Diet for PCOS

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
  • Infertility
  • Obesity or being overweight, especially with excess fat around your waist
  • Excess facial and body hair
  • Loss of hair on top of your head
  • Acne

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.

Glycemic index
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

    1. 20-50 grams of fibre per day to optimise blood glucose regulation.
    2. Eat small, frequent meals no more than four hours apart to prevent low blood glucose levels.
    3. Use portion control, especially with foods high in fat and carbohydrates.
    4. Two to three servings of low fat dairy foods per day.
    5. Increase omega-3 fatty acids, such as oily fish, ground flaxseeds (2-3 tablespoons per day), or fish oil.
    6. Lean meat and protein sources (0-3 grams of fat/ounce) should be about 18%-25% of your daily calories.
    7. 40%-50% of your daily calories from complex carbohydrates: vegetables, fruit, wholegrains.
    8. 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?

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      Melanie is a Registered Dietitian who started Dietriffic in March 2007. Her aim is to make good health attainable and sustainable, without guilt and torture, making her approach popular with those who desire a level-headed approach to good health. Have you got your copy of her free book yet?


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      { 29 comments… read them below or add one }

      Michael Saganski March 10, 2010 at 3:20 pm

      Great post. I’ve seen some web sites that suggest that women with acne will typically have PCOS has the underlying cause around 5-10% of the time.
      .-= Michael Saganski´s last blog ..Mar 8, Real Acne Treatment – Learn About the Best Acne Treatments Available =-.

      Reply

      Melanie March 10, 2010 at 11:56 pm

      Hi Michael,
      Yes, there’s definitely a strong link. Can you suggest any treatments?

      Reply

      Jess May 3, 2010 at 6:47 am

      It seems that POCS effects a fairly large percentage of women. Are there any ways to be sure if someone has POCs?
      .-= Jess´s last blog ..Is There Really An Anti Cellulite Cream That Works? =-.

      Reply

      Melanie May 3, 2010 at 10:05 pm

      Hi Jess,
      It’s my understanding PCOS is diagnosed my your doctor, through a series of questions, blood tests, and an ultrasound scan.

      Reply

      ashley September 27, 2010 at 10:35 pm

      hey,

      im 18 years old and i was diagnosed with PCOS about a week ago..They put me on several different medications to treat it and also they make my potassium go very high so i have to go to the doctor once a month to get my potassium checked to make sure that its not too high..And yes your Gynocologist is the one that diagnosis you with this PCOS by questions and a blood test but not an ultra sound..if you have it they will give you medicene to treat it but you will never be fully recovered. But with the treatment the infertility will change and you will be able to have kids which makes me so excited because i really want kids and when they told me that i wasnt fertile i cried..but then they said that there was a treatment..so keep your heads high and dont give up!! :)

      Reply

      Melanie September 29, 2010 at 6:26 pm

      Hi Ashley,
      Thanks so much for your encouragement. I’m sure the other readers will be so glad to hear from you, it always helps to know others understand what’s happening to you :-)

      Reply

      Claire December 9, 2012 at 12:24 pm

      Hi,

      My doctor couldn’t find anything being wrong with me through blood tests. They eventually found out I have PCOS through an ultra sound. This really seems to differ per case. I have not been given any medication, as my doctor finds this a useless practise until I want to conceive. Instead he has put me on a PCOS diet. I have only been on it for a very short time, but already feel a great difference in energy levels!

      Reply

      Melanie December 14, 2012 at 3:29 pm

      That is great, Claire. I hope you continue to feel the benefit of your new diet.

      Reply

      Stephine February 25, 2011 at 3:31 am

      I have had pcos since i was 16, 11 years ago. At the time there wasnt much hope, things have changed lot. I have 2 children and although i will always have pcos, i wnat others to know there is hope, different treatment options for different people. So dont just give up.

      Reply

      Chisa September 15, 2011 at 9:40 pm

      I’m trying to have a child and was diagnosed with pcos.
      What id you do to get prego!

      Reply

      Stephine September 16, 2011 at 12:03 am

      Hi, Cehisa I took prenatal vitamins, besides the fact your supposed to bEFORE getting prego ayway it helps your body get ready, I also tryed to eat heathy. I had to see a dr. I got clomid to ovulate, its the cheapest lowest medication. I had to take it for 3 months for my 1st and was on it for 7 moths for my 2nd.Your gyno can actually precribe it and then if that doesnt work they refer you to a specialist. I was also on actos. That was supposed to help regulate insulan resistance, didnt do much for me though. best thing you can do is ask your dr what is the best plan for you. On of the biggest issues PCOS women deal with is obesity, a dr will recommend you lose wieght even if your only slightly overwieght. hope that hopes, feel free to ask as many questions a you want

      Reply

      Melanie September 16, 2011 at 8:22 am

      Hi Stephine,
      Thanks so much for sharing your advice with Chisa. That’s so helpful :-)

      Reply

      Stephenie March 1, 2011 at 9:36 pm

      I have had PCOS for about 5 years now. I’m going on 3 years of marriage now and my husband and I have been trying for over a year to have a baby. It’s been so very difficult for us. My doctor put me on Prometreum to help regulate my cycles and everything, which worked. They say my levels and hormones are doing ok, but we’re still not pregnant. I’m also on Metformin. Is there any other medication that would help in the process? How much does IUI cost and has anyone had success with that? Believe me, I no just how hard this can be. Everytime we go to church or any place where there are little babies, I die a little inside. It hurts so bad. I just hope one day our little one will come. It’s getting harder and harder to hang in there.

      Reply

      Melanie March 3, 2011 at 4:45 pm

      Hi Stephenie,
      I’m sorry, I really don’t know about the medication side of PCOS, that is not an area I specialise in. I imagine your doctor is the best person to discuss this with. I hope someone else can help you out with your queries — anyone?

      So many people have felt like that before, and finally they have been successful in getting pregnant… Stephenie, just hang in there, keep trying. I wish you and your husband every success. Please stay in touch.

      Reply

      Karen March 23, 2011 at 3:29 pm

      Hey Stephenie! My name is Karen and I also have PCOS. My husband and I were married for five years before we were able to conceive and I look at those five years as a wonderful gift of time to get to know eachother and just be together. My advice to you is to not give up. I know its hard, but it can be done. We were referred to a reproductive endocrinologist in Mar of 2004 and found out I was pregnant Christmas Eve of that same year. He did a procedure where he laproscopically poked little holes in my ovaries.(I can’t think of the medical term for it.) Umm yeah I hope this helps and good luck to you!

      Reply

      Melanie March 26, 2011 at 9:49 am

      Hi Karen,
      Thanks so much for sharing your story, it’s so encouraging to hear. Best wishes.

      Reply

      Kay May 7, 2012 at 4:27 am

      Its called ovarian drilling

      Reply

      Elisha July 14, 2011 at 4:21 pm

      Well I have been diagnosed with PCOS last year but probably had it longer than that. My periods have been messed up for a long time. I am trying to get pregnant but can not go further. I need to be seen a fertility specialist and my insurance doesn’t cover it. If I go on a diabetic diet will that help me get pregant? What should I eat?

      Reply

      Ashley A September 25, 2011 at 5:11 am

      It’s great to finally find people who are in the same situation as me. I’ve had pcos for the past 2 years. My husband and I have yet to get pregnant. I need to lose about 30 pounds and also see about some of the medications you guys have tried. Thanks so much everyone for the encouragment. I feel as though there is hope for my husband and I to have kids in the near future. I think its GREAT that everyone shares their experiences because we all learn something from it. Praying for you all. May GOD BLESS YOU

      Reply

      Mithra April 25, 2012 at 6:27 am

      Hi, I am 27 years old, unmarried. I am diagnosed with PCOS and doctor advised me to exercise regularly for 1 hour, no tablets no treatment. And also she advised me to get married soon. So I am exercising daily , my periods are normal. but still I am scared after marriage will it hinder my pregnancy. please suggest me. As doctor suggested I cant marry immediately it will take 6 months more. I need ur help

      Reply

      Melanie April 28, 2012 at 9:27 pm

      I’m sorry, Mithra, I’m not sure what question you are specifically asking me?

      Reply

      Hopeful June 24, 2012 at 7:17 pm

      Not sure how long ago these posts were made but I ran across this article today while doing some research.

      I am 28 and have known I’ve had endometriosis since I was 14. Later after I was married for 3 years and actively trying to get pregnant with no luck we started a fertility work up where I found out I have PCOS as well. We are now 5 years into our fertility efforts. Still no baby, but I’m not giving up hope, although every birthday it gets a little harder as I know getting older does not help! Trying my best to lose some weight (what a struggle it has been!) The nutritional goals in this article are fantastic. I have been living by those rules for about 7 months now. Very little weight loss, no baby, but I feel amazing. I can tell that my overall health is greatly improving, that is a start right?! Thank you so much for this article!

      Reply

      Melanie July 31, 2012 at 12:39 pm

      I wish you all the very best, and I’m so glad you’ve been feeling better. Does exercise help with your weight loss efforts at all?

      Reply

      Hopeful December 9, 2012 at 1:49 pm

      For me, exercise has not helped. I have forced myself to exercise on a regular basis, but my energy levels go up and down so much I never feel like I am really progressing in my work outs at all. But I know it is important to work out, so I try to get moving 5-6 times a week regardless of my energy. It is not always an easy task and very discouraging when it seems to have no effect on my weight at all. I keep trying to remind myself that it is more important to be healthy than skinny…but i wonder how healthy I can be if i’m 50+ lbs overweight. It is a seemingly endless battle, but I’m trying my best to not give up hope.

      Reply

      veni October 25, 2012 at 7:03 am

      Hi Guys,

      ‘ve been diagnosed with pcos few months back. im glad finally i got to know my root cause for impregnancy last 2 years and irregular period. i used to be vegetarian, high carb diet with sugar cravings. lately i started to take fish and mussles after 13 years and a hebal medicine called Hyponidd.

      Reply

      Melanie October 26, 2012 at 3:44 pm

      Hi Veni,
      Do you notice any improvement yet from taking fish and the herbal medicine?

      Reply

      Vic April 7, 2013 at 10:45 pm

      I was diagnosed with pcos my freshman year of college and now in my senior year I’m only just starting to better my diet and be more health conscious. It is sooo encouraging to hear of women with pcos having successful pregnancies, b/c sometimes I’m near tears at the idea that my reproductive system is “faulty” and I may never have a child. I am currently at a normal or slightly below normal weight and I’m wondering if I can still benefit from a low Glycemic diet even if I don’t follow it strictly? I haven’t figured out ways to reduce my rice, breads and pastas without losing weight.

      Reply

      Alvin April 22, 2013 at 3:50 am

      Have you seen other articles connected with this particular one?
      ! I’d personally love to investigate more details on this excellent area of interest!!!! :-) I actually enjoy your main blog posts, regardless I might need a whole lot more advice for polycystic ovary syndrome. Thanks alot : )!!!

      Reply

      MONIKA June 1, 2013 at 5:23 am

      I HAVE BEEN RECENTLY DIAGNOSED WITH PCOS AND HAVE BEEN PUT ON BIRTH CONTROL PILLS TO REGULAR MY PERIODS..AND DEFINITELY WEIGHT LOSS IS SUGGESTED..I GET ALL ANXIOUS AT THE THOUGHT OF NOT ABLE TO HAVE KIDS..I STILL HAVE 3 – 4 YEARS TILL MY WEDDING..I WANNA KNOW IF GOING ON LOW GI DIET IS REALLY NECESSARY AND IF YES THEN WHERE WILL I GET THE RELIABLE INFORMATION ?

      Reply

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