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Why PCOS makes you hungry

There are a lot of frustrating symptoms associated with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Weight, infertility, acne, hirsutism, just to name a few. To add to the list is disordered appetite control. There are some things you can do to improve appetite regulation with a PCOS diet so we’ll look into that a little.

But, before we do, let’s have a look at some of the underlying science.

PCOS and hunger hormones

A recent study compared 16 pairs of women, matched for age and body mass index. One woman in the pair had PCOS and the other did not (1). They took a series of blood tests following a meal and asked each woman to rate their hunger levels.

You might not be surprised to hear that women with PCOS felt less satisfied after their meal than the women without PCOS. They also had lower levels of Cholecystokinin (CCK) after the meal. CCK is the hormone that tells your body that you are full after a meal.

So, if your CCK levels are lower, that means that you will be hungrier after meals.

Now, this has some serious implications.

Firstly, it can cause us to gain weight as we may eat more than we need to.

Secondly, it will make sticking to any kind of calorie restricted diet that much harder.

But, there is some good news. There are some things that you can do to improve your appetite regulation with PCOS.

Get your testosterone levels under control

One of the main ways to improve your CCK levels and feeling of fullness is to improve your testosterone levels.

You see, the researchers also found a connection between high testosterone levels and low levels of CCK. In other words, the higher your testosterone levels, the more hungry you are likely to feel after meals.

Now, there are lots of other benefits to lowering testosterone levels, of course. Here are some of them:

  • Less hair growth (hirsutism)
  • Less hair loss
  • Improved skin
  • More regular menstrual cycle

So, how do you go about lowering those testosterone levels? Here are some ways:

Increase Sex Hormone Binding Globulin

Sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) tends to be lower in women with PCOS. It has a really important job of picking up any free testosterone or estrogen in the blood. If your SHBG levels are low, you’ll have more testosterone to cause havoc in your body.

Now, there are a couple of things you can do to increase SHBG levels.

Get your Insulin levels under control

All women’s ovaries produce testosterone (as do the adrenals). The problem is that our ovaries are particularly sensitive to insulin and produce too much testosterone, in response to insulin.

So, if we can get our insulin under control, we should see a decrease in our testosterone levels.

You can manage insulin by:

  • Eating foods with a low glycemic load
  • Exercising regularly
  • Avoiding highly processed and refined foods

Taking supplements

There are a number of key supplements that have been shown to help lower testosterone levels in women with PCOS.

Eliminate Dairy

I’ve written about dairy before but to give you a quick recap, dairy contains a hormone called IGF-1. It mimics insulin and causes your ovaries to release testosterone. So, I really recommend you consider giving up dairy.

I have many women who have told me that once they changed their diet, their hunger levels were much more manageable.

Why is that?

Because their insulin levels were improved, which meant testosterone levels were better and CCK (the hunger hormone) was boosted.

So, the good news is that you are not doomed to a life of permanent hunger but there are things that you can do to improve your appetite regulation.

If you have seen any improvements in your hunger levels or have any other thoughts, I’d love to hear from you! Leave me a comment below.

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Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and PCOS expert who has been a leader in the online PCOS space for over 8 years. Tarryn has the support of leading clinicians from around the world who support her scientific approach to understanding and talking about PCOS this includes all medical journals and ongoing research. You can read more about Tarryn and the team here.

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