27 Jun Managing PCOS with nutrition
The condition is more common among women of reproductive age between 15 to 44. According to a study, 70% of women who are not diagnosed with PCOS have this condition and they don’t know it. (1) Women with PCOS tend to have a higher amount of male hormones and imbalances in progesterone and estrogen levels. This imbalance in hormone levels causes irregular menstrual periods, increased facial hair growth, and difficulty conceiving. Moreover, women with PCOS tend to be at increased risk of developing insulin resistance, diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases. (2)Weight loss. PCOS management.
PCOS can be managed with dietary and lifestyle modifications. In this article, I will briefly discuss the symptoms, causes, and nutritional approach for managing PCOS.
What causes it?
Ovaries are the productive organs in women which produce estrogen, progesterone, and androgens which are all the hormones that control the menstrual cycle.
In PCOS many cysts start forming on the ovaries which cause a lack of ovulation and in some cases irregular menstrual cycle. The lack of ovulation in ovaries alters the production of estrogen, progesterone, FSH, and LH and androgens. Higher levels of male hormone androgens affect the menstrual cycles and induce other symptoms of PCOS. Weight loss. PCOS management.
The exact cause of PCOS is still unclear but the following are some factors that may cause Polycystic Ovary Syndrome:
- According to some studies PCOS runs in families and some genes may contribute to PCOS.
- Insulin resistance is associated with PCOS. Up to 70% of women with PCOS are insulin resistant. When your body is producing too much insulin the extra insulin triggers the production of androgens in ovaries and results in hormonal imbalance.
- Studies have shown that there is a link between increased inflammation and higher levels of androgens. Women with inflammation and extra body weight are more likely to have PCOS. (3)
The most common symptoms of PCOS are:
- Irregular, missed, infrequent, or prolonged periods,
- Increased facial hair, or hirsutism.
- Acne, especially around the jawline.
- Weight gain Weight loss. PCOS management.
- Headaches, especially before period.
- Darkening of skin especially on the neck, under the armpits, and the breasts.
- Mood swings. (4)
Risks Associated with PCOS
PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility in women. It is harder for women with PCOS to get pregnant since they don’t ovulate regularly and don’t release enough eggs to get fertilized.
Up to 80% of women with PCOS are obese or overweight. Being obese with PCOS is associated with higher risks of high blood sugar, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, high bad cholesterol, and low good cholesterol. When all of these conditions are combined there are more chances for progression to diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
PCOS is associated with the risk of developing endometrial cancer. Having PCOS doesn’t allow the uterine lining to shed and as the result, the uterine lining builds up and increased the risk of endometrial cancer.
Women having PCOS are at higher chances of depression and anxiety. Many of its symptoms like irregular or prolonged menstrual periods, fatigue, mood swings, weight gain, and excessive facial hair growth can affect the mood and cause depression. (5)
The treatment of PCOS starts with lifestyle modifications, dietary changes, and exercise.
Research shows that the best dietary approaches for managing PCOS are the ones that focus on managing insulin resistance, maintaining a healthy weight and promote hormonal balance.
Following a healthy diet such as the Mediterranean diet, or lower carb diet and being physically active can help improve cholesterol levels, lower insulin resistance, lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar, and reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. (6)
A healthy diet for PCOS should include at least 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables, adequate intake of fibre, focusing on eating lover GI carbohydrates, lean meats, fish, good fats, nuts and seeds. Processed foods such as processed meats, refined carbohydrates such as pastries and bakery items, fried foods such as French fries and nuggets, and sugary beverages should be consumed sparingly and not daily as those would contribute to blood sugar imbalances, further insulin resistance and inflammation.
Supplements that have been proven to help women with PCOS to better manage their symptoms are berberine, inositol, folates(7), omega 3 fats (8), magnesium, vitamin B12, resveratrol and NAC (9).
PCOS is a condition that is associated with a hormonal imbalance, and whiles some might experience only mild symptoms other women might be experiencing a whole range of symptoms that will be affecting their daily lives. Dietary and lifestyle changes have been shown to have a positive effect on the management of the PCOS and prevention of further complications such as the development of cardiovascular disease.
Mirela Simic, Nutritionist and PT
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- Mirabelli M, Chiefari E, Arcidiacono B, Corigliano DM, Brunetti FS, Maggisano V, Russo D, Foti DP, Brunetti A. Mediterranean Diet Nutrients to Turn the Tide against Insulin Resistance and Related Diseases. Nutrients. 2020 Apr 12;12(4):1066. doi: 10.3390/nu12041066. PMID: 32290535; PMCID: PMC7230471.
- Regidor PA, Schindler AE, Lesoine B, Druckman R. Management of women with PCOS using myo-inositol and folic acid. New clinical data and review of the literature. Horm Mol Biol Clin Investig. 2018 Mar 2;34(2):/j/hmbci.2018.34.issue-2/hmbci-2017-0067/hmbci-2017-0067.xml. doi: 10.1515/hmbci-2017-0067. PMID: 29498933.
- Oner G, Muderris II. Efficacy of omega-3 in the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2013 Apr;33(3):289-91. doi: 10.3109/01443615.2012.751365. PMID: 23550861.
- Günalan E, Yaba A, Yılmaz B. The effect of nutrient supplementation in the management of polycystic ovary syndrome-associated metabolic dysfunctions: A critical review. J Turk Ger Gynecol Assoc. 2018;19(4):220-232. doi:10.4274/jtgga.2018.0077