Baby Steps - PulseResearch
April 25, 2017
Research tests link between pulse consumption and female fertility
We already know that pulses are good for human health for a number of reasons, but one research team at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) suspected they could also help treat women who suffer from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), an endocrine disorder that affects approximately 10 per cent of women and is characterized by excessive body weight, polycystic ovaries, an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, and even infertility.
It is generally thought that lifestyle modifications, including diet and exercise, can play a big role in improving PCOS. Previous research by Dr. Gordon Zello, Professor and Head of Nutrition and Dietetics at the U of S, and Dr. Phil Chilibeck, Professor of Kinesiology at the U of S, showed positive effects from including pulses in diets of people at risk for metabolic syndrome. Putting these two ideas together, Dr. Zello and Dr. Chilibeck suspected the same thing could be accomplished with pulses and PCOS.
“Metabolic complications such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes are higher among women with PCOS,” Dr. Zello says. “This led us to the idea of investigating a pulse-based diet in women with PCOS. It is thought that many of the clinical features of PCOS are a result of insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia, and it is known that pulses have an insulin lowering effect.”
The first phase of the study, already complete, had women with PCOS participate in a 16-week lifestyle intervention program. They were required to eat a healthy diet featuring pulse-based meals and follow an aerobic exercise program; they were monitored during and after the four months. Results showed reduced fat mass and waist circumferences, signs of improved blood glucose levels, reduced cholesterol, balanced hormone levels, and a reduced number of cysts in their ovaries. Research also showed lower levels of fasting insulin and glucose, which is important as hyperinsulinemia (excess levels of insulin in the blood) is thought to be a key-contributing factor to many of the characteristics associated with PCOS. Most significantly, many women reported more regular menstrual cycles and some even left the study because they became pregnant.
The second phase of the research, which is ongoing, will assess other health parameters, such as levels of liver fat, which is a factor in PCOS, and apolipoprotein B, which can be used to determine the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. This phase will also involve testing for genetic determinants that could improve individual responses to dietary intervention, as well as individuals’ responsiveness to interventions designed to affect blood lipid levels.
Set to wrap up within the next year, Dr. Zello expects this research to lead to sound scientific outcomes linking pulse-based diets to treating PCOS, information that could also be used to support a health claim for pulses in Canada. However, another critical component of the research will be creating educational resources for people affected by PCOS about how pulse-based diets can help them make positive lifestyle changes.
“Although several studies have determined that diet and exercise interventions resulting in modest weight loss can lead to improvements in lipid profile and fertility measures in women with PCOS, there is currently no recommended optimal diet for this population of women,” says Laura McBreairty, a Post- Doctoral Fellow at the U of S and coordinator for this project. “The information obtained from this study will provide support for the recommendation of pulses to be incorporated into the diets of women with PCOS.”
Dr. Zello and the research team, which also includes Dr. Donna Chizen, a gynecologist at the U of S, will produce a cookbook of pulse-based recipes that will make it easier for people who are not used to cooking with pulses to include them in their everyday diets. In addition, this information will not be specific to people affected by PCOS – it will also be pertinent for anyone affected by chronic metabolic disorders or those that are just generally interested in leading healthier lives.
“A significant portion of the population shares many of the features associated with PCOS, such as insulin resistance and obesity, and we expect that our results will help promote the use of a pulse-based diet for both women with PCOS and the general population,” Dr. Zello says. “We hope to find new ways for Saskatchewan pulse growers to increase awareness and interest in consuming pulses as part of a regular diet.”
SPG Investment: $76,100
Co-Funders: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada ($271,900)
Project Lead: Dr. Gordon Zello, Head of the Division of Nutrition and Dietetics & Professor of Nutrition, University of Saskatchewan