Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a complex hormonal disorder which can present as a combination of symptoms.
These symptoms include:
- Lack of ovulation
- Difficulty becoming pregnant
- Weight gain
- Irregular or infrequent menstruation
- Skin changes, specifically acne & darkening of the skin
- Hair changes, specifically excessive hair growth and/or hair loss
- Increased anxiety and depression
- May have cysts on the ovaries
- Sleep apnoea
How common is it?
PCOS roughly affects 12-18% of women of reproductive age. Surprisingly, 70% of women with PCOS are estimated to remain undiagnosed. Treatment for PCOS includes a combination of a healthy lifestyle, often weight loss and targeted therapy such as hormones therapy and medication management.
PCOS + Pregnancy
Women with PCOS may have trouble falling pregnant due to hormone dysregulation, specifically high androgens as well as excessive hair growth and raised insulin levels.
An estimated 85% of women with PCOS experience insulin resistance. Insulin plays an important role in the body – a hormone responsible for transporting sugar (or glucose) from your blood into your cells. Insulin resistance basically means that the hormone is getting less and less effective at doing its job. As a result, this causes more insulin being produced by the pancreas and rising blood glucose levels.
Due to insulin resistance, women with PCOS have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle management in conjunction with medical management is necessary for managing insulin resistance.
PCOS + Nutrition
There is no one diet proven to help PCOS. However, there are a number of dietary patterns and foods which are recommended for women with PCOS.
- Low GI carbohydrate foods - are foods that slowly release glucose into your blood stream. Low GI foods help prevent peaks in your blood sugars and this in turn helps keep your insulin levels within a recommended range. Examples of low glycaemic index foods include wholegrain, sourdough & grain breads, most fresh fruit, dairy products, basmati rice & sweet potato.
- Reduce overall carbohydrate intake - the type of carbohydrate is just as important in helping to manage insulin resistance as the amount of carbohydrate you consume. It is important to understand what a serve of carbohydrate food looks like and to speak to your dietitian regarding how many of these serves you need daily. For example, 1 slice of bread (40g) is a serve and 1/2 cup of cooked rice is a serve.
- Antioxidants - are the naturally occurring compounds found in plants that they use to fight off disease. Antioxidants also have a role in managing inflammation. Studies have shown that particular features of PCOS, namely excess weight, increased oxidative stress, high insulin resistance and high levels of androgens, can be helped by following a diet high in antioxidants.
- Mediterranean diet - similar to the above point, the Mediterranean diet is a beneficial dietary pattern to follow as it promotes the importance of omega-3 fats & monounsaturated fats, as well as an overall anti-inflammatory style of eating with antioxidants from fruits, veggies and high quality extra virgin olive oil.
If you have been diagnosed with PCOS or think you may be one of the 70% of women who remain undiagnosed, it is worth seeing your doctor and dietitian for medical and lifestyle management.
04 November 2019