Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: Changing Your Diet Can Help

Polycystic Ovary Syndrom (PCOS) is one of the leading causes of infertility in women, particularly those suffering from obesity. PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects 5-10% of women during their childbearing years.

PCOS has also been linked to such diseases as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and endometrial cancer. The risks of developing these diseases remain even after a woman is past her reproductive years.

Fortunately PCOS is treatable. Even better, treatment for this disease is very simple. Diet and lifestyle changes can help you combat this disorder, ease the symptoms and restore fertility.

These changes, along with anti-diabetes drugs, may help reduce the risks of developing the health-threatening diseases that are linked to PCOS.

Causes of PCOS

The exact cause of PCOS are not yet known, but a number of cases point at insulin resistance or the body’s inability to use insulin efficiently.

Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas upon the introduction of glucose in the blood after eating carbohydrates. Once released, insulin travels the bloodstream to unlock muscle, fat and liver cells so that the glucose can pass into them. The insulin in the cells is either burned or stored as energy reserve.

With insulin resistance, the cells do not unlock to let the insulin in, thus the pancreas works doubly hard to secrete insulin and keep blood sugars in check. This over-exertion may exhaust the pancreas and eventually lead to diabetes.

Stanford University researcher and insulin expert Gerald Reaven, M.D. says that the extra insulin "acts on other organs that remain insulin-sensitive, including the ovary, which in turn makes more testosterone in response to insulin."

This extra testosterone may also be the cause of some common PCOS symptoms such as the tendency to store fat in the abdomen. Excessive abdominal fats in turn, further worsen insulin resistance. The hormonal imbalance may also disrupt reproductive hormones enough to prevent ovulation.

Signs and symptoms of PCOS

Some of the most common signs of PCOS include:

  • obesity, especially in the abdomen; about 50-60% of women with PCOS are obese
  • excessive facial hair growth
  • irregular or nonexistent menstrual cycle
  • a number of tiny ovarian cysts; 67-86% or women with PCOS showed this symptom
  • acne
  • male-pattern hair
  • thinning hair on the crown of the head
  • mood disorders

Diagnosing PCOS

To check for PCOS, your doctor may order the following tests:

  • hormone tests to check for abnormally high levels of testosterone and other male and female hormones
  • cholesterol profile to identify high levels of triclycerides, total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (bad) cholesterol and low levels of high-density (good) cholesterol
  • fasting blood glucose and/or glucose tolerance test in the morning to check for insulin resistance

Manging PCOS

To treat PCOS, first insulin resistance must be managed. To do this, diet and lifestyle changes are necessary.

Kim Thornton, M.D., of Boston IVF in Massachusetts says that "PCOS is a metabolic problem… good nutrition and lifestyle modification are key to controlling the condition."

Below are some simple steps to help manage PCOS.

Less carbohydrate intake – The more carbs you eat, the more sugar is introduced in the blood, and therefore more insulin is released. The goal here is to lessen insulin secretion. To achieve this, eat smaller carbohydrate portions. Lower your carb ratio from 50% to just 25-30% of your plate.

Eat smaller meals – Smaller meals and snacks spread throughout the day can make you feel less hungry and therefore avoid the tendency to overeat. Eating small meals spread out throughout the day can weaken the insulin response and is also an effective weight loss plan.

Fiber – Fiber slows down the digestive process, which in turn, slows down the release of sugar into the blood. High-fiber diets are also associated with weight loss. You should have at least 3 daily servings of unrefined grains such as whole grain breads and cereals, brown rice and whole wheat pasta.

Carbs and Proteins – Eat small amounts of unprocessed carbs with lean protein and a small amount of healthy fat. They can make you feel full while keeping blood sugar levels steady. Good fats such as olive oils, nuts and seeds aid cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity.

Exercise – Exercise is necessary to lose weight. It also keeps sugars out of the blood stream.

Medications – Your doctor may prescribe medications to help with the insulin resistance. They are necessary in lowering the risk of developing diabetes and restoring fertility.