Diet's Role in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Following a low-carb diet can be beneficial to women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Why? We'll explain everything in detail.
Diet's Role in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Last update: 25 December, 2020

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of infertility in women. Experts estimate that 1 in 10 women of fertile age suffer from it. Monitoring diet in polycystic ovary syndrome is fundamental, since women who suffer from it normally develop a resistance to insulin.

Managing this disease incorrectly can lead to complications in the medium and long term, especially metabolic complications. Your nutrition could become a turning point when determining a prognosis on the evolution of this disease.

Do you suffer from this condition? Do you want to know how to adjust your nutrition? Although it’s fundamental you turn to a nutritionist for help, in this article we’ll share some general recommendations to improve your diet. Put them into practice!

Polycystic ovary syndrome and diet

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition caused by an imbalance in reproductive hormones. This hormonal imbalance causes problems in the ovaries.

The ovaries are in charge of producing ovules (eggs) which detach every month as part of a healthy menstrual cycle. If a woman has PCOS, the ovule may not develop or detach during ovulation like it’s supposed to.

PCOS can cause amenorrhea, or irregular menstrual cycles. Irregular periods, in turn, can cause infertility and the development of cysts on the ovaries. 

A doctor consults with a patient who has polycystic ovary syndrome.
Polycystic ovary syndrome is the result of an imbalance of reproductive hormones in women.

What causes it?

The exact causes of polycystic ovary syndrome are unknown. Most experts think it has multiple causes, including genetic factors. Some of the most recognized causes are:

High levels of androgens

Androgens are sometimes known as “masculine hormones.” However, all women produce small quantities of androgens. Women with PCOS have higher androgen levels than normal.

This can prevent the egg from detaching from the ovary during each menstrual cycle. Additionally, it can cause excessive body hair and hormonal acne.

Increased insulin levels

Insulin resistance occurs when cells don’t respond normally to this hormone. As a result, blood insulin levels are higher than normal. 

According to research published in CES Medicina magazine, many women with PCOS experience insulin resistance, especially women who are obese or overweight. Patients with this condition often have unhealthy eating habits, aren’t physically active, and have a history of diabetes. As time goes by, the insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes. 

Dietary treatment for polycystic ovary syndrome

Diet can be an extremely important factor when controlling PCOS symptoms. As we’ve said previously, obese women have a higher chance of developing it, so maintaining a healthy weight is an important preventative factor.

Losing even 5% of body weight could improve problems such as insulin resistance, high androgen levels, and malfunctioning of the reproductive system.

In a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics on diet and polycystic ovary syndrome, experts advise patients who are overweight to lose weight to reduce the severity of this condition. 

The weight loss is more important than the diet itself, as long as it’s healthy. However, it appears that a diet low in carbohydrates provides more advantages, both for weight loss and controlling blood sugar.

But it’s not only overweight women who need to pay attention to their diet. Women with normal weight and PCOS also have higher levels of insulin in the blood than women without this syndrome. For this reason, all women with this condition should pay attention to the glycemic index of the foods they eat.

Women with PCOS should limit carbohydrates to control blood sugar.
A diet low in carbohydrates can have advantages for patients with polycystic ovary syndrome.

Therefore, a diet with a low glycemic index is an appropriate focus. That is, a diet without sweets or sugar, and low in cereals, breads, and tubercles. Instead, experts advise a diet based on:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Dried fruits and seeds
  • Legumes
  • Dairy and eggs
  • Lean meats and fish

Additionally, an article published in the magazine Medical Hypotheses states that intermittent fasting reduces insulin resistance, helps to alleviate other symptoms of PCOS, and improves hormone levels.

Supplemental vitamins

Certain vitamin supplements can help improve the symptoms of this disease.

Inositol

Women with PCOS usually have a deficit of an enzyme called epimerase, which is necessary for having correct levels of a compound called D-chiro-inositol. Since this error increases glucose and insulin levels in the blood, supplementing with D-chiro-inositol is a good option.

In a study published in Gynecological Endocrinology magazine, it’s been shown to be effective for recovering normal ovulation cycles, improving insulin resistance, reducing acne and hirsutism (excessive body hair), as well as improving total cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Folic Acid

It can help in treating ovulatory infertility. Green leafy vegetables, fruits, and legumes are rich in this vitamin.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency is associated with weight gain and increased insulin resistance.

Practicing regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy diet are fundamental points when treating PCOS. Medication and hormonal treatments are also important for women who want to become pregnant.

Improve your diet to treat polycystic ovary syndrome

Although experts don’t know what causes polycystic ovary syndrome with certainty, they do know that it responds well to a dietary treatment approach. That’s why it’s fundamental to include certain foods in the diet, and to reduce consumption of carbohydrates.

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  • Gateva A., Unfer V., Kamenov Z., The use of inositol isomers in the management of polycystic ovary síndrome: a comprehensive review. Gynecol Endocrinol, 2018. 34 (7): 545-550.
  • Chiofalo, B., Laganà, A. S., Palmara, V., Granese, R., Corrado, G., Mancini, E., … & Triolo, O. (2017). Fasting as possible complementary approach for polycystic ovary syndrome: Hope or hype?. Medical hypotheses105, 1-3.
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