What to eat with PCOS

Author: Heidi Luxton, APD

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
PCOS

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 is invaluable. 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 convey concurrent benefits on blood glucose levels and heart 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.

If you or someone in your world has been diagnosed with PCOS, we would love to work with them to develop an individualised plan which can reduce the burden of this condition on their lives and maximise their health, vitality and fertility. We recommend our dietitians Heidi and Molly who have a special interest in PCOS.

Heidi Luxton, Diabetes Diet and Gold Coast Dietitian

Heidi Luxton, Accredited Practising Dietitian

Molly Warner, Diabetes Diet and Gold Coast Dietitian

Molly Warner, Accredited Practising Dietitian

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annaWhat to eat with PCOS