The Standard American Diet (SAD) is comprised of overly processed foods, refined sugars, and chemicals of all sorts. The result is chronic inflammation, abnormal levels of hormones and androgens, and obesity. All of these conditions are well linked to mood disorders, and all are common features of PCOS.
As a result, women with PCOS are 5 times more likely than their peers to have a mood disorder. These disorders manifest in countless ways including anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.
Unfortunately, research indicates that a mother’s mood disorder may also impact the mental health of her unborn child. The placenta may not protect the fetus, and babies carried by mothers with these disorders may be at higher risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes and of developing mood disorders of their own later in life.
The good news is that nutritional and dietary changes can ease and, in some cases, eliminate many mood disorders!
Here are 8 steps to start you on your way to managing your mood with food.
- Eliminate Refined Carbohydrates and Sugar– When your blood sugar drops, so does your mood. The trick? According to Dr. Leslie Korn, “eat breakfast and never be hungry.” Keep your blood sugar levels steady by eating frequently and choosing the right foods. When you eat refined carbs and sugars, you initially feel an energy boost, but then the crash comes. This reactive hypoglycemia is especially impactful to people under stress because stress lessens the body’s ability to regulate glucose. Simply eliminating refined carbs and sugars is a step in the right direction, but be sure to replace them with good proteins and fats.
- Eat Quality Fat and Protein– Fat does not make you fat. In fact, your body (especially your brain) needs, even craves, good quality fats, proteins and carbohydrates to function. Look for “good” fats in foods like grass-fed butter, eggs, walnuts, avocados and coconut oils. Avoid trans fats and hydrogenated oils.
- Take Care of Your Gut– Some scientists call your gut your “second brain” because it is an important part of neurotransmission in the body. Dr. Kelly Brogan says, “Food isn’t just fuel; it’s information,” and that one of the most powerful ways we can positively affect the critical microbiome and gut-brain signaling is through quality food (including fiber) and probiotics. We should especially consider fermented foods which, like probiotics, help maintain the lining of the gut, regulate the immune system, control inflammation, and act as both and anti-fungal and antiviral. In addition, a good probiotic will suppress growth/invasion of bacteria and increase the availability of vitamins A, C, K, and B. If your gut is functioning well and sending positive signals to the body and brain, your mood will fall into line.
- Eat When You Are Relaxed– Doctors used to believe that anxiety caused digestive problems, we now know that while that is true, it works both ways. Neurotransmitters in your gut tell the brain when there is something wrong. The parasympathetic nervous system (which slows the heart rate, increases intestinal activity and relaxes necessary muscles for excretion) switches on and allows digestive enzymes to flow when you are relaxed. So, try to eat slowly and mindfully, distracted by only your companions, in a relaxing place. Your gut will be better able to process your meals and will send positive messages to the body.
- Choose Wild and Organic Foods– Mental health is directly impacted by dietary exposure to toxins and allergens. When possible, choose fresh fruits and vegetables (ideally organic) and eggs and meat that are raised without antibiotics or steroids (ideally organically pastured). Wash and detoxify all fruits and veggies.
- Recognize When You Are Using Food as a Drug– We often crave foods to “alter our consciousness,” according to Dr. Korn. We use carbs and fats for comfort, as well as proteins and coffee for focus and energy. These foods cause chemical reactions that our brain is seeking. Eat mindfully and be aware of why you are choosing certain foods.
- Take Quality Supplements– A healthy diet can go a long way toward managing your mood, but it is rarely the complete answer. Consider taking a high quality supplement to ensure that you have the right vitamins and minerals and avoid gaps in your nutrition. For more information about how to choose a quality supplement read, “Choosing the Right Supplement for PCOS: Not All Supplements Are Created Equal.”
- Get Quality ZZZZs– Your circadian rhythm (your internal 24-hour sleep/wake clock) is also critical to maintaining your mood. Eating certain foods at certain times of day can help maintain your rhythm. For example, eat protein rich meals early in the day for sustained energy and carbs later in the day for better sleep. For more on the importance and benefits of sleep, read “How to Sleep Better, Lose Weight and Heal Faster” and “A Dozen Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep.”
“Are There Disorders or Conditions Associated with PCOS?” Are There Disorders or Conditions Associated with PCOS? National Institutes of Health, May 2013. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
Barry, J. A., Kuczmierczyk, A. R., & Hardiman, P. J. (2011). Anxiety and depression in polycystic ovary syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Human Reproduction, 9, 2442–2451.
Brogan, Kelly, and Kristin Loberg. A Mind of Your Own: The Truth about Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives: Featuring a 30-day Plan for Transformation. New York: Harper Wave, 2016. Print.
Korn, Leslie E. Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health: A Complete Guide to the Food-mood Connection. W. W. Norton, 2016. Print.
Ehrmann. D. A. (2005). Polycystic ovary syndrome. New England Journal of Medicine, 352, 1223–1236.