Nutrition and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder characterised by an excess of the androgen hormones and affects approximately 5-10% of pre-menopausal women. This results in disruptions to a woman’s normal menstrual cycle and the failure to ovulate normally.


Women with PCOS may experience a range of symptoms, including acne, difficulty managing body weight (especially abdominal fat), insulin resistance, menstrual disturbances (irregular, light or absent periods) or symptoms associated with menstruation such as cramps and abdominal bloating, and excess growth of body hairs.  Those with PCOS also have symptoms of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high triglycerides.


Due to the insulin resistance, women with PCOS have an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.  Those with PCOS also increased risk of cardiovascular disease.


Dietary management of PCOS is important, with studies pointing towards the importance of eating a lower carbohydrate diet (40-43%) and replacing these carbohydrates with monounsaturated fat.  Now, when we say ‘lower’, it does not mean NO carbohydrate.  Wholegrains are an important component to the diet, as they provide us with fibre, antioxidants and a variety of vitamins and minerals. They improve our gut health and help prevent conditions such as diverticulitis and cancer.  But carbohydrate should be portion controlled and ideally consuming carbohydrates which are of a low glycaemic index.  Examples of low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrates include sweet potato, lentils, legumes, wholegrain bread, oats and pasta.


Studies have also shown that weight loss improves the presentation of PCOS.  A weight loss of 5-10% of body weight can drastically improve insulin sensitivity by 70% (or in less technical terms, improves how well you can process carbohydrate in the body and therefore will store LESS carbohydrate as fat).  “Healthy fats” are also seen as very important in the diet.  Substituting excess carbohydrate with foods high in monounsaturated fats, such as avocado, olive oil, canola oil and nuts.  Additionally adding ‘omega 3s’ foods to the diet, helps decrease cardiovascular risk.  You can do this by adding chia seeds or flaxseeds to your cereal or yoghurt or aim to consume at least 3 serves of 90g fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, herring, per week).


So what can you take away from this?  Portion controlling your carbohydrate, eating low GI carbohydrates as well as including some good fats in your diet can help improve your symptoms of PCOS.  To help tailor a plan to suit your individual needs and preferences, consult one of our dietitians for a nutritional plan.




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