PCOS “belly” and PCOS bloating are common symptom experienced by many women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS bloating is characterized by a persistent, uncomfortable feeling of fullness in the abdomen and it can often be accompanied by excess fat that is carried around the abdominal area. This can be distressing and uncomfortable for women with PCOS, affecting their quality of life and self-esteem. In this blog post, we'll explore the causes of PCOS belly and how you can manage it through nutrition and other lifestyle changes.
Insulin Resistance and PCOS
One of the hallmark features of PCOS is insulin resistance, which can lead to increased levels of insulin in the body. This can in turn cause the body to store more fat, particularly in the abdominal area. This excess fat can create a "belly" or protruding abdomen. Insulin resistance is also closely related to bloating. When the body is insulin resistant, it has a harder time processing sugar in the blood, which can lead to higher blood sugar levels. In turn, this can cause the body to retain water and sodium, leading to bloating and swelling in the belly.
Inflammation and PCOS
Another factor that can contribute to PCOS belly is inflammation. Women with PCOS have been found to have higher levels of inflammatory markers in their blood, such as C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6), compared to women without PCOS. Chronic inflammation can cause the body to produce more cortisol, a stress hormone that can lead to bloating and weight gain - especially in the abdomen. Inflammation can also damage the gut lining, leading to gut health issues like leaky gut syndrome, which can contribute to bloating.
Gut Health and PCOS
The gut microbiome, which is made up of trillions of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract, plays a crucial role in overall health. Studies have shown that women with PCOS have a different gut microbiome composition compared to women without PCOS. Specifically, women with PCOS tend to have lower levels of certain beneficial bacteria, such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, which can contribute to a state of dysbiosis or imbalance in the gut.
Health risks associated with PCOS
Having excess abdominal fat, also known as central obesity or visceral fat, is associated with several health risks. Abdominal fat is the fat that accumulates around the organs in the abdominal cavity, and it is considered more harmful than subcutaneous fat (fat that accumulates under the skin). Here are some of the health risks associated with abdominal fat:
Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes: Women with PCOS belly are at increased risk of developing insulin resistance, a condition in which the body does not respond to insulin properly, leading to high blood sugar levels. Over time, insulin resistance can progress to type 2 diabetes.
Cardiovascular disease: PCOS belly is also associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart attack. Excess abdominal fat can lead to the accumulation of harmful fats in the liver, which can increase the risk of heart disease.
Sleep apnea: Women with PCOS belly are at higher risk of sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing is disrupted during sleep. Sleep apnea can lead to daytime fatigue, poor concentration, and other health complications.
Infertility: PCOS belly can contribute to infertility, as excess abdominal fat can disrupt hormone balance and interfere with ovulation.
Endometrial cancer: Women with PCOS belly may also be at increased risk of endometrial cancer, a type of cancer that affects the lining of the uterus. This risk is believed to be due to the hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS.
How to Manage PCOS Belly with Nutrition
whole, unprocessed foods like fiber-rich vegetables, low-glycemic fruits, nuts, seeds, quality protein such as fatty fish, eggs, poultry and grass fed meat and healthy fats
gut health promoting fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir and limiting
Limit or avoid:
sugar, alcohol, and processed foods
Using a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) can be another helpful nutrition tool, particularly for women with PCOS who are trying to determine their personal carb threshold. This refers to the amount of carbohydrates that a person can consume without causing a significant increase in blood sugar levels. By monitoring your blood sugar with a CGM, you can see the effects of different types and amounts of carbohydrates in real time and adjust accordingly until you can fine-tune the ideal nutrition plan for you.
The kahla app provides both symptom tracking and integration with CGMs and is designed to help women understand how nutrition affect their health symptoms, including those related to PCOS. The app also provides personalized recommendations based on your symptoms and data, helping you to identify triggers that can lead to PCOS bloating and belly discomfort.
Other lifestyle modification to alleviate PCOS Belly
Exercise is essential for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, decreasing inflammation and improving insulin sensitivity, all of which can help alleviate PCOS symptoms, including PCOS belly. It is important to incorporate both resistance training and cardiovascular exercise in your routine and make daily, intentional movement a priority.
Prolonged elevated cortisol levels can contribute to insulin resistance and inflammation. To help mitigate the cascading effects of stress, engage in a daily form of stress relief such as breathwork, meditation, yoga, or time in nature.
Poor sleep has also been linked to blood sugar dysregulation, insulin resistance and weight gain. Prioritize 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night by establishing a wind-down routine and having good sleep habits such as paying attention to light exposure and not eating too close to bedtime.
PCOS belly can be challenging to manage, but there are steps you can take to improve your symptoms. By focusing on a diet rich in anti-inflammatory, blood sugar balancing foods, prioritizing gut health, and using tools like the kahla app to track and understand your symptoms, you can take control of your PCOS symptoms and improve your overall health and well-being. Remember, it's important to seek the help of a medical provider to find the best treatment plan for your individual needs, but with the right tools and resources, you can find relief from PCOS bloating and belly discomfort.