PCOS and IBS: Wellness Strategies for Optimal Health

PCOS and IBS: Wellness Strategies for Optimal Health

Published on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 by Haley McGaha

Embracing a Holistic Approach: Navigating the Crossroads of PCOS, IBS, and Lifestyle Modifications

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) affects about 5-10% of the worldwide population, and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) impacts as many as 5 million women of reproductive age. IBS is a known GI disorder causing an array of symptoms, from stomach pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. Women living with PCOS typically have higher androgen (a male hormone that females have) levels, which can cause irregular menstrual cycles, acne, thinning hair, and facial hair growth.  

The Intertwined Paths of PCOS and IBS: Navigating the Challenges

You may be wondering why we at Foodguides would want to discuss IBS and PCOS, as they seem like entirely different medical diagnoses. Well, this study shows that having PCOS and a higher level of certain hormones (LH/FSH) might cause IBS. If you'd like to learn more, one of our contributors wrote this great article on IBS and PCOS. 

Exercise and PCOS: Enhancing Insulin Sensitivity and Promoting Weight Management 

Many women living with PCOS struggle with their weight - you can thank hormones and insulin sensitivity for that! For many years, we have all been told that to lose weight, you need to increase your cardio to help burn excess calories, but did you know that with PCOS, that may not be the case? 

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) and cardio may be helpful with insulin resistance, but strength training has many other benefits. Some of these include reducing insulin resistance, lowering testosterone levels (which may be a symptom of PCOS), helping to speed up your metabolism (aka how many calories your body burns to create energy), and strengthening bones. 

Strength training, yoga, pilates, and medication have also been found helpful for reducing cortisol (the stress hormone) and inflammation.

Tailoring Exercise for PCOS: Finding Your Ideal Physical Activity Routine 

If you are not a regular gym goer or someone who routinely works out, please remember to give yourself grace and start any kind of new workout program slowly. The goal is to aim for 30-45 minutes of weight training 3-5 times per week. If you want to add cardio, I recommend walking, as that is a great low-impact option. Finding a routine you enjoy is the most important thing when it comes to exercise, as consistency is key! 

Nutrition for PCOS: Embracing a Nutrient-Dense and PCOS-Friendly Diet 

One study discovered that individuals with PCOS experienced the most benefit by following an anti-inflammatory diet of around half carbohydrates, one-quarter protein, and one-quarter fat. They found that this diet composition improved body composition, hormones, menstrual cycle, glucose management, and CRP levels (a blood marker of inflammation within the body). If you are still determining what an anti-inflammatory diet is, incorporating Mediterranean Diet components emphasizes whole, nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. It minimizes processed foods, red meat, and sugary beverages while encouraging moderate fish, poultry, and dairy consumption, particularly yogurt and cheese. By prioritizing plant-based foods rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and polyphenols, this dietary approach aims to reduce inflammation in the body, lower the risk of chronic diseases, and promote overall health and well-being.

Managing IBS with Dietary Modifications: Exploring the Low FODMAP Approach 

Many people living with IBS find themselves taking a dietary approach for symptom relief. If you aren’t familiar with a Low FODMAP diet, this introductory article is one to check out! For those living with PCOS and IBS, I’m sure you may be thinking that pairing a Low FODMAP diet and an anti-inflammatory diet might be a challenge. Luckily, several Low FODMAP foods do fall into the Mediterranean diet, like fish, olives, and some nuts and seeds to name a few. 

Identifying and Avoiding IBS Trigger Foods: A Personalized Approach to Symptom Management

I always recommend keeping a log to identify and then avoid trigger foods. Having a log will help you find trends in foods, moods, etc. that may help you identify certain foods to avoid. A good way to electronically track everything is in the mySymptoms Food Diary. This app is a diary for tracking food, bowel health, stress, sleep, mood, medications, and symptoms. 

Balancing Macronutrients and Micronutrients: A Nutritional Strategy for PCOS and IBS 

Some studies show that micronutrient (vitamin/mineral) deficiencies may impact PCOS. The micronutrients of interest are zinc, vitamin D, vitamin E, selenium, inositol, and chromium. When you are living with PCOS and IBS, it’s important to have a well-rounded diet (keeping in mind what foods your body best tolerates). 

Let’s take a minute to talk about what prebiotics and probiotics are. Probiotics are live microorganisms, and when ingested, they provide good bacteria. Prebiotics are the food source for the good bacteria in our gut. Prebiotics and probiotics have been known to help with dysbiosis in the digestive tract, which may help with PCOS symptoms. Read more about the connection between PCOS and gut dysbiosis in this article

Seeking Professional Guidance: A Personalized Approach to Exercise and Nutrition 

Luckily, there are many professionals out there who can provide help when you are trying to take control of your PCOS. Coming at it from many angles is key. Try finding a registered dietitian who specializes in PCOS or IBS, and then pair that with a personal trainer or various at-home streaming workout platforms (like Beachbody on Demand, Daily Burn, Apple Fitness, or Alo Moves). 

Embracing a Holistic Lifestyle: Combining Exercise, Nutrition, and Stress Management

In summary, we should consider really shifting our focus on ways to support our body and hormones. Instead of only focusing on weight loss and the typical guidelines of “eat less and do more cardio,” we really need to focus on lifestyle changes. These lifestyle changes should include eating enough calories, following an anti-inflammatory diet, training in strength, and managing stress. 


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  6. Salama, A. A., Amine, E. K., Salem, H. A., & Abd El Fattah, N. K. (2015). Anti-Inflammatory Dietary Combo in Overweight and Obese Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. North American journal of medical sciences, 7(7), 310–316. https://doi.org/10.4103/1947-2714.161246 

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