Best diet to manage PCOS – Forbes Health


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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects up to 5 million women of childbearing age in the United States. If you have PCOS, you may experience various symptoms related to hormonal imbalance, including menstrual irregularities and infertility.

Although there is no cure for PCOS, there are several ways to manage the symptoms, including dietary changes. Learn more about the best PCOS diet and how it can help relieve PCOS symptoms.

What is PCOS?

“PCOS is a metabolic disorder that affects different parts of the body. It’s the most common cause of non-ovulation,” says Randy S. Morris, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist and board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist based in Naperville, Illinois, and creator of Infertility TV on YouTube.

Here are the typical symptoms of PCOS, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG):

  • Irregular periods
  • Infertility
  • Obesity
  • Hirsutism – excessive hair growth on the face, chest, abdomen, or thighs
  • Acne
  • oily skin
  • Acanthosis nigricans – dark, thick, velvety patches of skin
  • Ovaries with multiple fluid-filled sacs

What causes PCOS?

“PCOS is a complex disorder that has no single specific cause,” says Dr. Morris. “It is considered polygenic (multiple genes can contribute) and multifactorial.”

The cause of PCOS is unknown, but a combination of factors such as insulin resistance, high androgen hormone levels and irregular menstrual cycles may be linked to PCOS, according to ACOG.

How Does Diet Affect PCOS?

Women with PCOS are more likely to have insulin resistance, obesity, inflammation, metabolic syndrome, or a combination of these conditions, which can increase the risk of developing heart disease and type 1 diabetes. 2. Because maintaining a healthy weight is essential in the management of insulin resistance, obesity, and metabolic syndrome, dietary changes can help both with these cofactors and with PCOS itself. even.

“A low-sugar diet and eating fresh, whole foods can help relieve PCOS symptoms by balancing blood sugar and improving insulin sensitivity,” says Brigitte Zeitlin, dietician and women’s health coach based in New York. “Conversely, a high-sugar diet increases insulin resistance and exacerbates PCOS symptoms,” she explains. A diet high in processed white carbohydrates (white bread, white rice) can cause similar insulin issues. A high-fiber diet may also benefit people with PCOS.

Benefits of the PCOS diet

A PCOS diet can provide several benefits, says Zeitlin, citing a 2021 Medicine systematic review of dietary habits and polycystic ovary syndrome. This review looked at different diets, including the Mediterranean diet and a low glycemic index diet (a diet that limits foods that can raise blood sugar). Based on the research, the authors concluded that dietary changes generally lead to the following benefits:

  • Weightloss
  • Drop in blood sugar
  • Improved hormonal balance
  • Lower cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Decreased hair loss, acne and menstrual irregularities
  • Improvement of inflammatory markers

“Because PCOS can differ significantly from person to person, the benefits of a particular diet may be limited only to the population studied,” notes Dr. Morris. For example, dietary advice given to someone with PCOS who is obese may not work the same as it does to someone with PCOS who is not obese, he explains. Although the following section provides general nutritional guidelines, it is important to seek personalized nutritional advice from a healthcare professional.

PCOS diet foods to eat

Although there is no consensus among experts on a specific type of PCOS diet, they do agree that a well-balanced and nutritious diet is essential for managing PCOS symptoms. The list of healthy foods and eating habits to incorporate, according to Dr. Morris and Zeitlin.

  1. Fruits and vegetables. These foods offer fiber and a range of nutrients and antioxidants to help optimize overall health and potentially reduce the risk of chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. “Aim to eat produce of different colors,” advises Zeitlin.
  2. Lean protein. Include lean proteins like fish, chicken and eggs with meals, says Zeitlin, explaining that it helps with blood sugar management instead of just eating carbs.
  3. Legumes like beans, lentils, chickpeas and split peas. Although you don’t have to follow a plant-based diet, it’s important to note the benefits of legumes. These plant proteins are low in fat, high in fiber and low on the glycemic index, which means they don’t raise blood sugar as much as high glycemic index carbs (like white bread and pastries), says Dr. Morris. He notes that a diet of legumes has been shown to improve blood pressure and cholesterol in women with PCOS, citing a 2018 study Nutrients study.
  4. Whole grains. Whole grains include the whole grain, providing fiber and various nutrients. A diet rich in whole grains instead of refined grains (where the outer layers of the grain are removed) is associated with a lower risk of developing chronic diseases, Zeitlin says. Examples of whole grains include brown rice, oats, and quinoa.
  5. Healthy fats. Healthy unsaturated fats offer benefits like reducing inflammation and supporting heart health, Zeitlin says, noting examples like nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocados and omega-rich fish. -3 like salmon. They can also help balance blood sugar.
  6. I am protein. Soy products like edamame, tofu, and soymilk are good sources of plant-based protein, says Dr. Morris. They’re also low in saturated fat and offer fiber, he adds, citing a 2018 paper Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics study comparing the effects of a diet with soy to a diet without soy in women with PCOS. “Those on the soy-based diet showed greater improvement in weight, some androgen levels, and insulin resistance,” says Dr. Morris.
  7. Spices. Adding spices like cinnamon and turmeric, which have anti-inflammatory properties, to foods adds flavor and can help reduce sugar and salt addiction, Zeitlin says. Ginger and cumin are also great for blood sugar and insulin resistance.
  8. Eat small, frequent meals. Eating small amounts regularly throughout the day can help keep blood sugar stable, says Zeitlin. She recommends aiming for a small meal every three to four hours.
  9. Eat at least three hours before bedtime. “This allows your body to fully digest your last meal before you fall asleep and go into repair mode, which improves sleep quality,” says Zeitlin. She notes a 2018 International Journal of Preventive Medicine study indicating that sleep disturbances are prevalent among people with PCOS and that poor sleep quality is linked to an increased risk of insulin resistance and obesity.
  10. Hydration. Adequate hydration is important to support overall health. Water should be the main source of hydration because it contains no sugar or calories.

It’s also important to limit sodium to 2,300 milligrams a day to help manage blood pressure and inflammation. If you opt for a prepared or processed food, look for products labeled “reduced in sodium”, “unsalted” or “no salt added”.

PCOS Diet Foods to Avoid

The following foods can cause inflammation and should be limited in a PCOS diet, says Zeitlin.

  • Sugary drinks like sodas and juices
  • Alcohol
  • Sugary foods like candies, cookies, and sugary cereals
  • Refined carbohydrates like white bread and white rice
  • fried food
  • Saturated fats like butter or margarine
  • Red meat
  • Processed meats like hot dogs and meatloaf

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Other Lifestyle Changes to Manage PCOS

“Incorporate self-care practices to help manage stress, which is beneficial for balancing hormones, insulin being one,” says Zeitlin. She recommends activities like yoga, meditation, and journaling.

Physical activity may also help relieve PCOS-related depression and confer many overall health benefits, such as reducing the risk of weight gain and lowering blood pressure. Strength training is also beneficial as it helps manage blood sugar.

As mentioned, getting enough sleep is also important for blood sugar and weight management. “Aim for seven or more hours of sleep each night,” says Zeitlin.

When to consult a doctor

“You should see a doctor as soon as you feel or notice any symptoms,” says Zeitlin. “Your doctor can discuss lifestyle changes and if medication is needed. And if you’re looking for a personalized PCOS diet, consult a registered dietitian.

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