PCOS and Microbiome: 5 Easy Ways to Improve Gut Health
Can the food you eat affect your PCOS? You bet! The gut microbiome in women with PCOS have been found to be different than those without the syndrome. Making changes to improve your microbiome can improve your PCOS and how you feel both physically and emotionally.
Ever since it was discovered that babies are exposed to bacteria in utero, research into gut health has been exploding. There are trillions of different kinds of microbes and bacteria in our bodies that make up our gut microbiome, some of which are good and bad for us.
Good bacteria work to keep our bodies healthy and optimally functioning to prevent diseases. Bad bacteria on the other hand is linked to weight gain and inflammation and increased risks of chronic diseases such as heart disease, insulin resistance, diabetes, and cancer. Our environment and lifestyle influences our gut health. Pollution, smoking, toxins, antibiotics, and endocrine disrupting chemicals all contribute to destructive bacteria. Lack of sleep and stress destroy good bacteria. Most importantly, what we eat can have a big influence on the health of our gut microbiome.
An unbalanced gut microbiome, referred to as dysbiosis, is common. Diets high in processed foods and sugar, and foods that contain hormones contribute to impaired gut health. Leaky gut syndrome (intestinal permeability) occurs when the lining of your digestive track becomes damaged. Too much bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria are a significant cause of this. When leaky gut occurs, harmful substances, like toxins and endocrine disruptors, can leak into the digestive system causing damage and inflammation that can worsen insulin resistance and symptoms of PCOS.
The human gut has its own system independent of the brain. Our gut is involved in many important functions. Interfering with these functions can have serious health implications.
Important Gut Functions:
- Synthesis of vitamins such as biotin, folate, and vitamin K as well as essential amino acids
- Generates important metabolic byproducts from dietary components left undigested by the small intestine
- Improves and maintains immune function
- Produces appetite regulating hormones (leptin, ghrelin)
- Influences serotonin levels
- Detoxifies drug and other environmental metabolites
Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is critical to PCOS health. The good news: changes made to your diet can improve the functioning of your gut in as little as 24 hours. Here are 5 easy ways to do it.
Eat More Plant-Based Proteins
Studies have examined the influence of animal or plant protein on gut health. Subjects who ate a heavy animal-based protein from meats, eggs, and cheeses had higher levels of harmful bacteria and lower levels of healthy bacteria compared to those who ate whey protein or purely vegetarian protein sources such as pea protein. Soy, a complete protein, can promote the proliferation and growth of good bacteria.
Go For Fiber
Fiber doesn’t get digested by the body. Instead, it travels through the digestive tract taking cholesterol and harmful bacteria with it for excretion. Eating fiber can improve gut health by fermenting into short chain fatty acids which promote the growth of good microbes and reduce inflammation. So by just eating fiber, you are producing more healthy microbes in your gut to keep you healthy.
Prebiotics can be fermented by the intestines to grow healthy bacteria. Prebiotics are found naturally in foods like soybeans, legumes, and high fiber foods such as vegetables (onions, garlic, shallots), unrefined wheat and barley, raw oats, and fruit (berries, apples).
Resistant starches feed probiotics to enhance the microbiome. Examples of resistant starches include cold potatoes and other cooked starchy vegetables, unripe fruit, and some cereals.
Aim for 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily for optimal gut functioning. Be sure to “eat the rainbow,” including many different types of high fiber foods to optimize your microbiome. Chose organic foods when possible to reduce your exposure to toxins which can harm your microbiome.
Probiotics are fermented foods that contain live bacteria such as tempeh and miso. Yogurt, is another an example a source of a probiotic food that is indigestible and which may benefit intestinal health. Since women with PCOS may need to limit their intake of dairy, a probiotic supplement can be helpful. Vary up brands of probiotics to expose your gut to different strains good bacteria.
Focus on Healthier Fats
American diets are predominantly high in saturated and trans fats. Mediterranean diets that are rich in mono and polyunsaturated fats have been found to improve the functioning of the gut. Look for healthier fats such as omega-3 rich fish, nuts, avocados, olive oil, and seeds. Very high fat diets such as ketogenic diets can negatively affect the gut microbiome by decreasing the amount of good bacteria.
Skip Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners can negatively affect your gut functioning. Known as saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame, these artificial sweeteners are found in many diet drinks and foods. There is some research to suggest that ingesting artificial sweeteners can actually worsen insulin resistance.
The gut microbiome plays a huge role in the health of women with PCOS. Eating a variety of whole foods, predominately from plant sources, limiting processed foods and added sugars and avoiding artificial sweeteners are steps women with PCOS can take to optimize the functioning of their gut microbiome and their health.
Looking for recipes that can improve your gut functioning? Check out the PCOS Nutrition Center Cookbook: 100 Easy and Delicious Whole Food Recipes to Beat PCOS
Rasnik K. Singh, Hsin-Wen Chang, Di Yan, Kristina M. Lee et al. Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health. Journal of Translational Medicine. 2017 10.1186/s12967-017-1175-y