PCOS diet plan of action
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (pcos) is a cluster of symptoms related to a hormonal imbalance that occurs in women & girls of reproductive age (NIH, 2015). It is associated with a complex presentation, including reproductive, metabolic, and psychological features (Moran et al. 2013). Women with pcos typically have difficulty getting pregnant, have high levels of male sex hormones, may have excess hair growth on the face and body, have acne, and are often classified as overweight or obese (Douglas et al. 2006). Despite being common and affecting many individuals, the most effective treatment of pcos is not ‘clear cut’. That being said, research findings highlight a few methods that appear to have good results, and a pcos diet can yield beneficial results.
A study by Douglas et al (2006) found a positive change to insulin levels in participants on a low carbohydrate diet [Insulin resistance appears both a contributing factor, and result, of pcos. Thus, dietary manipulation that indirectly lowers one’s fasting insulin levels would seem prudent]. In essence, participants’ fasting insulin levels were lower, and the insulin response to blood glucose better, when on the low-carbohydrate diet. To achieve this, participants were encouraged to reduce their consumption of bread, noodles, & rice (among others). In short, slightly lowering the intake of carbohydrates appeared to improve the role of insulin, and therefore the regulation of blood sugar in the body. This is beneficial in the long-term management of pcos.
Pcos weight loss
As well as a slight reduction in one’s intake of carbohydrates, a large scale review by Moran et al. (2013) highlighted the importance of weight loss in the treatment of pcos. Specifically, the actual make up of someone’s diet appeared far less important, as long as weight loss was achieved. Where someone did manage to lose weight, there were a plethora of health benefits, including: greater insulin sensitivity; better blood sugar regulation; reduction in poor cholesterol numbers; reduction in male hormones, etc. Generally speaking, a pcos diet plan that was higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates appeared most successful in losing weight; this was not always the case, however. What this suggests is that finding a weight-loss diet THAT YOU CAN STICK TOO is most important. The actual composition of the diet is perhaps secondary to this.
Despite weight loss having major success in treating and managing pcos symptoms, health benefits can occur independent of weight loss and with the addition of exercise to one’s lifestyle. In a study by Hutchinson et al. (2011), despite there being very little weight reduction, there were a number of positive changes to participants’ health. More specifically, risk factors for cardiovascular health were reduced, even though after a 12 week period of exercise there was very little weight loss. In particular, there was a large & significant reduction in visceral fat. [Visceral fat is the fat that is stored internally, between our organs, in & around the abdominal area]. This is a huge bonus, as it’s been documented that excess visceral fat is far more conducive to ill-health than excess subcutaneous fat. Thus, exercise, independent of weight loss, improved markers of health in people with pcos.
Studies highlighted above suggest that a reduction in carbohydrates, with or without minor weight loss, combined with regular aerobic activity, assist an individual in managing, and hopefully combating, the symptoms of pcos.
Pcos diet summary
Obese females with pcos should aim to lose weight, while obese and non-obese females should participate in regular physical activity, for reasons detailed below. Overall weight loss, largely regardless of the actual make-up of the diet, appears the most important intervention in reducing the symptoms of pcos. This weight loss can be achieved through dietary changes, or with the addition of exercise (or a combination of the two).
In addition to weight loss, regular aerobic activity appears beneficial for a number of aspects of health. Perhaps more importantly, where weight loss is not achieved, one can be confident in their improving health when participating in regular activity. Thus, success can be achieved even if the number on the weighing scales stagnates.
Due to the nature of pcos – and its’ associated insulin dis-regulation – adopting a diet lower in carbohydrates would also appear a sensible decision. Outright carbohydrate restriction is not required. A small reduction in carbohydrate-containing food would be beneficial in improving both glucose & insulin regulation.
Despite the lack of substantial literature stating clear advice for females with polycystic ovarian syndrome, the research provides a few hints at what will succeed. A diet higher in vegetables, and lower in carbohydrates, appears suitable, combined with regular exercise (either resistance training or aerobic training). Moreover, minor weight loss should be targeted, whilst a diet that is easy for someone to stick too should help them to maintain this weight loss. Lastly, this appears one condition that can be managed through diet, without the need for medication.