PCOS, or polycystic ovarian syndrome (some researchers call it Syndrome xx) is a common hormonal disorder. The metabolic changes that occur in women who suffer from the condition usually cause weight gain. “About 75 percent of women who have PCOS are overweight or obese, and they typically carry the excess weight around their abdomens, says Melanie Haiken in the Health article “Why Can’t I Lose Weight?”
PCOS affects 6-10 percent of the female population and is the most common endocrine disorder of premenopausal women. It is also one of the leading causes of infertility. Not only does this disorder cause excess male-hormone production, if left untreated, it increases a woman’s risks of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease.
Here’s what experts say about polycystic ovarian syndrome and diet.
PCOS, Insulin Resistance, and Diet
There’s a link in the role of insulin resistance (the same problem that afflicts people with type 2 diabetes), according to Haiken, in the development of PCOS. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar. The link between insulin and PCOS makes treating insulin resistance all the more crucial in women who suffer from PCOS. Experts say women with the disorder can make lifestyle changes that will help them lose weight by choosing foods that don’t elevate blood sugar levels quickly.
Because insulin resistance levels and wildly fluctuating sugar levels make it difficult for women with PCOS to get slim, the best way to lose weight is following a diabetes-friendly diet.
Avoid sugary foods and restrict refine breads. These foods are high on the glycemic index, which means consuming them causes blood sugar levels to spike quickly.
Eat low-glycemic foods. “Diets based on low-glycemic carbohydrates, such as nonstarchy vegetables, legumes, and many fruits, improve insulin sensitivity (or reduce insulin resistance), improve blood triglyceride or good HDL cholesterol levels, and reduce hunger — all important factors for women with PCOS,” says Melissa Diane Smith in the Better Nutrition article “Do You Have PCOS.”
Cut back on carbs and increase protein. Choose protein sources like fish and poultry. In PCOS women, a high protein, low carbohydrate diet not only helps them lose weight, it also helps them fight the depression that usually accompanies PCOS, says Smith.
For more specific information about a PCOS diet plan, check out the Food and Fitness section of the American Diabetes Association.
It’s very important for women who have or suspect they have PCOS to see a doctor, preferably a reproductive endocrinologist who specializes in diagnosing PCOS. According to Haiken, the following are symptoms of PCOS, and women who experience even a few of these symptoms should see a doctor and ask to be checked for PCOS.
- • irregular or infrequent periods
- • acne
- • hair on the face, neck, chest, or abdomen
- • thinning hair on your head, especially male-pattern-type bald spots
- • excess weight or obesity
- • dark patches of skin on your neck, armpits, or inner thighs
- • difficulty losing weight even when dieting
- • blood sugar fluctuations, often marked by feeling shaky a few hours after a meal
- • diabetes
- • high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, or high triglycerides
- • unexplained infertility or repeated miscarriage
Haiken, Melanie. “Why Can’t I Lose Weight. Health (Time Inc. Health). Oct2004, Vol. 18 Issue 8, p45-51.
Smith, Melissa Diane. “Do You Have PCOS?” Better Nutrition. Sep2007, Vol. 69 Issue 9, p56-58.