Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common health condition among women caused by hormonal imbalance. PCOS can be the cause for irregular menstrual periods, excess hair growth, acne, and weight gain. The imbalance of hormones characterized by PCOS can also increase the risk of anxiety and depression. Let's take a closer look at the relationship between PCOS and depression.
How can PCOS cause depression?
Considering that about 40% of women with PCOS experience depression, you can easily conclude that PCOS can increase the tendency of experiencing symptoms of depression. There are many interconnected pathways that put women with PCOS at an increased risk for depression. How can PCOS lead to depression, you might ask? Here are some explanations for why PCOS and depression often take place at the same time.
Excessive weight gain
It is harder for people with PCOS to maintain an ideal weight, and as high as 60% of women with PCOS experience obesity. While the association between obesity and depression remains complex and is not definitive, some studies demonstrate that being overweight can increase psychological distress, making obesity a contributing factor for depression amongst people who have PCOS.
The hormonal changes caused by PCOS can lead to changes in physical appearance, such as excess body hair, hair loss, and acne, which can negatively affect mood, self-confidence, and body image. All of these changes in physical appearance might have a kick-off effect of creating stress by lowering one’s self-esteem. Prolonged stress can raise the risk of depression, meaning that continued stress related to changes in physical appearance could be contributing to depression.
Insulin resistance is one of the root physiological imbalances in women with PCOS. Insulin resistance means that the body can produce insulin but is unable to use it effectively. Therefore, the body has to pump up extra insulin to compensate for this, meaning an overproduction of insulin. Some studies show that an overproduction of insulin might be positively associated with increased mood swings and depressive symptoms.
Women with PCOS are much more likely to have low-grade chronic inflammation, which has been found to be linked with core depressive symptoms of low mood and inability to experience pleasure.
Now that you know what might be causing depression in PCOS, let’s take a look at what can be done to reduce mood swings and the risk of depression in PCOS.
Tips for avoiding depression in PCOS
As we mentioned before, along with physical symptoms such as irregular periods, weight gain, and acne, PCOS is also associated with a higher risk of depression and anxiety. However, there are several ways to manage the symptoms of PCOS and to reduce the risk of depression. Here are some tips:
Maintain ideal weight
Maintaining an ideal body weight is important not only to reduce the risk of many diseases, but also to avoid low mood and supporting your mental health. Although hormonal imbalances can make it challenging to maintain an ideal weight or lose weight when you have PCOS, there are some tips that can help women with PCOS achieve their ideal weight.
First and foremost, it is important to make healthy eating a habit. Include plenty of sources of fiber in your diet, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as high fiber intake is linked to lower total body fat and belly fat in women with PCOS.
Don’t forget to eat protein-rich foods to feel full for a longer time and to avoid sugar cravings. You can opt for plant-based protein sources like beans, lentils, tofu, and seeds, or animal protein sources like lean poultry and seafood.
Another cornerstone of healthy eating is getting healthy fats through your diet. Get plenty of olive oil, oily fish, and nuts on your plate. While making your diet healthier, don’t forget to drink enough water to support your metabolism. Remember, following a healthy diet and maintaining an ideal body weight is one way to improve your mental health in PCOS.
Lowering your stress levels is one of the best things you can do for yourself, as stress affects the body and mind in many ways, including by causing mood swings and depression in PCOS. Luckily, there are many effective ways to reduce stress levels.
You can try getting more physically active, connecting with others, doing yoga, or meditating. These techniques are proven ways to improve your overall well-being. For example, daily meditation has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, mood disorders, and fatigue.
Combat insulin resistance
As insulin resistance causes a high level of insulin release, it is important to avoid foods that require more insulin. Cutting down on refined carbohydrates such as pastries, white bread, and refined sugar is a big step toward stabilizing your blood sugar and insulin levels. It is also best to avoid sugary beverages such as soda, fruit juices, and ice tea if you are looking to manage insulin resistance.
Eat anti-inflammatory foods
Eating foods rich in antioxidants while reducing consumption of pro-inflammatory foods is the key to an anti-inflammatory diet. In order to fight inflammation, eat more fruits and vegetables; foods containing omega-3s like salmon, mackerel, and tuna; and foods rich in polyphenols (beneficial plant compounds) such as berries, dark chocolate, coffee, and spices.
While increasing anti-inflammatory foods in your PCOS diet, it’s also important to reduce your consumption of foods that trigger inflammation such as fried foods, processed meats, and saturated fats to prevent and treat the inflammation that is linked with depression.
Make exercise a daily habit
Exercising daily comes with many health benefits, including lowered stress levels, improved mood, and reduced depression. In addition to these benefits for your mental health, regular exercise can aid in weight management, enhance your sleep quality, improve your cardiovascular fitness, and help in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. Therefore, making exercise a daily habit is of great importance for managing PCOS.
So, we've talked about PCOS and depression. You can try the tips above to avoid depression in PCOS, but keep in mind that these tips may only help in improving your mental health, and may not necessarily be a form of treatment for depression in PCOS.