PCOS is a common condition affecting approximately 1 in 10 women in the UK. It is an endocrine condition which affects the female reproductive system, impacting how the ovaries function.
Although the cause of PCOS is unknown, we do know the condition is linked with abnormal hormone levels, including high levels of insulin which is the hormone that controls blood sugar levels. High levels of insulin cause increased production of androgens such as testosterone. Being overweight also increases the amount of insulin that your body produces. (1,2)
- Absent or irregular periods
- Excessive body or facial hair
- Thinning hair on the head
- Weight gain
- Fertility Issues
PCOS is diagnosed when someone meets two out of the following criteria-
Irregular or absent periods
This suggests that you do not ovulate regularly (your ovaries do not release an egg regularly).
This is when your ovaries become enlarged due to fluid-filled sacs (follicles) surrounding the eggs within them.
Androgen is a male hormone – either using a blood test or shown using physical symptoms such as as excess body or facial hair, oily/ acne prone skin, or thinning of the hair on the head.
PCOS has also been associated with type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and some cancers. However, as mentioned there are medications and some lifestyle changes that can be made to reduce these risks.
There is no cure for PCOS, however symptoms can be managed using a mixture of dietary change, physical activity and medications and supplements.
As PCOS is mediated by a dominance of androgen hormones, and as many patients with PCOS have insulin resistance, much of the dietary and pharmacological treatment for PCOS can centre around improving this insulin resistance using dietary changes, increasing physical activity and using medication such as metformin.
Dietary changes for those with PCOS tend to focus on reversal of the weight gain that can often be a symptom of PCOS. Weight loss can help to reduce the insulin resistance seen in PCOS, and it can in turn reduce the levels of androgen hormones in the body. This can improve symptoms and increase the chances of pregnancy in those wishing to conceive.
Sometimes, the oral contraceptive pill can be used to help regulate periods and reduce hair growth or hair loss (3).
Dietary Treatment of PCOS
As with any other dietary treatment, the best dietary treatment for someone with PCOS can be highly individual. Many dietary approaches such as low GI, Intermittent fasting or low carb have been suggested, however no one diet suits everyone’s lifestyle and food preferences so it makes sense to look for something which fits in with you as an individual so that you can sustain it and the resulting weight loss and symptom improvement in the long term- yo-yo dieting helps no-one (4,5,6,7) A registered dietitian with experience of managing those with PCOS can be incredibly helpful in supporting you to find a diet that suits your individual needs to find a diet that works for you!
Some tips for healthy eating with PCOS can include-
- Eat regularly and do not allow yourself to go hungry
- Focus on high fibre foods such as wholegrains, fruit and vegetables
- Eat high quality protein foods throughout the day
- Focus on healthy fats
If you are looking for an experienced dietitian to help you to treat your PCOS symptoms, book in for a consultation with Mairi today!
- British Dietetic Association (2021) Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and diet. Available at -https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos-diet.html
- Günalan, E., Yaba, A. and Yılmaz, B. (2018) The effect of nutrient supplementation in the management of polycystic ovary syndrome-associated metabolic dysfunctions: A critical review. Journal of the Turkish German Gynecological Association, 19(4), p.220.
- NHS (2019) Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Available at – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos/
- Faghfoori, Z., Fazelian, S., Shadnoush, M. and Goodarzi, R. (2017) Nutritional management in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: A review study. Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews, 11, pp.S429-S432.
- Marsh, K.A., Steinbeck, K.S., Atkinson, F.S., Petocz, P. and Brand-Miller, J.C. (2010) Effect of a low glycemic index compared with a conventional healthy diet on polycystic ovary syndrome. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 92(1), pp.83-92.
- Sordia-Hernandez, L.H., Rodríguez, P.A., Rodriguez, D.S., Guzman, S.T., Zenteno, E.S., González, G.G. and Patiño, R.I. (2016) Effect of a low glycemic diet in patients with polycystic ovary syndrome and anovulation-a randomized controlled trial. Clin Exp Obstet Gynecol, 43, pp.555-9.
- Kataoka, J., Tassone, E.C., Misso, M., Joham, A.E., Stener-Victorin, E., Teede, H. and Moran, L.J., 2017. Weight management interventions in women with and without PCOS: a systematic review. Nutrients, 9(9), p.996.