5 Diet Tips For Women With Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

diet tips for women with pcos

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that impairs the functionality of the ovaries, and it affects up to 15–20% of women of reproductive age (1).

It occurs due to hormonal imbalance among women caused mainly due to endocrine dysfunction or insulin resistance, leading to the growth of fluid-filled sacs on the ovaries.

Common side effects of PCOS are uncontrolled weight gain, irregular or absent periods, hair loss, acne, depression and fertility problems.

Individuals suffering PCOS are at a higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity (2). It is quite unfortunate that there is no cure for PCOS. However, the first line of treatment is diet and lifestyle modifications.

It is worthy of note that; in overweight women, as little as 5% weight reduction can restore irregular menstrual periods and stimulate ovulation (3, 4).

This article highlights some evidence-based diet plan that can relieve symptoms and boost weight loss in women suffering from PCOS.

1. Follow a Low-GI (Glycemic Index) Diet

The glycemic index is a way of measuring how quickly a food elevates insulin levels after eating a carbohydrate meal.

Foods with low GI tends to raise the blood sugar levels slowly which helps prevent an insulin spike.

Insulin is a hormone that facilitates the uptake of blood sugar into the cell for energy

Insulin resistance is one of the leading causes of PCOS in women, meaning their cells can’t utilize insulin readily as they should.

This leads to increased blood insulin levels as well as testosterone levels leading to hormonal imbalance causing symptoms to flare up (5, 6).
However, a low-GI diet can help keep insulin levels within a stable range.

The Low glycemic index diets consist mainly of whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and lean proteins.

You should also avoid processed or refined carbs including sugary foods and drinks. A low glycemic index diet has the potential to help ease symptoms of PCOS (7, 8).

A 2010 study shows that menstrual regularity improved in 95% of women who were on a low glycemic index diet, compared to 63% of women who were on a standard weight loss diet.

2. Eat Healthy Fats

fatty fish

Unsaturated fats including omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help balance your hormone and improve insulin levels in women with PCOS (9).

You can get these healthy fats from oily fish, olive oil, avocados, and unsalted nuts and seeds.

A 2012 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition involving 61 women with PCOS shows that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids over a period of eight weeks improved insulin resistance by 22% (10).

Another study also reveals that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E lead to improved insulin resistance and a reduction in testosterone levels in women with PCOS (11).

It, therefore, means supplementing with omega-3 and adequate intake of healthy fats may improve insulin resistance and testosterone levels in women with PCOS.

What’s more? Replace unhealthy fats from processed or fried foods with healthy fats in your diet rather than adding extra to your diet to avoid weight gain.

3. Embrace Lean Protein

It is important to eat good and quality lean protein if you are suffering from PCOS.
Lean proteins often contain fewer hormones.

Androgens such as testosterone are male sex hormones, and the levels of these hormones tend to be higher than normal in women with PCOS.

This explains some of the unpleasant side effects women with PCOS experience such as a deeper voice, facial hair and irregular periods.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism shows that women with PCOS who followed a high-protein diet (30% protein) had a much lower level of free androgen compared to a low-protein diet (15% protein) (12).

A high protein food does not lead to increases insulin levels rather; it suppresses ghrelin, a hunger hormone for much longer than carbohydrates (13).

You can get healthy protein source from diets such as lean meat, eggs, fish, beans and some dairy products.

4. Cut Back on Carbs

Cutting back your carb intake may boost weight loss and hormonal imbalance in women with PCOS. Insulin is produced as carbohydrates are converted to glucose in the body.

A study published in Fertility and Sterility shows that a moderate reduction in carb intake reduced blood insulin concentrations among women with PCOS (14).

A Modest reduction in carbs leads to a reduction in blood sugar, blood insulin, and testosterone levels as well as improve insulin sensitivity (15).

Not only is this benefit limited to hormonal balance, but it also aids weight loss. For instance, women who are on a low-carb diet slightly lost more weight than those on a diet higher in a monounsaturated diet (14).

Furthermore, reducing your carb intake also naturally tends to follow a lower GI diet which can improve symptoms of PCOS.

diet tips for women with pcos

5. Supplements May Be Helpful

Supplementing may help ease symptoms of PCOS especially in women who have low levels of nutrients.

For instance, Vitamin D deficiency is linked with some of the negative side effects of PCOS like insulin resistance, obesity and reduced ovulation (16, 17).

Most at times, vitamin D supplements are often recommended for women with PCOS who are deficient in this vitamin (18).

Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies worldwide (19). Its main source is the sun, however, if your levels are low due to insufficient sun exposure, most health professionals will recommend taking a supplement.

Another important nutrient that can also improve symptoms of PCOS is chromium, an essential mineral that boosts insulin action.

However, chromium deficiency is less common as it is found in a wide range of foods. Rich source of chromium include mussels, nuts, shellfish, fruits and vegetables such as pears, tomatoes, and broccoli.

In Conclusion

While there is no known cure for PCOS, diet and lifestyle modification can improve your conditions.

If you are gaining excessive weight, as little as 5% weight loss can greatly improve PCOS symptoms Also, you need to choose the right foods to control symptoms of PCOS.

Read things every woman should know about vagina yeast infections next 🙂

Emmanuel is a Bio-chemist currently pursuing his masters degree in one of the most prestigious schools in Nigeria. He is passionate about health and fitness as well as creating guides to help you live a good life. Get in touch: [email protected]