How nutrition can support your mental health with PCOS
If you experience stress, anxiety, depression of mood changes with PCOS, you're not alone ❤️
Several studies show PCOS women experience up to 3x higher reported rates of stress, anxiety and depression, and lower quality of life.
PCOS symptoms such as weight gain, irregular periods, acne, hirsutism (facial hair growth), losing your hair and infertility cause negative body image and emotional and psychological distress in many PCOS women.
It's not only symptoms but also the hormonal changes that impact mental health.
Hormones and mental health in PCOS
Several studies have shown that increased cortisol (stress hormone) that occurs with PCOS is associated with anxiety and depression. Cortisol impacts the HPAO (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-ovarian) axis, a communication pathway between the brain, adrenals and ovaries. This slows or shuts down hormone production - essentially the body doesn't feel "safe" and shuts down non-essential systems (i.e. reproductive) as a survival mechanism.
Several studies have shown that higher DHEAs (an androgen hormone) and insulin are associated with mood instability.
Other symptoms you may experience with these hormone changes include - anxiety, stress, fatigue, irregular or missing periods, low libido, low appetite, infertility, weight changes.
Nutrition for improved mental health with PCOS
We know through the research that nutrition is the first line treatment for PCOS. And further research supports nutrition for improved mental health. The top 3 nutrition steps are:
1. Eat for blood sugar balance - this lowers insulin and cortisol, the hormonal drivers associated with stress, anxiety and depression, and 2 of the hormonal drivers for other PCOS symptoms.
2. Eat anti-inflammatory and antioxidant rich foods - oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, anchovies), extra virgin olive oil, berries, dark leafy greens, nuts and seeds, dark chocolate - are associated with improved mental health.
3. Eating for gut health - there's a communication pathway between the gut and the brain that impacts neurotransmitters involved in mood. Include lots of prebiotic fibres and fermented foods (e.g. sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, unsweetened Greek yogurt) which are associated with improved mood.
Supplementation* and mental health in PCOS
Several studies have shown supplementation with vitamin D, probiotic and selenium resulted in significant improvements in depression, anxiety and stress scores compared to placebo in PCOS women.
These studies also showed the supplementation not only improved mental health parameters, but also lowered inflammatory markers, testosterone, reduced hirsutism and improved antioxidant scores. Meaning an improvement in PCOS symptoms as well as mental health!
Other supplements that support mental health supported by studies include EPA/DHA (fish oil or cod liver oil), magnesium, and adaptogenic herbs such as Ashwagandha.
Lifestyle practices and mental health in PCOS
Further to nutrition and supplementation, lifestyle practices are vital for supporting mental health as well as putting your PCOS into remission. "The body keeps the score" (a fantastic book by Bessel Van Der Kolk), and any emotions you hold on to show up physically in the body and impact your mental and overall health and wellbeing.
Some of the key lifestyle practices to work on alongside your nutrition and supplementation include movement, breathwork, journalling, and grounding. These practices are also evidence-based. Working with other healthcare practitioners such as a psychologist, qualified mindset coach, or energy therapies can enhance your PCOS healing and support your mental health and quality of life.
*This is not medical or healthcare advice, but for information purposes only. Supplements can interact with medications. Always work with a qualified practitioner (such as a Clinical Nutritionist) who are trained and qualified to prescribe high quality supplements that are effective and safe for you as an individual.
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