Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal condition effecting 1 in every 8 women within Australia1. While the exact cause of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) remains unknown diagnosis is based on the presence of two or more of the following symptoms:
PCOS also effects fertility and increases the risk of certain chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Women with Polcycstic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) commonly have high levels of insulin or male hormones known as androgens which is believed to be the key issue driving this syndrome2. In some women, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is hereditary however, for others the condition only occurs when overweight and is heavily influenced by lifestyle factors such as diet and physical inactivity.
As hyperinsulinemia (high blood insulin levels) and insulin resistance is common in women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome so is the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, particularly in overweight individuals with poorly managed diets1. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and its job is to help the cells within the body convert sugar (glucose) into energy. If insulin resistance is present the body may be circulating excessive insulin in to keep blood sugar levels under control- this high level of circulating insulin can cause ovaries to produce more androgens eg, testosterone which can explain some symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
Diet is therefore a major contributor in the management of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Making healthy dietary changes can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and help to restore the menstrual cycle as well as improving fertility. Research has shown that even 5-10% weight loss can provide significant benefits1.
Current Dietary Recommendations for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Foods rich in soluble fibre as they help slow down digestion and reduce the impact of sugar on the blood, also help to provide satiety which keeps us feeling full. Add in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts), legumes and lentils, almonds, pumpkin, berries and traditional oats.
Lean protein sources which are low in saturated fat- avoiding saturated fat which is inflammatory within the body. For example tofu, chicken, turkey and fish. Protein is also known to keep us feeling fuller for longer, therefore less likely to snack throughout the day.
Anti-inflammatory foods – rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (omega 3) fat such as fish, olive oil, nuts and chia, hemp and flax seeds. Also increasing antioxidant rich foods such as berries and green leafy vegetables or supplementation with resveratrol 1,500mg daily4.
Increase dietary food sources of vitamin A, E and Zinc from foods such as papaya, pumpkin, avocadoes, almonds, sunflower seeds and sweet potato.
Add ½ a teaspoon of cinnamon to your diet daily as recent studies suggest this may help with balancing blood sugar levels
Foods high in refined carbohydrates as they will cause large spikes in blood sugar levels triggering the release of insulin. For example: white bread, white rice and any products derived from white flour and processed foods (which may also be high in saturated fat)3
Foods high in added sugars such as soft drinks, juice, lollies and desserts
Inflammatory foods such as processed meat and fried foods (chips, burgers, sausages, bacon and bakery goods)3
Recent studies have indicated that a diet similar to the Mediterranean style of eating may be beneficial in managing PCOS. Rich in healthy fats including olive oil, oily fish and nuts and seeds and with limited processed and refined high sugar foods. Some studies have also shown a reduced carbohydrate intake (approx. 100-140g per day) and a higher protein and healthy fat consumption may help to better manage insulin levels and reduce weight in women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
An Inertia Dietitian can help provide education and support to an individual with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) to help manage symptoms, regulate menstruation and reduce the risk of related chronic diseases.
Example of a Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) friendly meal plan:
Breakfast: 40g traditional oats + 200ml milk (almond/soy/light cows) + ½ C berries + ½ tsp cinnamon
Morning tea: 1 medium apple + 1 tbsp natural nut butter
Lunch: 100g lean chicken/turkey + 2 cups low starch salad + 1 tbsp pepita seeds + 1 tbsp. hommus
Afternoon tea: 200g natural yoghurt + 8 walnut halves & 1 tbsp. sultanas
Dinner: 120g Atlantic salmon + ½ C brown rice + 2 C Asian greens (broccolini/ Bok Choy/spinach/snow peas)
Instead of regular rice try cauliflower or broccoli rice – as simple as pulsing in the food processor and microwaving/heating in a pan
Swap regular noodles for konjac noodles – very high in resistant starch and low in calories
Swap regular potato for sweet potato- leave the skin on to increase the fibre and lower the GI value
Swap quick oats for traditional uncut oats
Swap high GI fruit such as watermelon and rockmelon for low GI varieties like bananas, apples, berries and stone fruit
Swap regular wheat based pasta for pulse pasta (made from lentil or bean flour)
Jean Hailes For Women's Health. 2018. PCOS - managing & treating weight problems | Jean Hailes. [ONLINE] Available at: https://jeanhailes.org.au/health-a-z/pcos/weight-management-treatment.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) - Better Health Channel. 2018. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) - Better Health Channel. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/polycystic-ovarian-syndrome-pcos
Faghfoori, Z et al. 2017. Nutritional management in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: A review study. Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research & Reviews, 11, 429-432.
Banaszewska, B et al. 2016. Effects of Resveratrol on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Trial. he Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 101, 4322–4328.