On July 23, 2016, all the women in the PCOS Project were scheduled for a session on nutrition and PCOS. We met with Sonya, the woman that developed the PCOS Project, and a doctor that has PCOS herself and has treated 1000’s of women with PCOS.
The doctor’s name is Fiona McCulloch, ND. She’s a Naturopathic doctor from Ontario, Canada. Click here for her website. She has written a book called “8 Steps to Reverse Your PCOS.” It will be out in late September for PCOS month. I can’t wait to read it!
The Glycemic Index
First, she gave us a summary of what PCOS is. Then she began to discuss the nutritional lifestyle changes that are necessary to manage the condition. She began by reminding us of the glycemic index and glycemic load. I didn’t know this, but the difference between the 2 is that the index doesn’t include quantities and the load does. As you are probably aware, these lists are the go-to basis of insulin resistance/diabetic diets. Next she said that following a low glycemic diet doesn’t work for women with PCOS.
The problem in women with PCOS is not how much glucose they have in their blood. It’s how much insulin they have in their blood. You can have normal blood glucose levels and still have high insulin levels. A woman without insulin resistance and a woman with PCOS can eat the same low glycemic meal or snack, and the woman with PCOS will have a higher amount of insulin released into her blood stream. Not only will more insulin be released in the woman with PCOS, but also, her insulin level will remain higher throughout the day than in the woman without insulin resistance.
The Insulin Index
Since 1997, the people that developed the glycemic charts have been developing the insulin index. This index is a list of common foods and how they affect the levels of insulin in a person’s blood. This list shows that some foods can be low glycemic, but high on the insulin index. Protein is a good example (this blew my mind and explained a lot of what I’ve experienced!). Eating lean protein doesn’t raise your blood glucose level very much. It does, however, raise your blood insulin level. For example, beef has a glycemic load of 21 and an insulin index of 51. Another shocker–brown and white rice are the same on the insulin index! Here’s a link to a good chart that compares the two.
So, the eating plan that Dr. Fiona wants us to follow is based off the insulin index. She has developed a point system based on the insulin index, and she gives us the point values for our meals off the point system. It’s kind of similar to weight watchers in that you get a certain number of points to ‘spend’ at each meal. The number of points that you get per meal is based on your lab results, including your insulin levels. For some reason, my lab results didn’t include my insulin levels. The report states that there wasn’t enough blood to do the test (13 vials wasn’t enough?!?!?!? Seriously though, the blood went to several different labs for the different tests). So, they are going to redraw blood to get this level since it will be used for a baseline. Regardless, she said that by looking at the levels for several of my other lab results, she could tell that my insulin level would be high. Therefore, she put me on a low insulin index meal plan. I get 40 points for breakfast, and 55 for lunch and dinner. If I need a snack, then it should be < 10 points.
Dr. Fiona went on to talk about intermittent fasting. Basically, your liver is full of glucose–it’s like the refrigerator. When the body needs some glucose for energy, it goes to refrigerator and gets some. As long as there is glucose in the liver, the body will continue to get it from there. Conversely, the fat in your body, is like the freezer–it stores glucose, but when the body needs glucose, it goes for the easy fix in the liver. Who wants to thaw something out from the freezer when they can just grab what they need out of the refrigerator?? When you fast, the body uses up the energy stored in the liver and is forced to go to the fat to get the glucose it needs, which is what we want it to do. When you wake up in the morning, you’ve been fasting since sometime before you went to bed; therefore, your liver is empty of glucose. With intermittent fasting, you elongate that fast and force your body to burn fat for its energy. For me, she has suggested that I fast for 14 hours between dinner the day before and breakfast today. Since I generally eat dinner at 6:00 p.m., I will need to wait until 8:00 a.m. to eat breakfast.
A couple more tidbits from her talk include:
• Pesticides not only kill pests, they are also designed to disrupt the pests’ reproduction. Therefore, women with PCOS are extremely sensitive to the pesticides in/on our food. In fact, there have been multiple studies that show that pesticides have INDUCED PCOS in some women. GRRRRR!!
• She recommends SunWarrior Vegan Protein Vanilla flavor for smoothies, etc. Here’s a link to it.
So that’s the basic summary of her talk, with a little bit of my 1-on-1 session included. The rest of my 1-on-1 focused on my lab results and the unrelenting fatigue from which I suffer.
What she discovered in my lab results is that in my thyroid panel, my T4 Free is low and my T3 Uptake is high. I also have thyroid antibodies. Therefore, I most likely have Hypothyroid or Hashimoto’s. Many women have PCOS also suffer from thyroid issues. Hashimoto’s has been linked to PCOS and typically occurs with it.
It’s important to note that all of the tests my internist has done during my annual check-ups, including the extra testing that I asked him to do on my thyroid in May, 2016, came back within the normal range.
Dr. Fiona said that the tests that show the abnormal values wouldn’t be done by a conventional doctor–even an endocrinologist. Naturopathic/Holistic doctors are the ones that do this testing. My personal conclusion on this information is that by the time regular doctor’s detect something like Hashimoto’s, there’s been a lot of unnecessary suffering and damage done to the person.
Additionally, the messenger hormone that tells my adrenals to make cortisol is low, but the cortisol levels themselves are high, which can signal and autoimmune disease (again Hashimoto’s).
Finally, my cholesterol is fairly high (which I knew), but that is probably a symptom of the Hashimoto’s. The bariatric doctor that I see wanted to put me on cholesterol medicine in June, but I asked her to wait until the PCOS Project has had a chance to lower it. When I told Dr. Fiona that, she said that the high cholesterol was a symptom of the thyroid problems. Therefore, the doctor would have been treating a symptom with a medication that has its own issues, rather than the cause. It’s a viscous circle, and it’s one of the reasons the PCOS Project was formed–to get to the root causes of illness rather than just medicating the symptoms.
Dr. Fiona said that thyroid issues can’t be treated effectively with nutrition and supplements only. I will have to be put on a prescription medication to treat the Hashimoto’s. However, diet and other lifestyle changes will support what the medication is doing. Additionally, once the medication begins to work, I should feel A LOT better and have much less fatigue (YAY!!!). Since Dr. Fiona is from Canada, she can’t prescribe medication here. Therefore, I have an appointment with Dr. Sonny (the Project’s lead physician in Georgia) on Wednesday to draw more blood for my insulin levels, discuss treatment for the Hashimoto’s, as well as, what supplements I need to be taking.
Dr. Fiona has her own supplements in Canada, but shipping costs would be prohibitive from there to me in the US. So she is going to get with Dr. Sonny and discuss what supplements each of the women in the Project should be taking. I have been using a shot-gun approach and taking a little of everything. I’d like to be a little more precise in what I’m taking.
Finally, Dr. Fiona also said that the thyroid is like a gatekeeper. If it’s not working correctly, then it is blocking everything I’m doing from being effective. Therefore, all my supplements, green tea, matcha tea, etc., aren’t doing a whole lot right now. 🙁 🙁 🙁