Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop on or inside your ovaries. Although most are harmless and resolve on their own, some can cause pain or heavy menstrual bleeding. Diet modifications, such as avoiding specific foods, is not considered a treatment for ovarian cysts, however some diet patterns may influence their development. In addition, diet plays a role in the management of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a clinical syndrome which is characterized by obesity, irregular periods, abnormal hormone levels and the presence of many small ovarian cysts.
Diet Management of Ovarian Cysts
Nutrition influences the function of the ovaries and the hormones that regulate the reproductive system. Consequently, diet is often purported to help treat ovarian cysts. An internet search will provide many testimonials and suggestions on home treatments -- plant-based diets, raw diets, herbal therapies, apple cider vinegar and other supplements are just some of the proposed therapies. However, there is no evidence that these therapies are effective in treating ovarian cysts. While more research may help determine if diet plays a role, traditional and research-based management includes watchful waiting, medication therapy or in some cases, surgery.
Preliminary evidence suggests certain diet patterns increase the risk of developing ovarian cysts. For example, red meat and cheese may increase the risk of a certain type of ovarian cysts, while eating green vegetables may have a protective effect, according to a study published in the October 2003 issue of “European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology.” A study published in the April 2016 “ International Journal of Community Based Nursing and Midwifery” investigated the link between dietary fat and ovarian cysts, and found only a weak and not statistically significant association.
Diet Management of PCOS
PCOS is a condition characterized by irregular periods, elevated levels of male hormones which can lead to excess facial hair, acne and even male-patterned baldness. The ovaries of most women with PCOS also have multiple cysts. This condition is also linked to impaired insulin action, abdominal obesity, infertility and an increased risk diabetes. Weight loss and exercise are first-line treatment strategies. To help accomplish this, lower fat, higher fiber choices can be emphasized, such as whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables. Avoiding excess calories and spreading daily calories into small, frequent meals is also effective for controlling weight and improving insulin action.
If you think you have an ovarian cyst, or if you are experiencing abdominal pain and discomfort, consult your doctor. While eating a healthy diet is a good idea for anyone, there’s no evidence this can treat painful or large ovarian cysts, and may not replace the need for medications or surgery. Let your doctor know if you have any pain that interferes with your normal activities. Seek urgent medical care if you have any bleeding after intercourse, sudden or new abdominal pain, dizziness or fainting or severe vaginal bleeding.
Reviewed by: Kay Peck, MPH, RD