Q: After years of being overweight, sprouting excess facial and bodily hair, and having terrible skin, I have been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) by my GP. Is there a diet that can help?
A: PCOS is the most common hormonal disorder in women of reproductive age, affecting an estimated five to ten per cent. It gets its name because the ovaries look as if they are covered in multiple cysts: in fact, they are small undeveloped egg follicles.
PCOS results in distressing symptoms including acne, hirsutism and weight gain, and is a major cause of infertility. But it is frequently misdiagnosed or even missed completely, according to Marilyn Glenville, a registered nutritionist and chartered psychologist who has treated PCOS for more than 30 years (marilynglenville.com).
There is a simple diet to combat PCOS. In her book Natural Solutions to PCOS (Macmillan, £10.99*), Glenville details a regime that ‘will dramatically improve the quality of your life, and may even get rid of your PCOS ’. It is also a sensible diet for everyone.
The first principle is not to go without food for more than three waking hours, to keep your blood sugar levels balanced. This is key in treating all hormonal imbalances. With most PCOS sufferers the body produces too much insulin, triggered by refined carbohydrates. This is the principal cause of weight gain and the over production of male hormones, which underlie hirsutism and acne. Base your diet on unrefined carbs including vegetables (not potatoes and parsnips) and fruit (berries,apples, pears and citrus), plus barley, brown rice, buckwheat, maize, millet, oats, rye, spelt and wholemeal bread and pasta.
Add protein to every meal and snack, which slows down the absorption of food and thus insulin production. Eat plenty of oily fish and omega-3-rich foods including eggs and nuts, also vegetable protein such as quinoa, hummus, nut butters such as almond and seeds. Cook with olive oil.
Avoid white flour and white sugar in any form, fruit juice, honey, chocolate, instant porridge oats, soft fizzy drinks, white rice. Eliminate all dairy products for 12 weeks. Milk is full of hormones, principally acne-triggering androgens. Try organic coconut or organic soya milk instead. Cut out alcohol to improve liver function. Reduce caffeine to rest adrenal glands, and saturated fats to reduce inflammation.
‘During the menopause, my brittle finger nails went from bad to impossible –I could peel them off. After using Nail Magic as directed for three months, my nails are strong and long. I am thrilled!’ Nail Magic £9.95, from Victoria Health.
Q: A good night’s sleep?
A: It’s as easy as 1, 2, Zzzz Like many people, my 40-something friend Eva has sleep problems. She can get to sleep only to wake an hour or so later. But a break at the luxurious Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire following the Espa Life Sleep More programme, one of several individually tailored Lifestyle Programmes, seems to have broken the web of insomnia. The Espa Life naturopathic practitioner Louise Westra prescribed a vitality-boosting regime including acupuncture and nutritional therapy, as well as relaxing massages and delicious-but-healthy meals.
Eva returned enthusing about her‘unique and fabulous experience – I was impressed by the way the therapists collaborated to address my problem’. However, it’s very much ‘treat-level’ pricing. So here are some of the tips she learned:
1.Waking after a couple of hours may be a response to blood sugar dips (see right) so Eva now eats an oatcake with peanut or almond butter just before bedtime.
2.Early morning exercise is better for sleep than stimulating late night work-outs, so Eva took pre-breakfast power walks around the hotel’s beautiful golf course and now walks at least part of the way to work.
3.For those with problems dropping off, Eva says the acupuncturist’s tip of pressing the point midway between your eyebrows really helps. gleneagles.com, telephone: 0800 389 3737
Don’t get blindsided
Untreated, glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness. I once interviewed a 60-year-old woman photographer who nearly lost hersight – and her career – due to the condition. I always urge everyone over 40 to have full eye health checks every two years. If glaucoma runs in your family, get checked every year (some experts recommend this from 35). Eye tests are free for over-60s and those over 40 who have a close relative with glaucoma or other risks. Visit glaucoma-association.com.