Learn how nutrition and food habits play a huge role in managing polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
For a health disorder as wildly common as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), it doesn’t get talked about enough. In fact, about 70% of women with this condition remain undiagnosed! To add to this, the information available on this topic is confusing and broad. So, we wouldn’t be surprised if you were unsure of what it really entails – here we tackle its relation to weight gain, obesity and diet.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic ovary syndrome refers to a group of symptoms caused by an imbalance in your hormones. It affects women between the ages of 18-44 and its top symptoms include:
- Missed or irregular periods
- Multiple small ovarian cysts
- Excessive male hormones or androgens
It is also commonly marked by any of these visible signs:
- Weight gain
- Abnormal facial and body hair growth (also called hirsutism)
- Female pattern hair loss
How is PCOS related to weight gain?
In PCOS, among the several hormones affected, one, in particular, is the metabolic hormone, insulin. Up to 70% of women with PCOS show insulin insensitivity. Insulin is a hormone that allows the body to breakdown carbohydrates into energy, therefore, when the body doesn’t respond to insulin, the carbs turn into belly fat leading to obesity. This means that the body has to produce more insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels and make energy. If blood sugar levels increase to a point where the body cannot keep up, then type 2 diabetes may develop.
Continuous high levels of insulin can also make the body release increased levels of male hormones called androgens. These androgens are the culprits for facial and body hair, acne, hair loss, and can increase your appetite further leading to weight gain. Increased body fat also produces extra oestrogen which is converted to androgens, further worsening these symptoms. Researchers are unclear about the exact link between PCOS and obesity – does PCOS leads to obesity or does obesity lead to PCOS (in addition to genetic factors).
Obesity, whether related to PCOS or not, can lead to type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, endometrial cancer, miscarriages and infertility. Many of these eventually increase your risk of heart disease. Losing even 10% of your body weight can help correct these hormonal imbalances leading to normal menstrual cycles, improved acne and body hair symptoms, and better fertility.
Now, it’s important to remember that not all PCOS patients are overweight. Even thin, lean, and seemingly fit women can have insulin resistance and develop Type 2 diabetes. As a rule of thumb, it’s crucial to watch your food intake and nutrition if you are diagnosed with PCOS.
What does an ideal PCOS diet look like?
While a balanced diet and exercise aren’t the only treatments for PCOS, they have been proven to significantly improve hormonal imbalance and infertility. Taking small steps towards a better lifestyle, such as yoga, lowering stress, and sleeping on time can make a big difference in weight loss. If you’re newly diagnosed with PCOS and already struggle with a food addiction, you might feel overwhelmed with the idea of dieting. Watching your diet does not mean crazy restrictions, fasting, and tasteless food. Nor does it mean jumping on to the next trending diet on Instagram. Here are some simple guidelines to help you tweak your diet.
Low Glycaemic Index Foods
Studies show that opting for foods with a low glycaemic index (less than 55) does wonders for lowering insulin levels and weight. Think whole wheat, fruits and non-starchy leafy greens. Skip the potatoes, white bread and sugary snacks!
Foods with a high fibre content help in regulating the levels of insulin and leptin (the satiety hormone), which helps you feel full. Choose soluble fibre-rich foods like black beans, kidney beans, flax seeds and fruits.
Increase your protein intake and make it a point to include it all your meals. Apart from being great for your metabolism and providing an alternative energy source, protein helps regulate blood sugar and also boosts hormones that help you feel full.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There is such a thing as healthy fats and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are particularly useful in treating inflammation, blood sugar levels and PCOS. We recommend foods like fatty fish, nuts, and seeds or simply supplementing your diet with a fish oil capsule.
Vitamin B12 and D
These two micronutrients have been proven to help with PCOS. Add foods like eggs, fish, tofu, and dairy products to your intake to get these nutrients. If you’re concerned, a blood test can be done to check these vitamin levels.
Natural and Organic Food
Eating less processed foods with refined sugars and natural food will help check inflammation and give you better access to nutrients.
Instead of completely banning yourself from a food group, mindfully managing portions will lessen your cravings and binge eating. Pro tip: When you feel like grabbing a snack, ask yourself if you’re really hungry or are you just indulging in emotional eating.
If you want help managing your PCOS or diet, book a consultation with our gynaecologists and nutritionists at Veera!
Disclaimer: Content on Veera is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice or as a substitute for medical advice given by a physician or trained professional.
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