Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS is a metabolic disorder that affects the normal functioning of ovaries. Until recently, the role of nutrition in determining the extent of the disorder was not thoroughly explored. However, managing nutrition is now an integral part of controlling PCOS.
Importance of nutrition in PCOS
Many women with PCOS are overweight, most of them dealing with abdominal obesity. In fact, weight gain is one of the most common side effects of PCOS. Management of PCOS, therefore calls for weight loss – adapting healthier dietary choices and changing eating patterns is one of the most effective and safest methods to lose weight, and thereby manage PCOS.
Studies show that even a 5 per cent decrease in body weight markedly improves PCOS symptoms, like acne and irregular menstrual symptoms.
Further, many women with PCOS also have insulin resistance, i.e. the cells in their body are resistant to the action of the hormone insulin, which helps transport sugar from the blood into the cells, where it is required for energy or is stored as fat.
Insulin resistance plays a major role in aggravating the symptoms of PCOS – the body requires higher levels of insulin to move glucose, a situation that leads to a host of other issues like hormonal imbalances, weight gain and difficulty losing weight, increased risk of heart disease, etc. High blood sugar levels over stimulate the adrenal glands, making them produce more androgen, the male hormone that interferes with ovulation, and hence contributing to PCOS.
Treating insulin resistance is therefore a step in managing PCOS. Insulin resistance is best treated through nutrition management and weight control.
What diet works best?
Women with PCOS do find it difficult to lose weight, possibly because of high insulin levels that promote fat storage. For this reason, the typical low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet does not work when tackling nutrition for PCOS. A low glycemic index (GI) diet is the best way forward, as the foods recommended for it release sugar slowly into the bloodstream (glycemic index is the rate at which different foods release sugar into blood). Low GI foods like whole grains, meats, eggs, pulses, lentils, etc. help maintain the balance of blood sugar levels.
Studies prove the positive effects that diet plays in management of PCOS. These include:
- Hormone levels normalize with a healthy diet and loss of excess weight loss.
- Levels of male hormone testosterone reduce in the body.
- Blood insulin levels are maintained in the normal range.
- Other symptoms of PCOS diminish, like excess facial hair under chin, chest and stomach, irregular menstrual periods, acne, reduced fertility, etc.
A nutritionist can guide women with PCOS in managing their diet by introducing simple changes in their eating pattern, which when implemented can help counter the effects of PCOS.
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“Diet and nutrition in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): pointers for nutritional management,” J Obstet Gynaecol. 2007 Nov; 27(8): 762-73, Farshchi H, Rane A, Love A, Kennedy RL.
“Nutrition Guidelines in PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome)” https://shs.osu.edu/posts/documents/nutrition-guidelines-in-pcos-p1.pdf
“PCOS: PCOS Nutrition Guide,” CYWH Staff at Boston Children’s Hospitalhttps://www.youngwomenshealth.org/pcos_nutrition.html
“The Food Remedy – Polycystic ovary syndrome,” Nutritionist Resource,The Food Remedy – Kirsten Davies MBANT, May 21, 2014, https://www.nutritionist-resource.org.uk/nutritionist-articles/the-food-remedy-poly-cystic-ovary-syndrome