is caused by stress, environmental toxins and inflammatory diets like consuming dairy and gluten.
Foods to now continuously have are anti-inflammatory rich foods, which help with the body and the hormones from the inside.
Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak
It’s all about the greens: broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kale. They’re full of nutrients and vitamins that will help you combat inflammation. Research shows eating foods like this aids in reducing the risk of heart disease. For a healthy diet, half of the plate should be vegetables.
Fruits rich in antioxidants are great for reducing and fighting off inflammation. They also help to reduce oxidative stress. Examples are: cherries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blackberries. It is easy to have them daily—have them in yogurts, porridge, with a healthy, two ingredient pancake (mashing banana and two eggs together and then pouring into a non-stick pan like normal), and even as healthy snacks with a square of dark chocolate. Other fruits to have are apples with the skin on and red grapes.
Tomatoes are rich in vitamin C, potassium, and lycopene, an antioxidant that has high anti-inflammatory properties. Having them in salads, red lentils pasta and fresh in curries really adds to the flavour. Cooking it in extra virgin olive oil is also beneficial as it maximises the lycopene consumed.
Fatty fish are some of the best foods to combat inflammation, as they are amazing sources of protein and rich in Omega-3. The types of fatty fish to have at least twice a week are:
These fishes have many benefits for people with PCOS: they lower triglycerides, improve mood, reduce inflammation, improve the quality of the eggs and ovulation, reduce androgen, support healthy pregnancies and help with dry eyes. They also keep you fuller for longer, which is essential for people with PCOS due to the sugar cravings.
Avocado and extra virgin olive oil are some healthy fats, which have many nutrients and combat inflammation. Avocado is considered to be a superfood, packed with potassium, magnesium, fibre and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
Green tea is one of the healthiest beverages to exist, as it contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Consuming it daily increasingly helps with inflammatory PCOS.
Mushrooms are low in calories and rich in selenium, copper, and all types of vitamin B. They also have phenols and other antioxidants that offer anti-inflammatory protection
Herbs And Spices
Seasoning such as ginger, turmeric, chilli peppers, black pepper, bay leaves, fennel, anise, caraway, cumin, coriander, clove, cinnamon, marjoram, rosemary, and thyme not only aid in enhancing the flavour of the food, but they also have great anti-inflammatory markers.
Other Foods To Eat
- Legumes (such as beans, lentils and chickpea)
- Sweet potato
- Brown rice
- Nuts and seeds (pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds)
- Seafood (tuna, sea bass, shrimp)
These all have rich antioxidant properties and reduce oxidative stress, as well as being able to control high blood pressure and reduce insulin levels. The focus to combat inflammatory PCOS is on healthy carbs, like fruits and vegetables, legumes and brown rice, protein and healthy fats.
Along with including all the food mentioned above in your diet and meal plans, there are also foods which must be avoided. I spoke with Alex Runai, the chief science educator at The Health Sciences Academy and UCL doctoral researcher. I asked Alex about the foods that increase the levels of inflammation and which ones to limit or avoid for inflammatory PCOS:
- Foods with a high glycaemic load, like white bread, cakes and biscuits should be limited if you’re suffering from PCOS. High-glycaemic meals are associated with the exacerbation of inflammatory pathways and an increased risk for insulin resistance if consumed regularly.
- Sugary drinks such as fruit-only smoothies and orange juice should also be limited. This is because they cause a rapid increase of blood sugar, and if consumed regularly or in excess, this can lead to chronic inflammation in the whole body – an unwanted optimal environment for cysts to develop or grow.
- Alcohol contains pro-inflammatory ethanol and aldehydes, so limiting or avoiding its consumption is also recommended.
- Minimise pro-inflammatory foods such as processed meats (like salami, ham, pâte) as well as foods containing artificial trans fats (such as margarines and bakery) and fried foods (containing damaged fats, which are pro-oxidant in the body, and if consumed in excess these may worsen PCOS progression).
The types of food to completely avoid due to their increasing androgen levels and affecting menstruation, as well as elevating inflammation are:
- Pizza dough
- Frozen pizza
- Regular pasta
- Ice cream with excess sugar or sugar substitutes
- Sweetened cereals
Dairy products, sugar and wheat are linked to the hormonal effects in PCOS and inflammation. Though there are contradictory statements on whether dairy should be cut our or limited, it does improve gut health and inflammatory markers, as well as reducing acne. Although Alex does say
“sugar-free probiotic yogurts may have a beneficial effect on insulin metabolism as well as on female hormones like oestrogen through the gut-brain.”
The process of improvement takes about nine months as it is a slow process.
In combination with food, it is also necessary to speak to your doctor about any vitamin deficiencies, such as magnesium, vitamin D and zinc.
The Bottom Line
Keeping inflammation in check is vital for inflammatory PCOS as it can affect the body from periods, to heart diseases and high cholesterol, to diabetes. Including fruits and vegetables rich in anti-oxidants and vitamins, healthy fats like avocado, olive oils and fatty fishes like salmon, tuna, mackerel and sea bass, and legumes are some of the best foods to help combat inflammatory PCOS. It will benefit the body, and the hormone production, as well as periods. Making weekly meal plans helps to stick to the food, I’ve personally found, and reduce the eating or unhealthy snacking in between.
The important thing is to have a plate half vegetables, healthy protein and fibre. Think broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and spinach on half of the plate, a quarter salmon or chicken (or vegan alternative – such as chickpeas or lentils) and a quarter brown rice, sweet potato or quinoa. Natural sugars, such as dates, are best substitutes for artificial sugar, to reduce the sugar intake.
Sumaiya Ahmed is a lifestyle journalist and writer, aiming to break down the boundaries of cultural stigma and shame attached to mental health and sexuality within the South Asian culture and bring marginalized topics to light.