10

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PCOS, Paleo, and Menstruation: what's your experience and what might the science be?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created November 18, 2011 at 10:50 PM

I know there's a contingent of ladies with PCOS on PaleoHacks, and I was hoping some of y'all might be able to help me out here.

Basically, I have PCOS, and for my adult life, without medication (the Pill until a few years ago, more recently Metformin) I have not had a regular period. But today I started my period, and it's just about a month after my last one, and I haven't taken Metformin since August (I struggle with getting adjusted to the GI side effects). I've been far from perfect in paleo eating over the past two and a half months or so that I've been working on it, but to have two periods at regular intervals without medication is kind of a miracle, and I'm wondering if this has anything to do with moving towards a paleo way of eating, but I don't know exactly how that would work. Might it have something to do with addressing insulin resistance (I do eat pretty low-carb, usually under 50g/day???this is the biggest macronutritional change I've made as I've "gone paleo"), or avoiding the hormonal disturbances of conventionally raised meat? I'm just spitballing here, but I know that some of you are much better versed in the diet/endocrinology connection than I, and I was hoping you could share some experiences of your own or lay some science on me.

Either way, I'm psyched to take this to my endocrinologist when next I see her.

D5d982a898721d3392c85f951d0bf0aa

(2417)

on November 19, 2011
at 04:34 AM

You can have clinical PCOS and not have cysts. I've had cysts off and on for years, who knows if those were "PCOS" - lots of causes for cysts. I did have metabolic syndrome that was worrisome. I no longer fit the medical criteria to label me as having PCOS. Yay! I've also had more periods than I ever wanted - that was never one of my PCOS symptoms. I'm not a good benchmark for that, though - I have severe endometriosis. That I can't paleo my way out of. Sigh.

Ce7e28769d92d5de5533e775b1de966e

on November 19, 2011
at 01:51 AM

Like Mer I don't have PCOS and think you handled it all pretty right on. If you remember, will you please update this post after your endo appointment? Interesting stuff.

0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on November 18, 2011
at 11:47 PM

I don't have PCOS but I think handling the insulin resistance is the biggest hurdle in overcoming PCOS. The lower carb intake helps with that for sure. Great job.

B36613e945134be5813e6526f9a3a86c

(499)

on November 18, 2011
at 11:36 PM

Also, was one of the the improvements in your endocrine condition the resumption of regular periods?

B36613e945134be5813e6526f9a3a86c

(499)

on November 18, 2011
at 11:34 PM

Thanks for sharing your experience. When she said you "no longer had PCOS," did she mean you no longer have metabolic syndrome, or did a transvaginal ultrasound actually reveal that cysts on your ovaries had vanished?

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7 Answers

8
D5d982a898721d3392c85f951d0bf0aa

(2417)

on November 18, 2011
at 11:24 PM

I had mild PCOS. After my initial diagnosis, I found paleo, put in a few months of fairly laid back paleo (I do well with dairy) with about 75-100 grams of carbs daily, depending on my activity level, and then went back for a follow up appointment. The endocrinologist was absolutely floored by my improvements and said I no longer had PCOS. I've been 100% gluten free for years, so that wasn't it. I think it was the huge swap of proteins for carbs.

I don't think the meat I eat has squat to do with my improved insulin profile. I ate home raised grassfed beef as my primary protein until I graduated from college - but I was a royal hormonal mess from about age 14 on. I think paleo has just helped mellow my less desireable hormones out, decrease my inflammatory load, and get some (estrogen producing) fat off of me.

B36613e945134be5813e6526f9a3a86c

(499)

on November 18, 2011
at 11:34 PM

Thanks for sharing your experience. When she said you "no longer had PCOS," did she mean you no longer have metabolic syndrome, or did a transvaginal ultrasound actually reveal that cysts on your ovaries had vanished?

B36613e945134be5813e6526f9a3a86c

(499)

on November 18, 2011
at 11:36 PM

Also, was one of the the improvements in your endocrine condition the resumption of regular periods?

D5d982a898721d3392c85f951d0bf0aa

(2417)

on November 19, 2011
at 04:34 AM

You can have clinical PCOS and not have cysts. I've had cysts off and on for years, who knows if those were "PCOS" - lots of causes for cysts. I did have metabolic syndrome that was worrisome. I no longer fit the medical criteria to label me as having PCOS. Yay! I've also had more periods than I ever wanted - that was never one of my PCOS symptoms. I'm not a good benchmark for that, though - I have severe endometriosis. That I can't paleo my way out of. Sigh.

2
Cfa2637d1b6ec288d32379de06415792

on November 19, 2011
at 02:11 PM

I have PCOS and before I gave up grains, vegetarian meat replacement and cut down nuts and dairy, I used to have to daily pluck ...(gross alert)...chin hairs. Ever since I changed my way of eating to paleo, they have disappeared completely, I am thrilled. My cramps are still horrible, but I hope this will also improve with time.

2
8b9e21e5055b21a6475e9ff17d3c886b

on November 19, 2011
at 04:19 AM

I had a brief foray with vegetarianism (about a year). During that year, I didn't get my period at all, gained weight, and had acne on my face frequently. I went to an ob/gyn and she put me on the pill, but it didn't help that much - my period would be very, very light, and it would last only 2 days.

I started paleo a month ago, and this is the first month that my period has come naturally, and at a normal amount/rate.

1
8b45b8095601d8e718425902644c7930

on February 26, 2013
at 02:39 AM

I think for every woman with PCOS they have a different battle. Some of them actually have too many periods while some have barely any. I was like you in the sense that I rarely got a period unless I was on birth control. I was a vegetarian for a year as well, while on birth control, and eating tons of grains and dairy products and was the most sick i have EVER been in my life. I finally put the connection together that my body really hated grains and probably had an insulin problem. My doctor prescribed metformin, as per usual, but I didn't want to go on it because of all the nasty GI problems I had read about. I did strict paleo for a month and literally 3 days into it got my period after almost 6 months of not having one off of birth control. Ever since then(the past two months) I have been eating dark chocolate,drinking alcohol and being lax about the paleo goodies and my period still came 28 days to the day. But I decided to see if I could add back in gluten free grains like corn and rice flour and such and guess what...no period. So I know for a fact that for me grains are totally off limits if I want a regular cycle. The meat and animal products debate is still out there but I think PCOS women thrive on a higher fat/protein diet and lower(probably50-100g) carb diet no matter which way you look at it. I can handle full fat dairy like butter and heavy cream but milk is totally off limits for the most part for me as well.

1
134dfe9b97d2d8da500a6a7ca54c258c

on November 20, 2011
at 06:10 AM

This is all very interesting to me. I suffer from severe PCOS and severe adenomyosis (similar condition to endometriosis only it is found within the uterine muscle itself). The pain from the adenomyosis is becoming debilitation. I'm seeking alternative therapies such as diet chance (paleo/primal) because the only western medical treatment is a uterine ablation or complete hysterectomy - both of which will render me unable to have children (not an option - I'm only 24). I've found many stories of symptoms of female disorders such as these completely disappearing once grounded in the paleo way of eating.

1
0faecc3397025eab246241f4dcd81f5e

(2361)

on November 19, 2011
at 01:07 AM

I didn't have PCOS, but I did have horrible PMS breast tenderness and severe menstrual cramps.

I followed the Zone Diet for many years, since 1996 and the reduction in carbs definitely made a big difference for PMS. The addition of Omega 3 reduced my cramps by about 80%. Some months PMS and cramps would be worse, some less - I couldn't figure out why.

I changed to a paleo zone diet about 2.5 years ago. My PMS and cramps went away almost entirely.

I think both all an effect - the reduction in carbs, the increase in omega 3:6 ratio and the elimination of grains and possible dairy. Reducing / eliminating inflammatory, gut irritating foods?

Now I am menopausal - I started getting the occasional hot flush about a year ago, and when I eliminated gluten cheats - they disappeared too.

There is something in the reduction of carbs and the elimination of grains for girls issues.

PCOS is linked with increased insulin levels. So a lower carb diet would help, and the link to T2 diabetes is there also. Paleo is better than Mediterranean diet when it comes to normalizing blood sugars.

0
D41bd7b3d3b962eb0146f471eb632f56

on February 26, 2013
at 04:39 AM

I have mild PCOS. Mildly irregular periods since adolescence (between 30 and 49 days, any given cycle), acne since elementary school, and was always kind of a chubby kid. I lost 40 lbs in late 2009/early 2010, and that helped my cycles a little (instead of being able to predict my period to start within a two-week range, I was able to predict it in a one-week range), but I also started birth control during that time, and was on it for six month before calling quits on that horrific mess.

In late 2010/early 2011, I was dabbling in vegetarianism. Many "flexitarians" say that if you eat meat only occasionally that you'll "reap the benefits" just as much as full-on vegetarians. Well, I like to thing that by myself eating meat only occasionally and eating a largely plant-protein-based diet that I reaped the DAMAGE of someone never eating meat. My cycles got more irregular, my PMS got worse, my moods were terrible, and after a year and a half of being off the Pill, my libido still hadn't returned.

In late 2011, I was diagnosed with mild PCOS with estrogen dominance (high estrogen, low 17-OH progesterone, high DHEA, low cortisol). I was working with a holistic doctor and he recommended that I drastically reduce my carb intake (his more specific advice was very much like diabetic nutrition advice--eat a protein and fat rich breakfast, never eat a carb without a protein or fat source accompanying, choose low-glycemic foods, etc.) and go gluten-free. I always knew that I felt better eating more meat, but it look that pressure to convince me to let go of my "semi-vegetarian" ideals and economic concerns and make it work.

In January, 2012, it finally all came together. Like magic, my cycles showed up like clockwork, and I was ovulating at the appropriate time of the month (day 13-15 instead of day 19 or later). My skin cleared up and my moods lifted. My libido came back too. Shortly thereafter I got interested in more "ancestral nutrition" principles and started incorporating many of them: eating far more fat, focusing on nutrient-dense foods (liver, MORE eggs, pastured dairy, fermented foods), and limiting my grain/nut/seed/fruit consumption (never entirely eliminated them, just reduced). In October we decided that we wanted to conceive in early 2013 and decided to get a head start by "not preventing" a few months early in case it took me a while to get pregnant, given the PCOS and the fact we'd never "oops'ed" in a collective YEAR'S WORTH OF TIME in the three years we'd been married and not bothered using protection. That first month, I got pregnant. I'm now just short of 16 weeks along and am thrilled! I had been so worried that conceiving would be difficult, and unfortunately it is for many with PCOS, but diet, lifestyle, and time was really what helped me.

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