Which diet is best for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?

By naturopath Margaret Jasinska

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine problem in women. Around one in every six women probably has the tendency to polycystic ovaries. The condition has a strong genetic component. The metabolic state that is present with PCOS usually makes it extremely difficult to lose weight. Therefore most women with PCOS are overweight, particularly around their torso and upper body. They typically find weight loss extremely difficult and frustrating.

The term Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is derived from the presence of small fluid filled sacs or cysts which accumulate in the ovaries from trapped eggs, which were never released from the ovaries. In a normal ovary, a single egg develops and is released each month. In PCOS, normal ovulation or release of the eggs at the middle of the menstrual cycle is inhibited. A woman may have PCOS without actually having the ovarian cysts.

Because ovulation does not occur very often, these women do not produce adequate amounts of the hormone progesterone but do produce oestrogen. This results in infertility and very infrequent menstrual bleeding. This lack of progesterone can also result in heavy irregular menstrual bleeding.

As a result, the follicle, the fluid filled sac that develops around the egg before it ovulates, never develops. Instead, it turns into a cyst on the ovary. Women with PCOS usually have higher levels of male hormones or androgens, which are produced in their ovaries, adrenal glands and also in their upper level body fat. Therefore it is desirable for women with this condition to avoid carrying too much body fat. Weight excess will aggravate the hormonal imbalances of PCOS and is often associated with Syndrome X. Women with PCOS have a much higher risk of Syndrome X and a sevenfold increased risk of becoming a Type 2 diabetic, especially if they are overweight.

The excess of male hormones will increase insulin resistance so that blood glucose problems, high cholesterol, and hypertension may result, especially in overweight women.

Insulin resistant people cannot handle common levels of carbohydrate in their diet. They over secrete insulin in response to eating carbs and they are less likely to feel satisfied after a meal, therefore tend to over eat. That means carbohydrate needs to be restricted in the diet. It is best to get your carbohydrate from vegetables, along with small amounts of fruit, nuts and seeds. Some women with PCOS will even need to avoid fruit for a period of time. Fruit is a healthy food for most people, but very insulin resistant people who are not able to lose weight should go without fruit for a while; until they have lost some weight. There are no nutrients present in fruit that can’t be obtained from vegetables. There is an easy to follow low carbohydrate eating plan in our book “I can’t lose weight and I don’t know why” and our “Diabetes Type 2 – you can reverse it” book.

Protein is the most important nutrient for those wanting to lose weight and reduce their blood insulin level. It is critical to eat protein at every meal because it is extremely satiating. It will help to make you feel more full and satisfied after a meal, and keep you feeling satisfied for longer. This way sticking to a healthy diet won’t be so much of a struggle. Examples of protein rich foods include eggs, seafood, poultry and red meat. Dairy products, nuts and seeds contain smaller levels of protein. Protein powders can be extremely helpful for those wanting to lose weight because they provide a quick, tasty and easy meal option for busy days.

Women with PCOS need a higher amount of healthy fats in their diet. Fat is beneficial because it is very satiating. It will help to keep you full for longer, making it easier to avoid sugary snacks. Fat is also the only nutrient that doesn’t raise insulin levels, and elevated insulin is the driver of PCOS. Examples of healthy fats include avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, grass fed butter, nuts and seeds and fat from grass fed animals such as lard, duck fat and suet.

For more information about weight loss see the book I can’t lose weight and I don’t know why”. For consultation inquiries with Margaret Jasinska email her on margaretj@cabothealth.com.au

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