Over the last couple of months, as I have continued my exploration of the benefits of nutrition for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, I have become increasingly aware of the importance of our gut health. Our intestinal flora have a far and wide-reaching impact on our health and I have wondered about it’s impact on our PCOS. So, I am asking the question, “PCOS and probiotics? Should probiotics be part of my PCOS Diet?”
Your Gut Health
You may be surprised to hear that the micro-organisms that live in your gastrointestinal tract weigh 1kg and outnumber your cells by 10-1. So, it’s easy to see that they would have a huge impact on your overall health and well being.
The composition of the bacteria, yeasts and other organisms in your gut depends on your diet, exposure to chemicals and antibiotics. It also changes from person to person and will change during your lifetime. The goal is to increase the friendly organisms and decrease the not so friendly ones that promote disease and illness(1).
Why You Should Care for your Gut
The microflora in our guts have a huge role to play in so many aspects of our health. Here are some of the things that they do for us(2):
- Produce B vitamins, including Biotin and Folic acid (I have heard of many women taking Biotin to help alleviate hair loss)
- Increase absorption of minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium and manganese
- Break down and rebuild hormones
- Promote healthy weight and metabolism
- Help control inflammation
So, our gut microflora have a pretty important job and it’s important to look after them. Let’s have a look at PCOS in particular.
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Probiotics for PCOS?
Inflammation and Obesity
We know that women with PCOS suffer from chronic inflammation which impacts on insulin resistance and weight gain. But did you know that our intestinal flora mediate this inflammatory process? In one piece of research, it was found that changes in gut flora resulted in decreases in body fat, weight gain and inflammation (3).
The other problem is that this chronic inflammation causes the gut to allow unhelpful substances into the body (leaky gut) which leads to more inflammation and food sensitivities. So, it’s a vicious cycle that ultimately leads to insulin resistance and worsening of our PCOS symptoms (2).
This one really surprised me but did you know that 80-90% of the serotonin produced in our bodies is produced in your gut? Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is involved in a number of processes and has an influence on just about every brain cell. Researchers have also found a strong link between decreased levels of serotonin and depression.
One study even found that depressed mice who were separated from their mothers and then given a probiotic returned to their previously sunny disposition. Another study found that people who had a probiotic for 30 days were more able to deal with stress (4) . Scientists are seriously looking into probiotics as a possible treatment for depression. Given the link between PCOS and depression, I’d seriously consider taking probiotics for that reason alone.
General Health Benefits
We all know too well the carb cravings that go hand-in-hand with PCOS. And we’ve all given into them at some time. Well, highly processed and refined carbs stimulate the growth of the harmful bacteria in our digestive tracts. These harmful bacteria will crowd out the good organisms and stop them from doing their work.
So, taking a probiotic or eating foods rich in probiotics will help to restore the balance and improve our overall health.
How to Take Probiotics
There are a number of ways to take probiotics.
You can take probiotic supplements. Here are a couple of things to consider:
- Keep them in the fridge (remember, these are live organisms and you should treat them with care).
- Take them on an empty stomach as eating them with food will increase the acidity of the stomach which is likely to kill them before they reach their final destination – the small intestine.
Fermented foods have an abundance of probiotics. They’re inexpensive and easy to make. At the moment, I am experimenting with Kombucha, water kefir and sauerkraut. I really recommend that you look into these. Kombucha and water kefir are fermented drinks and they have a slight fizz to them so they are like a soda replacement. They can have quite a high sugar content (although it is meant to be low GI) so I make sure that I have it with some nuts or protein to balance the sugar.
I have also received loads of cabbage with my weekly vegetables recently so I have been making sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is one of the best probiotic foods available and it is really easy to make. Try this recipe from Wellness Mama.
Although there are live cultures in yoghurt, there is also IGF-1 which mimics insulin and will lead to a rise in testosterone, making your PCOS worse. So, I prefer to get my probiotics from non-dairy sources of fermented foods.
Summing it Up
I am by no means saying that probiotics are going to cure your PCOS or even make a huge difference on their own. But I do think that incorporating more probiotics into your PCOS diet could make a difference to your overall symptoms, as well as improve your mood and possibly even your fertility.
If you have dabbled in the world of fermented foods or probiotics, please get in touch and let me know! I’m always keen to hear about what you are doing to manage your PCOS.
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Fab article! I’ve been looking into probiotics the last couple of weeks to incorporate them into my diet and this article has helped alot. Thank you!
There is a probiotic drink manufactured by a company called SYMPROVE that apparently has shown very positive results in treating IBS in proper clinical trials at UCL. It is non-dairy and It has been found to be very effective at surviving the journey through the stomach, to get to the gut and has alleviated symptoms for a significant number of participants in the study and beyond. Their website gives a lot of information.
According to the makers, there are no clinical trials so far that have looked at its impact on PCOS symptoms, but I wondered whether anyone with PCOS has had any experience of using it and whether it was helpful?
It is expensive, and a 12 week trial is recommended, to allow the “good bacteria” to establish properly. They manufacturers also say it can take a while for the body to get used to taking it but if it could have a positive impact on bloating etc, then I am wondering if it would be worth trying.
Can anyone recommend a good probiotic supplement? I have been searching for a good one for a while now and I would love a recommendation.
I am using Cognoa Pro15 probiotics suppliment.
I’ve had PCOS for over 20 years. I have stuck my head in the sand thinking I was as good as I was going to get with the Metformin, spironolaction & fluoxitin for mood. Tarryn you are right on with healing the gut! I have started a probiotic regime that is healing my gut & I feel so much better!!! I’m thrilled my hirsuitism is going away, I feel clearer headed & have energy longer & I’m happier!!! I still have a ways to go but if I can feel this good, I can’t wait until I’ve healed my gut all the way! Thank you Tarryn for bringing to light such an important topic with PCOS!
Hello, could you recommend which probiotic supplements you are taking? Thanks!
Great to hear! Which probiotic do you take? Thanks 😊
Hi everyone. I’ve been diagnosed with PCOS for two years now (I’m only 19). I was on birth control, but I hated the symptoms of taking the pill so I quit for about a year, that’s when my mom turned me on to probiotics. Today is only my third day taking the probiotic pills, but not even a few hours after the first day I started my peiriod and it’s very heavy. I’m having to change every few hours (this has never happened before). Other than this my diet hasn’t changed and there’s nothing unusual about my routine that’s happened since. Do you think it’s a result of the probiotics? Is my body detoxing itself? Thank you.
can you tell me what type of probiotic pills you are taking?
Hi Alisa! I just started taking a probiotic a few days ago and got my period spontaneously as well! I wasn’t sure if it was happening because of the prebiotic but reading this makes me feel like it really may be. I’ve been looking around on the internet and there’s not much being said about the affect of probiotics on your monthly (or not so monthly in my case) cycle.
I have suffered from Hirsutism for 17 years which is derived from PCOS. I have tried lazer treatment and electrolysis and the problem just worsened. Then I discovered Inulin supplementation. I take it daily with water and within 4 weeks the hirsutism has virtually gone. This proves your theory of gut bacteria. Nothing short of a miracle!
Hi Ashleigh, I have the same issue. Can you tell me what Inulin supplement you used? This sounds amazing!
Hi can you tell me please how much inulin you take a day please. I’ve brought some powder. I also take inositol is this ok to take together Tarryn ? Thanks Vicky
I am also interested to know which supplement you are taking that greatly reduced your hirsutism. That has to be the single most frustrating symptom of my PCOS. Thank you!
Recently I’ve been having a lot of bloating at the end of the day. What probiotics in supplement would you recommend?
Thanks a lot!!!
You say in the article that probiotic supplements should be taken on an empty stomach. Is this also applicable for foods containing probiotics (e.g. raw sauerkraut)? I make sure I eat some a few times a week but usually with a meal..
This could be of interest, concerning the gut microbiome and PCOS: apparently gut bacteria can produce androgens… hopefully researchers will follow this lead
I have made water kefir by using rinsed milk kefir grains, adding sugar, & organic sulpher-free, sugar-free dried fruit. I am sure that eventually it will be water based grains, if you use it over & over again!
I am 23 and also struggling with PCOS although its clinical manifestation is mild and limited to hirsutism, which I have to say is a challenge for my happiness and self esteem-but I m working on it. Anyway, I find your initiative brilliant and Im glad that your blog is so well written and always based on scientific evidence. Being a medical student I really appreciate evidence based writing.
Back to the topic discussed, I would like to ask which type of dairy milk (cow, goat etc) is less harmful in terms of IGF-1 content? (I love kefir but Im finding it hard to find the non dairy versions and I have to say I am generally a dairy-addict so any information on that would be extremely helpful).
ps sorry for the intro-maybe a little out of topic but Im new to the blog and just now getting accustomed to the rules!
Hi, you say yoghurt will raise your testosterine levels, however, what about kefir? I make my own kefir with skim milk. Will that do the same thing as yoghurt?
Thanks so much,
Hi,I am a 66year sufferer of pcos,which was very bad while going through my teens & up till my change of life. I have lost 6 babies. There were no doctors at the time in South Africa who could help me. It is now a lot better, but apparently I will always have to deal with pcos. Do you perhaps know if part of the syndrome involves suffering from osteoporosis? I am not overweight, but I have a sweet tooth- is dark chocolate a no-no for me, although I know it has sugar in it? Must I give up all dairy, including kefir, which I make with skim milk? I am currently following an 80%-20% alkaline/acid way of eating for my bones, but I can eat grass-fed meat & raw milk/dairy.
I look forward to your reply.
I’ve learned that low calcium in your diet can cause your pcos symptoms to act up. Don’t completely give up things you love….. your body craves them, and eventually you’ll give in and binge. Everything in Moderation is what my doctor told me.
I’m a med student living with pcos. Lemme tell you the problem with dairy (especially lower fat dairies such as skim milk.)
Our bodies don’t have a problem with lactose (found in dairy fat). Our bodies have a problem with a protein in dairy called A1 casein. (Found in the “milk” (organic butter is ok). Essentially what happens is this protein enters the body and morphs into a kind of drug similar to morphine! (Yes, it is possible to be addicted to dairy) that ends up causing drowsiness AND inflammation which each lead to…. drum roll please…. insulin resistance, which is the last thing we ever want!! What I would recommend is to cut dairy (butter is fine) out just for 14 days, along with gluten, potatoes, white rice, corn and white sugar. See how you feel after that! I bet you’ll feel great! Dairy actually hurts my stomach now when I consume it because out bodies aren’t actually made for dairy! (However if you use milk from Jersey cows this should not apply) about dark chocolate, cocoa is actually very good for you! That’s ok because in dark chocolate the sugar and dairy count is low! Just make small goals and go from there!