Polycystic ovary syndrome can affect any woman of reproductive age and has several symptoms:
- Cysts on one or both of the ovaries.
- Extra body hair growth.
- Higher levels of androgen, or male, hormones.
- Insulin resistance. Insulin helps our bodies to process glucose, or sugar. When you have insulin resistance, your body doesn't process insulin properly. Over time, that can lead to diabetes. In fact, more than 50% of women with PCOS develop Type 2 diabetes by age 40, the CDC reports.
- Irregular periods.
- Mental health issues like depression.
- Ovaries that develop collections of fluid called follicles.
Treatment for PCOS
Treatment for PCOS often includes hormonal birth control, such as birth control pills. These can help make your periods regular and control the excess hair growth. If you have PCOS and a body mass index of more than 25 – indicating you're overweight – your health provider may prescribe metformin, says Dr. Endrika L. Hinton, a reproductive endocrinologist and co-director of the Uterine Fibroid Centre at Greater Baltimore Medical Centre in Baltimore.
Metformin is a medication commonly prescribed for people with diabetes. The use of metformin for PCOS helps to address the metabolism problems associated with the disorder, Hinton says. If you have PCOS, you may receive other treatments for your symptoms.
As many as four in five women with PCOS struggle with obesity, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. In addition to raising your chance of developing diabetes, being overweight or obese when you have PCOS can put you at greater risk for other serious health problems, including:
- Gestational diabetes if you get pregnant.
- Heart disease.
- High blood pressure.
- High cholesterol.
A healthier diet, weight loss and more physical activity won't make PCOS go away, but they can help reduce the symptoms of PCOS. It becomes easier to manage your blood sugar and lower inflammation, says Alyssa Pike, a registered dietitian and manager of nutrition communications at the International Food Information Council in Washington, D.C. Weight loss and a healthier diet can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol and increase the chances that you can have
Diet and PCOS: What to Eat and What to Avoid
There's no one specific diet approach that works best for everyone when you have polycystic ovary syndrome, Hinton says. Some people may praise a keto diet (a type of low-carb diet) or intermittent fasting, but that's only anecdotal. If you have PCOS and want to make healthier food changes, you should rely on some of the basics of healthy eating that include the following:
More fibre-rich foods
Fibre from foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables fills you up faster because it takes longer for the body to process it. The daily fiber recommendation for adults is generally 25 grams for a 2,000-calorie diet. To help boost your fiber intake, choose brown rice instead of white rice and whole wheat bread instead of white bread. These also provide you with complex carbohydrates that are healthier for the body instead of refined carbs that your body will turn quickly into sugar. Avoiding too many carbs, especially refined carbs, is important when you have PCOS.
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids
These foods can help fight inflammation and provide healthy fats, Pike says. Good sources for omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish like salmon and herring, walnuts, chia seeds and canola oil.
Our body needs fat, but not the unhealthy kind that most of us regularly eat in sweet treats and processed foods. Healthy fat food sources include avocados, olives and oils such as olive oil, says registered dietitian nutritionist Rahaf Al Bochi, who's a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of Olive Tree Nutrition LLC in Atlanta.
More lean protein
In a 2011 study in women with PCOS, eating more protein led to weight loss and caused more decreases in glucose, according to a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Nuts, nut butters, lean meats, fish, soy and beans are good protein sources, Al Bochi says.
More fruits and vegetables
These are often low in calories and full of fiber and antioxidants, which can help fight inflammation. Berries, peppers, tomatoes and avocados are good choices, Al Bochi says. Most people should get at least four to five servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
As much as you can, avoid foods that are highly processed or that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, such as cookies, cake and juices.
Here are sample meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner as shared by Al Bochi. She recommends these because they provide complex carbs, protein, whole grains and healthy fats:
- Breakfast: whole grain toast, avocado, eggs and berries.
- Lunch: quinoa chickpea salad made with quinoa, chickpeas, chopped veggies and extra virgin olive oil/vinegar dressing.
- Dinner: salmon, sweet potato, salad or roasted vegetables.
- Snack or dessert: a one-ounce portion of dark chocolate. The healthiest type of dark chocolate has 70% cocoa or more. The label should indicate its cocoa percentage. Ideally, the dark chocolate you eat is also low in added sugar.