Living with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) comes with its challenges, but one simple addition to your daily diet could make a significant difference – fibre. Let’s delve into how fibre can play a crucial role in managing PCOS and enhancing overall well-being.
As fibre-rich foods are consumed, their gradual digestion and absorption slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream compared to lower-fibre foods. This results in a more gradual rise in blood glucose (sugar) levels, preventing abrupt peak that can be tricky for those with insulin resistance.
Additionally, fibre contributes to the feeling of fullness and satiety, potentially aiding weight management. By incorporating fibre into the diet, you are not only support you digestive wellbeing but also actively engaging in a dietary strategy that positively influences insulin sensitivity, contributing to a more balanced metabolic profile.
Digestive issues are not uncommon for in PCOS alongside insulin resistance, and metabolic challenges. Fibre, found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, can act as an ally in managing these aspects. It helps regulate bowel movements and alleviate symptoms such as bloating and discomfort, providing relief to those managing PCOS.
Studies have shown that increased fibre intake is associated with improvements in insulin sensitivity and a reduction in hyperandrogenism, two critical factors in PCOS management (1)(2).
High-fibre foods aid digestion by promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation. The NHS recommends eating 30g per day of fibre to avoid problems such as constipation, heartburn and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Having sufficient fibre is important to maintaining gastrointestinal health and relieving symptoms associated with irregular bowel habits.
Fibre’s ability to impart a feeling of fullness is well-documented. Research published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism indicates that increased dietary fibre intake may contribute to weight management(3).
The gradual digestion and absorption of fibre-rich foods contribute to sustained energy release, preventing rapid rises and crashes in blood sugar levels that can lead to cravings and hunger between meals. For individuals with PCOS, incorporating fibre into the diet can help to promote satisfaction, satiety and fostering a healthy relationship with food for overall wellbeing.
Both research and public interest in gut health has grown rapidly in recent years. We now have very well-established evidence to show the benefits of fibre on gut health. Fibre acts as a prebiotic, meaning a food source for our gut microbiota (the name given to the bacteria and other microorganisms that live in our digestive system). The gut microbiome plays a crucial role in overall health, influencing everything from digestion to immune function.
By promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria, fibre contributes to the maintenance of a diverse and resilient gut microbiome. This, in turn, influences various aspects of metabolic and immune function. A robust gut microbiome has been linked to reduced inflammation, improved digestion, and enhanced nutrient absorption. For women with PCOS, where metabolic balance and hormonal regulation are key concerns, optimising gut health through increased fibre intake becomes a promising avenue for holistic wellbeing.
Insulin resistance is a hallmark of PCOS, contributing to weight gain and metabolic disturbances. There isn’t an exact figure for the amount of people with PCOS who have insulin resistance, but estimates range from 35-70%. This means that for a large proportion of people with PCOS, supporting insulin sensitivity and managing blood sugar levels can be a key aspect of PCOS management.
Additionally, insulin resistance is tricky to test for -in the UK a common test is to look at HbA1c levels, but this shows blood glucose levels, not insulin sensitivity -and so it can be hard to know whether or not you have insulin resistance. Because of this, eating as though you do have insulin resistance is a broadly recommended approach.
As fibre slows down digestion and absorption of food, it smooths out the peaks and troughs of blood glucose levels.
Long-term adherence to a high-fibre diet has been associated with improved glycemic control, reduced HbA1c levels, and a decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A systematic review and meta-analysis in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics support the role of dietary fibre in improving glycemic control and insulin sensitivity (4).
This dual impact – immediate moderation of blood sugar levels and long-term metabolic benefits – positions fibre as a key nutrient to include for the management of PCOS.
There are many sources of fibre out there! Swapping to the “whole” version of a product -e.g. brown bread/rice/pasta, nuts with the skin on, unpeeled fruits and vegetables tend to be higher in fibre than their white or peeled counterparts. However, there is still room for these lower fibre foods in your diet. Just aim to include a variety of the higher fibre options, and consider pairing low-fibre foods with protein or fat to keep fuller for longer.
Here are just a few good sources of fibre:
Incorporating fibre into the daily diet emerges as a holistic and evidence-backed approach for women managing PCOS. The scientific literature consistently supports the positive impact of fibre on insulin sensitivity, hormonal balance, weight management, and gut health.
As with any dietary change, it’s advisable to introduce fibre gradually, stay adequately hydrated, and consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice on dietary needs. Embrace the power of fibre – a small adjustment with profound potential benefits for women navigating the complexities of PCOS.