Let's continue on with our look at things to be avoided when dealing with PCOS and it's symptoms (and I know that last time I said there were 10 in total, but I realized one of them was redundant, so I guess it's only 9 now. :)
6) Vegetarianism/ Low-Fat Diets
There are a few really good reasons to keep up your intake of both animal products and good fat sources in order to promote a healthy reproductive system:
- Being underweight can seriously compromise your cycle and fertility (and eating both vegetarian or low-fat can both contribute to having a BMI that is too low)
- There is growing evidence that low-fat dairy and diets in general contribute to decreased fertility
- Vitamin A is an incredibly important nutrient when it comes to healthy fertility and pregnancy (more on this to come), but despite all the hype about receiving it adequately through plant sources, it's most usable form is found in (you guessed it) animal products and full fat dairy! Check out this Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers, put together based on the traditional, cultural diets for women during their child-bearing years. These would be great suggestions to take to heart!
- These diets include insufficient (but absolutely necessary) dietary components such as good cholesterol, Vitamin D and essential fatty acids (all important for reproduction). See this article for more on how diet affects women's reproductive health.
7) Conventional Tampons and Pads
Many women may have heard of more natural or reusable (cloth) products for women, but the reason is most often either for environmental concern, frugality, or comfort. What is unknown to many women is that both tampons and pads contain chemicals that are harmful to our bodies, including to our reproductive systems and also our level of fertility.
I mentioned last time that we need to be aware of environmental estrogens and do our best to avoid them, many of which are harmful chemicals found in food, beauty products and household products. So let's just add tampons and pads to the list of products containing unwanted toxins, which is particularly concerning when you consider the close and prolonged contact these products have with vulnerable parts of our body. Most (except for the natural brands) contain high levels of chlorine, from bleaching. As well,
Chemicals in tampons include dioxin caused by bleached rayon, aluminium, alcohol, and additives which also produce dioxin. (source)
Dioxin is a particularly toxic chemical, quite possibly one of the most toxic out there, and any amount introduced to our bodies may be harmful. For a really good overview and a wealth of links on the topic, see this site. As well, there are links to reproductive and hormonal disorders specifically, such as this article on Tampons and Endometriosis, and this one on Dioxin and Male Sterility, and this EWG article which mentions the possible link between chemicals and reproductive system disruptions..
For more on the topic of women's products and alternatives, as well as some more links to safety and health issues, see this previous post of mine.
8) Trans Fatty Acids
I think it's safe to say that we've all heard that we should avoid trans fatty acids. So why should those with PCOS avoid them in particular? Two basic reasons:
- They've been connected to a decrease in the response of blood cells to insulin, which is not good news for those with diabetes or any other insulin related disorder. I mentioned last time that those with PCOS struggle to balance blood sugar and maintain correct insulin levels, so eating trans fats will only exacerbate this problem. (Sources- Here, here, and here)
- They also interfere with the conversion of omega 3 fatty acids, and can promote further deficiency of these all important fats, which most of us already struggle with as it is. As I mentioned above, EFA's are important for a healthy reproductive system, as are all good fats. (Again, you can find more about this topic deep in the midst of this detailed interview of fats expert, Mary Enig, PhD).
As trans fat labeling laws are not yet ideal yet, don't rely on the packaging to tell you whether or not they are present in a food. Look in the ingredients for the words "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" or even "shortening" before deciding to indulge.
9) Toxins in Food
Lastly, there is yet another area of toxic chemical exposure to examine, and that is sadly in our food. Here are a few ways that food additives, pesticides and contaminating chemicals have an effect on PCOS and hormone balance:
MSG/Aspartame– MSG is found is the great majority of packaged foods (see this list of names it goes by), and Aspartame is in chewing gum (nearly every brand!), diet sodas and other beverages, "sugar-free" treats, some candies, and more. "What causes PCOS… Excess intake of substances such as excitatory amino
acids, found in many food additives like MSG, aspartame,
glutamate, etc. that affect the pituitary regulation of
the ovary cycles" (source). As well, MSG intake greatly reduces the success of achieving pregnancy (source).
Pesticides– Many (DDT,
vinclozolin, endosulfan, toxaphene, dieldrin, and DBCP, to name a few) have hormone-like activity (source). Pesticides in general are thought to be endocrine disrupters (disrupting the work of the thyroid gland, which governs hormones), including Monsanto's Roundup in particular (a very common pesticide). One study of 3 common farm fertilizers specifically showed endocrine/thyroid disruption. See my post on knowing what to buy organic, and also on washing your produce.
Where to go from here
Now that we've looked at some of the Don'ts of living with PCOS, I'm eager to move on to the Do's! In the upcoming weeks, I'll begin to take a look at important dietary changes and improvements to make, supplements to consider, as well as lifestyle tools that can have a positive impact.
For those who have been following this series so far, I hope that you're beginning to be excited (and not discouraged) as we look at the information that is out there. Though there is work to be done, and things to be changed, I think it is hopeful to realize that improved health is not beyond our grasp. I don't know about you, but I love to learn that there are actually things that I can do, and that I don't have to live in passive acceptance of the status quo when it comes to my health!
Which things do you find the hardest to avoid? What do you think about these suggestions? Thoughts and/or suggestions from those who are already trying to put these things into practice?