Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is an endocrine disorder that affects millions of women of childbearing age.1 It’s a serious condition that cannot currently be cured, but there are many ways to manage it well. Lifestyle choices, including diet, can also have a big impact.
A diet that is rich in antioxidants and low in processed foods can help you better manage PCOS. As we’ll cover below, modest weight loss can also have a big impact on symptoms.
Let’s jump into what you need to know.
What is PCOS?
Like the name suggests, PCOS often involves ovarian cysts (although it’s important to note that not all women with PCOS have cysts, and cysts can also be caused by other conditions).
PCOS is caused by a hormone imbalance, in which a woman’s ovaries produce an abnormally high amount of male sex hormones called androgens. This imbalance can lead to infrequent, prolonged or irregular periods (learn more about abnormal menstruation here). This is turn can lead to small ovarian cysts. It may also cause physical symptoms like excess hair, acne and male-pattern baldness.2
Being overweight or obese can contribute to PCOS or make symptoms worse, and studies have shown that losing 5% – 10% of initial body weight (considered modest weight loss) can improve many PCOS symptoms. 3
So while it is a myth that PCOS only affects women who are overweight (see more PCOS myths you need to know here), it can also be helpful to manage your weight and your diet if you have this condition.
What You Can Eat To Better Manage PCOS
In general, an optimal diet is one that promotes health and longevity, provides sufficient nutrients and energy, and reduces the risk of diet-related chronic diseases. And while we don’t yet know the ‘perfect’ diet for women with PCOS, one study recommends that “(o)n the balance of evidence to date, a diet low in saturated fat and high in fibre from predominantly low-glycaemic-index-carbohydrate foods is recommended.”4
Since we know that PCOS leads to low-level chronic inflammation, Dr. San Miguel, Chief Medical Officer for Medi-Weightloss, recommends a diet high in antioxidant rich foods and omega-3 fatty acids. This includes yummy, healthy options like salmon, sardines, nuts, avocado and extra virgin olive oil. 5
Insulin also plays a role in PCOS, and so diets that feature low-glycemic index (low-GI) foods may be beneficial.6 Whole grains, starchy vegetables, many fruits, nuts, seeds and legumes are all low-GI.
Of course, we probably don’t have to tell you that cutting back on highly processed foods and foods high in saturated fats and/or hydrogenated fats is good for your health in general, and may be beneficial if you have PCOS.
Studies have shown that many women with PCOS also have Vitamin D deficiency. 7
You may therefore want to have your levels tested and speak to your doctor about supplementation. Foods that are high in Vitamin D include swordfish and egg yolks.
Finally, remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your diet doesn’t have to change overnight. Start slowly, and don’t miss our 7 nutrition hacks for a healthy pelvis. A teaser to pique your interest: eating more chocolate makes our list!