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Can Losing Weight Reverse PCOS?

by
author image Janet Renee, MS, RD
Janet Renee is a clinical dietitian with a special interest in weight management, sports dietetics, medical nutrition therapy and diet trends. She earned her Master of Science in nutrition from the University of Chicago and has contributed to health and wellness magazines, including Prevention, Self, Shape and Cooking Light.
Can Losing Weight Reverse PCOS?
A slender woman is talking to her doctor. Photo Credit monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

Weight loss is a mainstay in the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. While the cause of this complex female endocrine disorder remains unknown, scientists do know that even modest weight loss improves symptoms of PCOS. The best approach to losing weight with PCOS is to work with your health care provider to develop a healthy diet and exercise program.

Complexities of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

When you have PCOS, your ovaries produce excess androgens -- commonly called male sex hormones. It's normal for healthy ovaries to produce a small amount of androgens, but high levels cause hormonal issues. Excess hair growth, menstrual irregularities, fertility issues, acne and obesity typically plague women with polycystic ovaries. As many as 80 percent of women with PCOS are overweight or obese, according to Brigham and Women's Hospital.

The Role of Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance is a hallmark of PCOS. Your pancreas secretes this hormone to regulate blood-glucose levels, but many women with PCOS are resistant to its effects. In response, the pancreas secretes even more insulin, leading to high insulin levels, or hyperinsulinemia. Insulin also stimulates androgen production in normal and polycystic ovaries, according to a June 1999 review in the journal "Endocrine and Metabolism Clinics of North America." This suggests high insulin levels resulting from insulin resistance contribute to excess androgens in the body.

Importance of Weight Loss

Improving insulin resistance is the primary goal for women with PCOS, and that's where weight loss comes in. Reducing your body weight helps decrease hormonal abnormalities. Losing as little as 5 percent of your body weight can improve insulin resistance, according to Brigham and Women's Hospital. This can lead to improvements in PCOS symptoms such as reduced androgen levels, improved menstrual function and better cholesterol.

Weight Loss Approach

A diet geared toward improving insulin sensitivity is likely to offer better results than a traditional low-calorie diet, suggests data from a review published in the April 2013 issue of the "Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics." Researchers reviewed existing data on weight-loss diets with different compositions in women with PCOS. While weight loss occurred on all diets regardless of composition, controlled-carbohydrate diets led to greater improvements in insulin sensitivity, menstrual regularity, cholesterol and quality of life. A high-carb diet led to increased androgen levels, according to the review.

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