Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a relatively common hormonal condition, affecting up to 12-18% of females of reproductive age. It is characterised by high levels of insulin and /or androgens (male hormones). The symptoms may include irregular or absent menstrual cycles, excessive facial or body hair growth, acne, scalp hair loss, reduced fertility, obesity, sleep apnoea and anxiety/depression. Nutritional modification is an integral part of treatment for women with PCOS.

Not only can modifications to diet and lifestyle immediately improve quality of life and fertility outcomes, but it can dramatically reduce the long term risks associated with PCOS.

These include:

  • insulin resistance
  • increased risk of the development of diabetes, especially if women are overweight
  • cholesterol and blood fat abnormalities
  • cardiovascular disease (heart disease, heart attack and stroke)
  • endometrial cancer
 

Weight loss in PCOS

Among overweight or obese women with PCOS, evidence from clinical trials identifies that a 5-10% weight loss has been associated with improvements in the following:

  • Blood lipids
  • Levels of testosterone and sex-hormone binding globulin
  • Glucose tolerance
  • Fasting insulin
  • Hirsutism
  • Ovulation and menstrual cycle regularity

This modest  5-10% weight loss has been been found to increase insulin sensitivity by up to 70% and is often enough to improve the regularity of ovulation in PCOS patients. In addition, improvements are seen in mood, normal hair growth patterns and acne.  However the method of weight loss is important, therefore professional dietetic advice can be helpful. The preferred changes include switching to lower glycaemic index (slow-acting) carbohydrates, a modest reduction in total carbohydrate and an increase in monounsaturated and omega -3 fats. These changes bring benefits to overall metabolic health. In contrast, some popular methods of rapid weight loss may actually worsen the symptoms of PCOS; for example very high protein diets have been associated with increased levels of testosterone and poor weight maintenance.

 

The exercise effect

Exercise is a very effective lifestyle intervention for women with PCOS. A minimum of 2 ½ hours of moderate physical activity per week is recommended, which conveys added improvements in depressive symptoms and negative body perceptions. Adequate sleep is also an important factor. Vitamin D supplementation may produce benefits in women found to have low Vitamin D levels, however, more conclusive investigations are needed in this area.

To get more help with PCOS, book an appointment with one of our dietitians below.

Anna Darcy, Accredited Practising Dietitian

Anna D'Arcy
Dietitian

Anna is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Director of My Nutrition Clinic who has worked for over two decades in the development and delivery of weight management programmes for adults and children. Anna has a Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics along with a Masters in Public Health and has worked in both Australia and London (UK)

Molly Warner, Gold Coast Dietitian

Molly Warner
Dietitian

Molly is a certified FODMAP dietitian through Monash University and a trained ‘Microba’ gut microbiome practitioner. She is also trained in motivational interviewing and the non-diet approach and she uses these approaches daily in the clinic and in a group program called ‘My Health for Life’.

Rachel Cosgrove
Dietitian

Rachel has a decade of experience helping clients improve their health through gentle improvements in their diet. Rachel has worked in both community and hospitals on the Gold Coast and has particular interests in diabetes, chronic disease management and health coaching. 

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