Eating a Better Diet for Managing Your PCOS

Plate with eggs, pork, salmon, and steak
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If you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), your doctor will likely recommend diet and lifestyle changes as part of your treatment plan.

PCOS is the most common endocrine disorder among women and affects 5 to 10 percent, reproductive age women. PCOS causes high levels of androgens (male hormones such as testosterone) and is associated with insulin resistance. Researchers and physicians aren't sure what causes PCOS; however, inflammation is believed to play a major role.

If your doctor has recommended dietary changes, they have likely suggested one of the following research-based diets. 

What the Research Shows

Since the connection was made between PCOS and insulin resistance in the mid-1990s, more researchers are studying the connection between diet and PCOS, including low-glycemic-index, High-protein, high-fat, low-calorie, and anti-inflammatory diets.

A study reviewing different dietary approaches found that, regardless of diet type, losing weight will improve your metabolic and reproductive health. Of course, a healthy diet will help you do more than just lose weight. Dietary changes can also restore hormone balance, help regulate your menstrual cycle, and reduce your risk for chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes.

If you have PCOS, research recommends modifying your diet by lowering the glycemic index (GI), glycemic load (GL), and carbohydrate that you eat. You may also need to adjust fat or protein amounts, as well as include anti-inflammatory foods. It can be hard to adjust to or follow a new diet. To make these changes easier, you can work with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) who specializes in PCOS to find an eating style that works best for you. 

High-Protein Diets

In a six-month trial, PCOS women who ate a high-protein (more than 40 percent protein, 30 percent fat) diet lost more weight and body fat than following a standard protein (less than 15 percent protein, 30 percent fat) diet. Neither diet type restricted calories, leading researchers to speculate that because high-protein diets tend to be more filling, those who ate more protein ate less food thereby losing more weight.

Low-GI Diets

Eating low-GI foods may benefit you as well, especially if you are overweight or have high insulin levels. Low-GI foods tend to be high in fiber and don’t spike glucose and insulin levels when eaten in moderation. Overweight women with PCOS who followed a low-GI for one year had better menstrual regularity and insulin sensitivity when compared to those following a conventional diet. Those with high insulin levels had a twofold reduction in body fat despite modest weight loss. 

Anti-Inflammatory Diets

Following an anti-inflammatory diet might also help PCOS. In a study published in the Journal of Hormone and Metabolic Research, overweight women with PCOS who followed the antioxidant-rich DASH eating plan lost abdominal fat and showed significant improvements in insulin resistance and inflammatory markers.

In another study published in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences, women with PCOS who followed an anti-inflammatory diet for 3 months lost 7 percent of their body weight and showed significant improvements in their cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammatory markers. Sixty-three percent of women regained menstrual cyclicity and 12 percent conceived following this type of diet.

If you are looking to lose weight or better manage your PCOS symptoms, talk to your physician or a nutritionist about modifying your diet. A combination of including low-GI and anti-inflammatory foods along with modifications of protein, fat, and carbohydrates can help you improve your reproductive and metabolic health. 

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Article Sources

  • Asemi Z, Esmaillzadeh A.DASH Diet, Insulin Resistance, and Serum hs-CRP in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial. Horm Metab Res. 2014.
  • Moran L. Dietary Composition in the Treatment of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Systematic Review to Inform Evidence-Based Guidelines J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013;113:520-545.
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  • Sørensen LB, et al. Effects of increased dietary protein-to-carbohydrate ratios in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95(1):39-48.