Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine disorder in women, affecting an estimated 5–10% in those of reproductive age.
It happens when cysts develop outside of the ovary, often described as having the appearance of a string of pearls.
Some of the symptoms of PCOS include:
- Irregular or absent periods
- Obesity or being overweight, especially with excess fat around your waist
- Excess facial and body hair
- Loss of hair on top of your head
PCOS is a difficult condition to deal with because it affects how you feel both physically and mentally, and the anguish of infertility can also lead to depression and anxiety.
Women with PCOS are actually seven times more likely to develop diabetes in later life, seven times more likely to suffer from a heart attack, and four times more likely to develop high blood pressure.
Causes of PCOS
The exact cause of PCOS isn’t known, however several factors are thought to be important.
It may be caused by higher than normal levels of certain hormones. Insulin is a hormone which helps to control blood sugar levels. But, many women with PCOS are insulin resistant. This means the level of insulin in the blood must be higher than normal to control blood sugar levels.
This high level of insulin causes the ovaries to make too much testosterone, which results in symptoms such as excess hair and acne.
A considerable percentage of women with PCOS are also considered to be obese. However, regular weight loss plans, particularly those that promise fast weight loss, may not be effective for PCOS sufferers.
Being overweight can also make insulin resistance worse, and this is why weight loss is very important.
Lifestyle changes for PCOS
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Exercise regularly
- Try to lose weight – as little as 5% of total body weight has been shown to be beneficial
- Reduce opportunities for stress and anxiety
Dietary treatment for PCOS
A 1994 study focused on a diet of low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates. The diet reduced insulin levels and weight in obese hyperinsulinaemic women significantly more than a conventional diet with the same energy.
The study supports the idea that a low GI diet may provide the greatest benefits for women with PCOS and insulin resistance.
The glycemic index is the rate at which different foods cause the sugar levels in your blood to rise following a meal.
- High GI foods (such as refined bread, pasta and rice) cause high levels of sugar and therefore high levels of insulin.
- Low GI foods (such as wholegrains, meat, eggs and pulses) stimulate much lower levels of insulin.
Choosing foods that have a low GI can help to reduce the large increase in blood sugar levels after eating a meal.
For a very comprehensive table of foods in relation to their GI check out the International table of glycemic index and glycemic load.
Here are 8 nutritional goals for PCOS
- 20-50 grams of fibre per day to optimise blood glucose regulation.
- Eat small, frequent meals no more than four hours apart to prevent low blood glucose levels.
- Use portion control, especially with foods high in fat and carbohydrates.
- Two to three servings of low fat dairy foods per day.
- Increase omega-3 fatty acids, such as oily fish, ground flaxseeds (2-3 tablespoons per day), or fish oil.
- Lean meat and protein sources (0-3 grams of fat/ounce) should be about 18%-25% of your daily calories.
- 40%-50% of your daily calories from complex carbohydrates: vegetables, fruit, wholegrains.
- Eat foods with both high fibre and lean protein during meals and snacks to lower the glycemic load on the body.
Do you have PCOS? If so, what advice can you add?