A member has asked for some information on polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and its treatment and relation to exercise. Rather than deal with a specific disease process, I’m going to take a much more general look at a problem that is estimated to affect at least 25% of the normal, non-diabetic population in industrialized society. This condition is known as hyperinsulinism (or insulin resistance) and it is at the base of a host of medical conditions (including PCOS).
Let’s talk about insulin (and its counterpart, glucagon) for a moment.
INSULIN is the hormone required to transport glucose across the cell membrane. It is responsible for the conversion of glycogen from glucose, triglycerides from fatty acids and protein from amino acids. In other words, insulin is an anabolic hormone. You can also think of it as a ‘saving’ hormone, and when insulin levels are high, fat cells grow.
GLUCAGON, on the other hand, is the "spending" hormone. Its job is to take energy from the fat cells to be used as fuel for your body.
In an ideal situation, insulin and glucagon work in harmony to maintain a perfect balance. Unfortunately, this scenario is rare and what we usually see is a situation in which insulin fails to elicit a response at all (diabetes) or hyperinsulinism (too much circulating insulin). Both disturbed insulin binding to receptor sites and disturbed receptor response to insulin mean reduced insulin activity (you can think of that as insulin resistance) and a rise in blood glucose levels. These increased blood glucose levels elicit further production of insulin leading to hyperinsulinism. The conditions associated with hyperinsulinism include:
- Heart disease
- Adult onset diabetes
- Female infertility, PCOS, prostatic hypertrophy
- Abnormal cell growth
- Rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions
- Nervous system complaints, including fatigue
There are four main factors contributing to hyperinsulinism:
- Nutrition (e.g., a diet high in carbohydrates)
- Exercise (inactivity causes insulin levels to rise)
- Immune system function
But what happens when we reduce those levels of insulin and balance them with glucagon, the opposing hormone? The appropriate balance can help to promote the following:
- Normal appetite
- Fat burning – loss of body fat to reach and subsequently maintain an ideal body fat percentage
- Emotional stability
- Mental clarity
- Improved athletic performance and physical endurance
- Protection against, relief from and even reversal of many serious disease processes
- Improved healing of injuries
- Maintenance of a metabolic state in which the body and mind function at peak efficiency
Sounds like a recipe for optimal health and it is! But how do you reduce those levels of insulin? How do you get your body into that state of balance between insulin and glucagon?
Over the last 10 years, we’ve been encouraged to eat more complex carbohydrates (such as bread, pasta, other grains and fruit and vegetables) and reduce fat intake. But in concentrating on the consumption of complex carbohydrates and the reduction of fat, we’ve neglected to include enough PROTEIN and the right sort of OILS. BALANCE is the key word and for those of you who want the technical part – you need CARBOHYDRATE:PROTEIN:FAT in the ratio 40:30:30. This ratio refers to caloric value (and not to weight) and is known as the INSULIN ZONE SYSTEM. This system of eating:
- Does not deprive your body of any essential food items
- Does not require expensive individual ingredients
- Definitely does not take the fun and enjoyment out of eating.
But knowing that ratio isn’t enough. You need to know exactly how to combine those three food groups to balance insulin and glucagon. Here’s what you need to do:
- Work out your daily protein requirements
- Balance those protein requirements with ‘low-risk’ carbohydrates
- Add healthy fats or oils to each meal
- Drink plenty of water
Doesn’t sound too difficult? But let’s go back to the first step and talk about protein. The key is to have just the right amount of protein, balanced with the correct amount of carbohydrates to bring insulin levels down into the optimal zone for health.
The easiest way to estimate protein requirements is to use the PALM METHOD. This simply means that at any one meal, you should consume a portion of protein than can fit on the palm of your hand (and the same thickness as the palm of your hand). There are some small corrections that need to be made to that rule.
Increased protein requirements for special conditions:
- Pregnant - increase by one third
- Breastfeeding - increase by one fourth
- Children - increase by one third
- Body building - increase by one fourth
- Significantly overweight - increase by one fourth
(30 percent for males, 40 percent for females)
Increased protein requirements with physical activity:
- Light activity (walking) - increase by one fourth
- Moderate activity (30 minutes, 3 x 1/7) - increase by one third
- Active (one hour, 5 x 1/7) - increase by one half
If, for example, you are pregnant, breastfeeding and active (yes, it is possible to be all three) then to the palm size portion of protein you add 1/3 + ¼ + ½ = 4/12 + 3/12 + 6/12 = 13/12.
In essence, this means that this superwoman would eat just slightly more than two palm sized portions of protein at each meal.
The type of protein you eat is also important, ideally organically raised or fed produce wherever possible. The appropriate proteins include:
- DAIRY (low fat cottage cheese, low fat yoghurt, skim milk)
- EGGS (whites better than whole)
- LEAN MEAT (beef, veal, lamb)
- POULTRY (chicken, turkey, duck)
- WILD GAME (rabbit, venison)
- SOY, LEGUME PROTEIN (beans, tofu, lentils, soy protein powder - Opti Slim)
- FISH (salmon, mackerel, trout, tuna, sardines)
The next step is to add your carbohydrates. Here we have to consider that there are two types of carbohydrates: low risk (low glycaemic) or moderate risk (high glycaemic). The category a food falls into depends on the amount of carbohydrate present in the food and the amount of fibre it contains. Low carbohydrate and high fibre/water content foods are low risk, and it is those foods that you should select wherever possible. These include:
The moderate risk foods (which can still be eaten but in smaller amounts) include:
- Baked beans
- Sweet potato
- Fruit juices
I actually recommend reducing GRAIN consumption dramatically (and in my next article I’ll talk about why in more detail), but for the moment, keep consumption of these moderate risk foods to a minimum.
Now you must add some good oils to your meal. It’s vital that you don’t forget or omit this step, despite what you think about oils and fats. They’re not all bad and some are absolutely essential for good health. Fatty acids are a component of every cell wall in every cell of your body, fats are needed so that oil soluble vitamins (A and E) are absorbed and fats also reduce the insulin response to a meal (and that’s something we’re aiming for). They also turn on that "I’ve had enough to eat" feeling!
Choose from the following:
- Cooking – olive, sesame
- Seeds – flax, pumpkin, sesame
- Nuts – almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts
- Eggless/soya mayonnaise
- Dressings – flax, pumpkin, walnut, olive oils.
That’s the ZONE system in it’s simplest form. You should never go more than four hours without a "zone friendly" meal or snack. For your snack, you simply halve the meal time portion of protein and add the appropriate carbohydrates and oils.
The final step is to drink at least two litres of purified water each day – but drink it away from your meals, so it doesn’t interfere with your digestion.
If you follow this program of eating, you’ll soon start to experience all those benefits I’ve talked about
In the case of conditions like polycystic ovaries, dealing with hyperinsulinism can make a big difference to how easily the problem is resolved. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a condition that leads to a variety of unpleasant symptoms. A woman who suffers from PCOS may be overweight (or even obese) she may have a lot of facial hair (hirsutism) and may also suffer from acne. She may have infrequent or complete absence of periods and 35 percent of female infertility is due to the condition. Fortunately, there are lots of helpful herbs that can be used and minerals such as zinc, magnesium, chromium and vanadium are important adjuncts to treatment. However, staying in the ZONE at all times is at the basis of natural treatment for this condition (and a lot of other chronic degenerative disorders as well).