Since starting PCOS Diet Support, I have had the privilege of connecting with so many women with PCOS, all of them with stories different to my own, but with so many common threads. One of the topics that seems to keep raising is head is “PCOS and Depression”. So, I thought that this week we could tackle the topic of Depression and work out if a PCOS diet can also help with this more hidden and sneaky symptom.
Before we all get too depressed (excuse the pun!) with this topic, let me suggest a cup of spearmint tea to raise your spirits and lower your testosterone. We are going to find the silver lining so bear with me.
As you may know, I went off birth control in 2009 in the hopes of conceiving. For at least 4 or 5 months after stopping the pill and before I was diagnosed, I went into a deep depression. There was no colour to my days and I was living in survival mode, going through the motions from one day to the next. My marriage started to suffer as I didn’t find any joy in my marriage, my family or my work.
Before I was diagnosed with PCOS, I went into a deep depression.
I didn’t even realize that I felt as bad as I did. Things finally reached breaking point and I needed some answers. That’s when my research began. As I investigated PCOS further, I knew that I was depressed and I needed help. I will never forget that feeling of hopelessness and despair.
Being diagnosed with PCOS, although devastating, also gave me an action plan. I knew the nature of the beast and I could then find the best means for controlling it. As I made diet and lifestyle changes, my mood began to improve and stabilize. Don’t get me wrong, I still sometimes wake up irritable (and by irritable, I mean I can have a super short fuse, especially with hubby – he deserves a medal! )for no reason but those days are few and far between now.
Let’s have a look at some the research about PCOS and Depression.
It seems that there is a strong link between androgen excess, insulin resistance and depression. One study found that women who suffer the symptoms of androgen excess (which are pretty much the symptoms of PCOS) are more likely to struggle with depression than women without PCOS. (1) They also found that carbohydrate craving, excess hair and weight gain impact on our well-being and interfere with daily life - I could have told them that!
Another article I thought was really interesting explores the link between depression and insulin resistance. (2) We know that PCOS is primarily thought to be an endocrine disorder with irregularities in insulin and carbohydrate processing. Not all women with PCOS are insulin resistant but many of us are. So, if you do have insulin resistance, you are also more likely to suffer from depression or mood disorders.
So, the bottom line is that if you are suffering from depression with PCOS, you are not alone and it is not all in your head. Depression is another facet to this multi-faceted syndrome.
Now that we’ve established that depression in indeed linked to PCOS, let’s look at how we kick it in the butt so that we can live the life of joy, colour and sunshine we are meant to live.
Before getting into specifics, I want to share with you a story of a woman who suffered from severe depression. She also had untreated PCOS. She was on anti-depressants for a year and saw little improvement in her mood. Her mood only normalized when her PCOS was treated and she remained stable even when she stopped taking anti-depressants.
The moral of the story is that it is important to treat your PCOS. I’m not saying that you should not take anti-depressants if you are depressed – you need to be led by your doctor (remember that I am not a doctor and you need to seek medical help if you are suffering from depression). I am saying that treating your PCOS may hold an invaluable key to overcoming your depression.
Lifestyle changes is often recommended as the first course of treatment in the management of PCOS. By lifestyle changes, we often refer to a change in diet and more regular exercise. Well, lifestyle changes have also shown to have a significant improvement on mood and depression in women with PCOS. One study found that if women followed a PCOS diet and exercised, they would see a significant improvement in their mood as well as other symptoms of PCOS (4)
There it is again! Somehow diet seems to be the foundation of any sort of intervention! Well, you see, if we can lower insulin levels and improve insulin sensitivity; we should be able to improve androgen levels. This will lead to improvement in all of our PCOS symptoms, including depression.
Here’s another thing you may find interesting: recent research has shown that following a low carb, high protein (LCHP) diet improves mood significantly more than following a low protein, high carb (LPHC) diet (5) The researches divided women in to two groups, one following LPHC diet and the other following a LCHP diet. The women followed the diet for 16 weeks. What is key here is that neither group lost weight so improvement in their mood wasn’t down to that. Maybe it had to do with the fact that insulin levels tend to be lower and more manageable on a high protein, low carb diet?
I seem to keep coming back to the same supplements and I’m not going to rehash them here. Let’s just summarise:
Omega 3 – has been shown to lower testosterone in women with PCOS and improved testosterone levels = improved mood.
Inositol – Important for the metabolism of glucose and women have shown improve insulin sensitivity and decrease in free testosterone levels.
Vitamin D – The sunshine vitamin is important in insulin sensitivity and mood. (6)
Along with the supplements mentioned above, my supplement regime also includes Calcium, folic acid and chromium.
I have to say that since eating a good PCOS diet and taking regular supplements, I don’t battle depression the way that I once used to and my mood is much more stable. I still need to work on doing more exercise to improve my PCOS symptoms even more.
If you are suffering from PCOS and depression, it really may be worth your while changing your diet and making sure you’re doing some exercise, as well as taking your supplements. It is possible to find your spring in your step and see colour in your days!
If you have suffered from depression, like I have, and have managed to overcome it, I’d love to hear what you did that worked for you. As always, just leave me a comment below!