Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that impairs the functionality of the ovaries, and it affects up to 15–20% of women of reproductive age (1).
It occurs due to hormonal imbalance among women caused mainly due to endocrine dysfunction or insulin resistance, leading to the growth of fluid-filled sacs on the ovaries.
Common side effects of PCOS are uncontrolled weight gain, irregular or absent periods, hair loss, acne, depression and fertility problems.
Individuals suffering PCOS are at a higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity (2).
It is quite unfortunate that there is no cure for PCOS. However, the first line of treatment is diet and lifestyle modifications.
This article highlights some evidence-based diet plan that can relieve symptoms and boost weight loss in women suffering from PCOS.
1. Follow a Low-GI (Glycemic Index) Diet
The glycemic index is a way of measuring how quickly a food elevates insulin levels after eating a carbohydrate meal.
Foods with low GI tends to raise the blood sugar levels slowly which helps prevent an insulin spike.
Insulin is a hormone that facilitates the uptake of blood sugar into the cell for energy
Insulin resistance is one of the leading causes of PCOS in women, meaning their cells can’t utilize insulin readily as they should.
This leads to an increased blood insulin levels as well as testosterone levels leading to hormonal imbalance causing symptoms to flare up (5, 6).
However, a low-GI diet can help keep insulin levels within a stable range.
The Low glycemic index diets consist mainly of whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and lean proteins.
A 2010 study shows that menstrual regularity improved in 95% of women who were on a low glycemic index diet, compared to 63% of women who were on a standard weight loss diet (7).
2. Eat Healthy Fats
Unsaturated fats including omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help balance your hormone and improve insulin levels in women with PCOS (9).
You can get these healthy fats from oily fish, olive oil, avocados and unsalted nuts and seeds.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition involving 61 women with PCOS shows that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids over a period of eight weeks improved insulin resistance by 22% (10).
Another study also reveals that supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E lead to improved insulin resistance and a reduction in testosterone levels in women with PCOS (11).
It, therefore, means supplementing with omega-3 and adequate intake of healthy fats may improve insulin resistance and testosterone levels in women with PCOS.
What’s more, replace unhealthy fats from processed or fried foods with healthy fats in your diet rather than adding extra to your diet to avoid weight gain.
3. Embrace Lean Protein
It is important to eat good and quality lean protein if you are suffering from PCOS.
Lean proteins often contain fewer hormones.
Androgens such as testosterone are male sex hormones, and the levels of these hormones tend to be higher than normal in women with PCOS.
This explains some of the unpleasant side effects women with PCOS experience such as a deeper voice, facial hair and irregular periods.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism shows that women with PCOS who followed a high-protein diet (30% protein) had a much lower level of free androgen compared to a low-protein diet (15% protein) (12).
A high protein food does not lead to increases insulin levels rather; it suppresses ghrelin, a hunger hormone for much longer than carbohydrates (13).
You can get healthy protein source from diets such as lean meat, eggs, fish, beans and some dairy products.
4. Cut Back on Carbs
Cutting back your carb intake may boost weight loss and hormonal imbalance in women with PCOS.
Insulin is produced as carbohydrates are converted to glucose in the body.
A study published in Fertility and Sterility shows that a moderate reduction in carb intake reduced blood insulin concentrations among women with PCOS (14).
A Modest reduction in carbs leads to a reduction in blood sugar, blood insulin, and testosterone levels as well as improve insulin sensitivity (15).
Not only is this benefit limited to hormonal balance, but it also aids weight loss.
Furthermore, reducing your carb intake also naturally tends to follow a lower GI diet which can improve symptoms of PCOS.
5. Supplements May Be Helpful
Supplementing may help ease symptoms of PCOS especially in women who have low levels of nutrients.
Vitamin D deficiency is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies worldwide (19).
Its main source is the sun, however, if your levels are low due to insufficient sun exposure, most health professional will recommend taking a supplement.
Another important nutrient that can also improve symptoms of PCOS is chromium, an essential mineral that boosts insulin action.
However, chromium deficiency is less common as it is found in a wide range of foods.
Rich source of chromium include mussels, nuts, shellfish, fruits and vegetables such as pears, tomatoes, and broccoli.
While there is no known cure for PCOS, diet and lifestyle modification can improve your conditions.
If you are gaining excessive weight, as little as 5% weight loss can greatly improve PCOS symptoms
Also, you need to choose the right foods to control symptoms of PCOS.