Boosting immunity is on the top of everyone’s mind. For women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), keeping your immune system strong is especially important for your overall health and wellness. You work hard to manage your PCOS symptoms, and you don’t want getting sick to derail your progress. So, what steps can you take to support immune system?
We went to some of the leading PCOS experts for their advice. We asked Registered Dietitians (RDs) and other PCOS specialists, “What advice or tips are you giving your clients with PCOS to promote immune health and overall health during this time?” We also asked, “Is your advice different now than in previous years? If so, how is it different?”
Many Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) have similar recommendations, such as eating a nutrient-rich diet with lots of vegetables and fruits and adding certain nutritional supplementation for immune health when needed.
PCOS Expert: Angela Grassi, MS, RDN
Angela Grassi, MS, RDN of the PCOS Nutrition Center and author of The PCOS Workbook, recommends, “To maximize your immune health, eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fats. Also, make sure you are taking good care of yourself with regular exercise, good sleep hygiene, and stress reduction, which impacts your immune system. And don’t forget to stay hydrated!”
When asked if her advice is different now than in previous years, Angela stated, “My nutrition recommendations remain the same. I have always made sure to check my patients’ levels of vitamin D and zinc. Supplementing with these if deficient can help with immunity, especially during these uncertain times.”
PCOS Expert: Hillary Wright, Med, RDN
Hillary Wright, MEd, RDN, Director of Nutrition, Domar Center for Mind Body Health states, “My advice for supporting good immune health is the same now as it’s always been, though many people now have an increased interest in their immune resiliency. Prioritizing a plant-based diet that regularly provides enough protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber provides the raw materials needed to produce immune cells and nurture gut health, which we now realize plays an important role in helping us defend against disease and infection. Under-eating by skipping meals or over-restricting to lose weight can create competition for important immune function nutrients. On the other hand, regularly loading up on highly processed foods can nudge out more nutrient-dense foods needed for good immunity. Adding in a comprehensive multivitamin/mineral supplement and some extra vitamin D can help fill any immune support gaps. Still, it can’t substitute for taking the time out to eat healthfully over the day.”
PCOS Expert: Martha McKittrick, RD, CDE
Martha McKittrick, RD, CDE, PCOS Expert adds, “While I’ve always focused on a balanced diet for my clients with PCOS, this year I’m paying special attention to micronutrients as they play a critical role in immunity. The strongest evidence for nutrients bolstering the immune system is for vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc. I take a “food first” approach, but there are times when a supplement may be needed. For example, vitamin D plays an especially important role in immunity, so talk to your doctor about supplementing if your levels are low. And, if you do decide to take other supplements, keep in mind more is not better. Excessive doses of certain micronutrients can actually harm the immune system.” Martha offers a PCOS online course for more information.
PCOS Expert: Laura Gilstrap, RD, LD/N
Laura Gilstrap, RD, LD/N, also recommends eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. She states, “One of the keys to a healthy immune system is eating right. The gut and immune system are symbiotically connected, making nutrition a critical component of the immune response and a defender of infection. Taking steps to boost immune health can not only help fight common bugs like the cold or flu viruses, but aid in PCOS management. In my practice, I encourage a healthy diet, high in fruits and vegetables, which offer a nice combination of vitamins A, C, D, E, and zinc, all essential vitamins and minerals to help strengthen the immune system. Using the “My Plate” technique to determine portions is an easy way for women to balance their hormones, microbiome, and intake.”
PCOS Expert: Tellene Hacatoryan MS, RD, CLT
Tallene Hacatoryan MS, RD, CLT agrees that for women with PCOS, it’s important to build a healthy immune and metabolic system. “I’ve found that going gluten and dairy-free has helped many of my patients with their overall health. Although it is not for everyone because everyone is not sensitive to gluten and dairy, I’ve seen many amazing transformations in women with PCOS after changing their diet. PCOS is often accompanied with autoimmune conditions, and studies have linked gluten and dairy to this as well.”
Tallene adds that her advice has not changed. “Whether we are in a pandemic or not, our health and wellness should be a priority. I believe we should always be conscientious of taking care of our bodies as women with PCOS, and one of the most important ways to do this is by reducing stress and inflammation, something we have quite a bit of control over through diet and lifestyle.”
PCOS Expert: Robyn Srigley
Robyn Srigley, The Hormone Diva and Holistic Nutritionist for Women with PCOS & Endometriosis, also addresses inflammation. “Women with PCOS often have low-grade, chronic inflammation contributing to classic symptoms like irregular cycles and weight gain as well as immune health. Controlling inflammation by supporting the gut with things like apple cider vinegar, probiotics, and fermented foods (think sauerkraut and kombucha), as well as stress-management techniques, are all critical to support a strong immune system. Inflammation is always something we target in my programs.”
PCOS Expert: Kelly Keating
Kelly Keating, Founder of PCOSLiving.com, stresses the importance of vitamin D to aid in immune health and function and the importance of the mind-body connection. “Through previous studies, we know that 85% of women with PCOS are vitamin D deficient. Supplementing with vitamin D is essential for women with PCOS so they can stay as healthy as possible during this stressful time.” Kelly adds, “I think now more than ever, women need to focus on their health and well-being. I recommend that women with PCOS focus on doing something positive for their physical, emotional, and mental health every day. Focus on healthy foods and doing a physical activity like walking. It is also critical to find ways to reduce stress. I encourage women to do one thing a day that brings them peace and joy, even if it is a tiny act of self-care. The mind-body connection is critical.”
PCOS Expert: Erika Volk Gilliland
Erika Volk Gilliland, The PCOS Personal Trainer, gives some advice and offers creative solutions for fitting in daily exercise. “Reframe challenges as opportunities to try something new. If your gym is closed, do not stress out about how to replicate your exact workout at home. Instead, use it as a chance to experiment with different types of exercise; try bodyweight strength training, go hiking, search YouTube for free workouts or sign up for an online workout program.”
Erika adds, “My advice has not changed much. Whether it is a busy work schedule or quarantine, finding time to work out is a challenge for most people. Embracing creative solutions and self-compassion will allow you to become the type of person that rarely misses a workout. On the other hand, rigid fitness programs and all-or-nothing attitudes toward exercise will keep you from long term success.”