To manage their condition, women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) often start by making certain lifestyle changes to lessen the symptoms of PCOS. These usually include regular exercise and good nutrition. Nutrition is particularly important with PCOS because it helps maintain the body’s insulin levels, which is a major hormonal imbalance associated with PCOS.
Insulin resistance and PCOS
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that is responsible for lowering blood sugar levels. This is beneficial because chronic high blood sugar levels cause damage to the arteries and organs. Women who have PCOS often aren’t as sensitive to insulin as non-PCOS women. As a result, their blood sugar levels tend to be higher than normal. High blood sugar levels trigger the pancreas to produce more insulin, and this rise in insulin makes it harder for these women to lose weight.
High insulin levels also signal the body to make more androgens, which are the hormones responsible for many of the symptoms and effects of PCOS.
Why nutrition matters
Insulin resistance is thought to be at least partially genetic, but it’s lifestyle-related, too, meaning that certain behaviors can actually improve one’s sensitivity to insulin. Many women who have PCOS are also overweight or obese, or gain excess weight in their midsection. Weight loss can actually significantly improve insulin resistance.
It’s often hard for women with PCOS to lose weight, and this is where nutrition comes in. Establishing generally healthy eating patterns can be an extremely effective way of helping with weight loss and with improved insulin sensitivity.
How to eat for PCOS
These isn’t one single set of rules for how women with PCOS should eat, and no one expects someone with PCOS to eat perfectly all the time. That would be unrealistic, and would take some of the fun out of life.
But being aware of how foods affect PCOS and having a generally healthy attitude towards nutrition and diet can have a huge effect on how someone experiences PCOS. The benefits of healthy eating – reduced symptoms and long-term risk of disease – are huge! The more women with PCOS can follow a PCOS-approved diet, the easier it will be for them to manage their condition.
When it comes to specific foods, there are a few things to know.
- Foods to avoid: Women with PCOS should try to avoid foods with hydrogenated, saturated, and trans fats, as they impact hormone production and can lead to weight gain. It’s also smart to cut down on over-processed foods, as well as refined carbohydrate consumption, because refined carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels.
- Foods to choose: Low-glycemic foods provide carbohydrates without the blood sugar spike. Some examples of low-glycemic foods are brown rice, whole grain breads, and dried fruits. Healthy fats, lean proteins, and of course, vegetables are all good foods for someone with PCOS.
- Other tips: Women with PCOS should try to eat some protein with every snack because it helps slow the release of carbohydrates into the body. Also, to keep blood pressure at a healthy level, it’s a good idea to reduce the amount of salt in one’s diet. In general, paying attention to calories and trying to either limit or reduce the amount that one eats (especially in unhealthy fats and over-processed foods) can make a huge difference in one’s health.
Dietary changes: the bottom line
Women with PCOS can experience a lot of benefits from eating certain foods, and also from avoiding foods that might worsen PCOS symptoms. Perfection isn’t the goal here; just healthy habits that she can stick with for life.
Julie Redfern. “Combating Polycystic Ovary Disease Through Diet.” BrighamandWomens. Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Apr 13 2016. Web.
“Nutrition Therapy for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).” McKinleyHealthCenterWeb. University of Illinois, 2011. Web.
“PCOS Diet.” HormoneHealthNetwork. Endocrine Society, 2016. Web.