Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common hormonal disorder in women of reproductive age, affecting 10-15 percent of women and upward of seven million women in the U.S. alone.
The condition affects a woman’s entire body, with symptoms such as weight gain, irregular periods, infertility, acne, hair growth on the face (hirsutism), and hair loss.
PCOS also steps-up a woman’s risks for type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease as she gets older.
And, it doesn’t go away after menopause.
While there are genetic links, environmental factors like endocrine disruptors (both natural and man-made) also impact PCOS. Endocrine disruptors are everywhere; however, there are ways you can reduce your exposure to them.
Some things you can do include avoiding plastics in your food or when cooking and being mindful of the beauty products and household cleaners you use.
Here are some steps you can take to avoid exposure:
- Avoid using plastics and choose stainless steel, glass, or ceramics whenever possible. Most containers are now available in these materials, thankfully.
- Never microwave or heat up plastic containers containing food. Chemicals from the plastic will leach into your food.
- Avoid plastic wrap when possible, and never use it for heating food.
- Don’t reuse plastic bottles. The BPA will leach out increasingly over time.
- Avoid canned foods or choose BPA-free cans.
- Do not use plastic water bottles that have heated up in the sun.
- Never use plastic sippy cups for children or plastic baby bottles. There are many glass and stainless steel options available.
Food & Cooking
- Whenever you can afford to do so, choose organic foods. This is particularly true of the infamous “dirty dozen,” a list compiled each year by the Environmental Working Group of the twelve most heavily contaminated crops. The list typically includes apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, peaches, nectarines, potatoes, snap peas, spinach, strawberries, sweet bell peppers, and kale/collards.
- Peel all non-organic fruits and vegetables.
- Buy hormone‑free, organic, grass-fed meats when possible.
- Choose organic, locally grown seasonal foods. These are often less contaminated, as they don’t need additional preservation to stay fresh over a long transportation journey.
- Drink reverse osmosis water, as this can filter out most chemical residues.
- Avoid using nonstick cookware. Instead, choose ceramic, cast iron, stainless steel, or glass.
Beauty Products & Household Chemicals
- Avoid cosmetics and creams containing parabens.
- Avoid BHA and BHT. These are often used in moisturizers and makeup.
- Use chemical-free soaps and shampoos whenever possible.
- Avoid nail-care products with dibutyl phthalate.
- Check your beauty products on the Environmental Working Group to determine their potential for toxicity. The cosmetics database is a wonderful resource that is constantly updated.
- Avoid using bleached coffee filters. These can result in a lifetime exposure to dioxin that creates risk for endocrine disruption.
- Avoid using pesticides in your garden or on your lawn.
Furthermore, soy can be problematic for women with PCOS for a variety of reasons. The vast majority of soy is sprayed with the herbicide Roundup (glyphosate). Recently, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
Soybean oil is used widely in the U.S. as well, which is a processed oil (primarily omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids) that can contribute to inflammation and is extracted with chemical solvents. Soy also contains relatively high amounts of isoflavones.
Although these plant compounds are not actually estrogen, they can fit into the same receptor as estrogen in the human body and can activate or block the receptor (generally weakly).
Since women with PCOS tend to have difficulties ovulating, they often have abnormalities in their patterns of estrogen secretion and so depending on the amount and pattern in which it is consumed, soy could be a complicating factor in hormonal regulation.
In addition, animal studies have shown that soy isoflavones can stimulate the proliferation of breast cancer cells. It's possible that small, occasional amounts of organic soy in whole food form may be no reason for concern but avoiding the regular consumption of soy products as well as all processed dietary soy is ideal.