Dietary Strategies to Treat PCOS Effectively
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a frustrating and poorly understood disorder affecting up to 20% of women of reproductive age. The disorder is caused by insulin resistance and subsequent excess production of male hormones called androgens. The hormonal imbalance experienced by women with PCOS also causes a range of symptoms such as weight gain, excess body hair, acne, and mood disorders. If left untreated, PCOS increases a woman’s risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, infertility, and endometrial cancer. While there is no cure for PCOS, simple lifestyle and dietary interventions were found to help treat PCOS. The goal of dietary interventions in treating PCOS is to lower insulin resistance as this is considered a major contributing factor in PCOS etiology. Other than that, eating anti-inflammatory foods and hormone-regulating foods is another viable option for women with PCOS. In addition to dietary strategies, exercising regularly is also recommended.
PCOS and the food you eat
Overweight women are more likely to develop insulin resistance and PCOS than are normal-weight women. However, lean women do develop PCOS and insulin resistance, and this is most likely due to hereditary factors. Because insulin resistance is believed to be a major contributing factor in the onset of PCOS, controlling your insulin levels through a low-carb diet can bring your hormones back into balance and mitigate PCOS symptoms. For overweight women, weight loss through calorie restriction is usually the first-in-line treatment for PCOS. Furthermore, foods high in phytoestrogens such as soy products were also found to improve the hormonal status in women with PCOS. In addition to soy products, anti-inflammatory foods such as tomatoes, brussels sprouts, fatty fish, and almonds are recommended to reduce your risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and to control the inflammation behind insulin resistance. In the next few lines, we explain more about PCOS and provide you with the basic dietary strategies to help treat PCOS.
About the link between PCOS and insulin resistance
While the name polycystic ovarian syndrome suggests that cysts in the ovaries are the main characteristic of this endocrine disorder, truth is that this is simply not the case. Instead, PCOS is a whole-body disorder rather than a gynecological one. The link between PCOS and insulin resistance is now well established, and most studies show that around 70% of all women with PCOS have insulin resistance. High insulin levels stimulate the ovaries to produce more androgens, most notably testosterone, and this is known to interfere with ovulation. The resulting hormonal imbalance leads to a chronic lack of ovulation and subsequently missed periods. Later on, high testosterone levels and insulin resistance in women with PCOS can cause infertility, male-pattern baldness, central obesity, and poor quality of life.
Treating PCOS: conventional strategies
Treatment options for PCOS will not cure the disease but they do help manage the symptoms and prevent complications. Doctors recommend all women with PCOS eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly as this helps control insulin levels. This approach can also help regulate your menstrual cycles. Some women may be prescribed birth control pills to treat acne and to regulate their menstrual cycles. Irregular periods can cause excessive growth of cells in the uterus lining, and this increases a woman’s risk of developing endometrial cancer. Other treatment options for PCOS are similar to those for diabetes and related conditions. Because women with PCOS have a 50% increased likelihood of developing diabetes, dietary strategies that work for diabetes are also helpful for women with PCOS.
Controlling PCOS with a low-carb diet
A diet high in carbohydrates but low in fiber, fat, and protein can cause insulin resistance in predisposed individuals. Insulin resistance is a condition where the cells in the body become resistant to insulin, a hormone that regulates the metabolism of macronutrients by promoting the absorption of glucose from the blood and into the cells. Controlling your blood glucose levels through a diet low in carbohydrates but high in fiber and moderate in fat and protein can help treat PCOS. In fact, research shows that this dietary strategy is the most efficient in improving the outcomes of women with PCOS. High-fiber foods such as celery, almonds, and whole grains will help control your blood sugar levels and slow down your digestion. Protein and fat from healthy sources such as lean cuts of meat, avocado, olive oil, dairy, and eggs will keep you feeling full for longer and improve your weight loss.
Additional dietary interventions
A study published in the North American Journal of Medical Sciences found that a Mediterranean-inspired low glycemic load, anti-inflammatory diet helped with weight loss, insulin resistance, and PCOS in overweight women. The diet consisted of legumes, fish, and low-fat dairy with a nutrient ratio of 25% protein, 25% fat, and 50% low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates. The diet was a Mediterranean-inspired one, meaning that it included whole grains as the main source of carbs and olive oil for fat. The fish consumed in this diet are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids which work as a natural anti-inflammatory. Because both obesity and insulin resistance are believed to be partially caused by inflammation, reducing your inflammation with these foods can be of great help. Studies also suggest that soy phytoestrogens can help regulate the hormones in women with PCOS. One study even found that supplementation with soy phytoestrogens helped lower testosterone levels in PCOS women.
While there is no definitive cure for PCOS, most women affected can control their symptoms and improve their outcomes through simple diet and exercising strategies. Because research shows that being overweight and having insulin resistance are the major culprits of PCOS, addressing both through dietary strategies will also help treat PCOS. A low-carb diet is known to improve blood glucose levels and with that mitigate insulin resistance. But a diet enriched with anti-inflammatory foods can also help as insulin resistance is strongly linked to inflammation. Women can also benefit from chemicals that are similar in structure to estrogen found in plant sources of food such as soy. Phytoestrogens are now recognized as being beneficial to women with hormonal imbalances and that includes women with PCOS. Following these simple strategies is a sure way to beat PCOS for good.