Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a complex condition that affects women and is characterized by an imbalance in sex hormones. It can cause irregular menstrual cycles, abnormal hair growth, hair loss and fertility issues. Having PCOS increases your risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Although there is no specific diet for PCOS, certain dietary changes can improve symptoms and help manage the condition.
Importance of Weight Loss
Close to 50 percent of women with PCOS are overweight or obese, according to the McKinley Health Center. Weight loss is the first approach to managing PCOS, according to a 2004 review published in the journal "Reproductive Biomedicine Online." Losing weight significantly improves hormonal and metabolic problems and improves fertility rates in women with PCOS. The McKinley Health Center recommends losing 5 to 10 percent of your weight if you're overweight.
Benefits of Improving Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin resistance is a common feature of PCOS. In addition to regulating blood glucose, insulin regulates ovarian function, making it a primary focus in the management of PCOS, according to Reproductive Biomedicine Online. Researchers in Australia found evidence that supports following a controlled-carbohydrate, protein-rich diet if you have PCOS. Their literature review, published in the "Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics" in 2013, found that switching to this type of diet improves menstrual regularity, insulin sensitivity, cholesterol, mood and quality of life in women with PCOS.
When it comes to diet, the strongest evidence to date suggests reducing your overall calorie intake to promote weight loss and adjusting your carbohydrate intake. Decrease your intake of refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, pasta, muffins and sweets, and increase your intake of fiber-rich vegetables, dried beans and fruit, recommends the McKinley Health Center. Prepare smaller, more frequent meals to keep blood sugar levels steady, and aim to eat every 3 to 4 hours. Limit your salt intake to less than 2,400 milligrams per day, and eat protein with each meal and snack to help stabilize the effect of the carbohydrates on your blood sugar.
Although drastic carbohydrate reduction appears to be unnecessary in the management of PCOS, making dietary changes that you can sustain long-term is crucial. Even a moderate reduction in carbs improves insulin sensitivity, according to a study published in 2006 in "Fertility and Sterility." The authors found that switching to a diet consisting of 43 percent carbohydrates was enough to reduce fasting insulin levels -- a sign of improved insulin sensitivity -- in women with PCOS. A typical diet is composed of 56 percent carbohydrates on average. If you follow a 2,000-calorie diet, the recommended guideline translates to getting about 215 grams of carbohydrates per day.
- McKinnley Health Center: Nutrition Therapy for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Reproductive Biomedicine Online: Role of Changes in Dietary Habits in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Dietary Composition in the Treatment of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Systematic Review to Inform Evidence-Based Guidelines
- Fertility and Sterility: Role of Diet in the Treatment of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome