Polycystic ovary syndrome or Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a condition affecting millions of women worldwide. PCOS manifests in many ways and can lead to infertility by interfering with ovulation. The exact cause of PCOS is still under study. Essentially PCOS is a condition caused by hormonal imbalance in the body due to various factors.
For people with PCOS, getting pregnant and having a healthy pregnancy can be a real challenge. The irregular menstrual cycles and hormonal imbalances make conception difficult. There is also an increased risk of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia in people with PCOS.
While PCOS still doesn’t have a cure, the diet has a huge role in managing the symptoms and boosting fertility. A nutritionally balanced diet coupled with exercise and medicines has made it possible to mitigate the risks associated with PCOS and fertility.
Here, we will delve into what makes an ideal PCOS diet and how diet can help people with PCOS manage their symptoms. Let’s go!
What’s PCOS, and What Are Its Causes?
Before we jump in, let’s look briefly at PCOS and its symptoms and causes. Generally, it is a hormonal issue that causes irregular periods in women of reproductive age. Ovaries in people with PCOS are not normal and have small fluid-filled sacs called cysts in them. These cysts do not release mature eggs, interfering with normal ovulation.
There are some common symptoms found in people with PCOS. One of these is irregular periods. There may be no periods at all for long stretches and fewer than normal periods in a whole year. Increased androgen levels are another common symptom leading to a condition called hirsutism, where there is excessive hair growth. Finally, the presence of cysts in the ovaries is another indication that the person is suffering from PCOS.
Genetics plays a big role in determining whether you get PCOS or not. In a lot of cases, PCOS has been linked to family history where women in the family have had PCOS. Some genes are thought to be responsible for increasing the risk of PCOS.
Insulin resistance is common in people with PCOS is and is one of the factors that could cause the issue. Insulin produced by the pancreas is not properly utilized by the body. This leads to an increased risk of diabetes. Increased levels of insulin cause more androgens to be produced, which disrupts ovulation.
There is also a condition called low-grade inflammation or low GI. This is a natural reaction of the white blood cells to fight infections, but in people with PCOS, low GI is common and often long-term. This also interrupts the natural menstrual cycles and ovulatory functions.
Diet is one of the powerful ways in which women can control the various issues associated with PCOS and can even boost fertility in people with PCOS. The next section discusses dietary interventions that you can make if you are suffering from PCOS-related problems.
PCOS and Diet- What to Include and What to Avoid
Coming to the meat of the topic, if you would excuse the pun. There is a lot you can do to control your hormone production through a good diet. The general consensus is that a plant-based diet is the best option if you want to fight PCOS symptoms and improve your reproductive health. However, it’s not that straightforward. There are certain things you need to include and some you should avoid when you are charting out your diet plans.
What to Include in a PCOS Diet
Let’s look at some of the different categories of foods and discuss what you should be including.
Carbs are an essential part of your dietary intake. Carbs are what fuel the cells in the body and promote healthy functioning of the central nervous system. In people with PCOS, due to insulin resistance, a low-carb diet is usually advised. More than the quantity of carbs, it’s the type of carbs that matter the most.
Reducing processed foods that are rich in simple carbs is the key. Processed foods such as bread and pasta do not retain many essential nutrients and thus cannot satisfy your nutritional needs. Complex carbohydrates are ideal to be included in your diet. Whole grains such as brown rice, millets, quinoa, and whole wheat, along with legumes and nuts should be part of your diet. These foods contain Inositol, a nutrient that helps with insulin sensitivity and reduces androgens in your system, thus helping with ovulation. These are also low on glycemic index helping regulate blood sugar levels in PCOS patients.
Fats are of different types. There are saturated, unsaturated, and trans fats to mention a few common ones we see in the food we eat every day. Trans-fat is manmade and can lead to inflammation, so this is one thing to avoid from your food. This means no fried fast food or hydrogenated oils.
Unsaturated fats are found in avocados, olive oil, seeds, nuts, and fish. Unsaturated fats are healthy fats and should be included in your meals, and these fats are essential for your body. PCOS is also linked with a higher risk for heart disease, and unsaturated fats help you fight this. Saturated fats are also to be included in your diet but in lower quantities. Butter and coconut oil are sources of saturated fats.
Sugar is to be controlled in your diet if you are battling PCOS. Sugar is processed with insulin in your body, and increased sugar intake can increase the production of insulin. Since most people with PCOS have insulin resistance, increased insulin production can be risky. Refined sugar, artificial sweeteners such as sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, and such should be avoided. This will reduce the risk of diabetes and heart problems in the long run. Natural sugars are found in fruits and dairy products such as fructose and lactose are however not found to be harmful if you have PCOS.
As we discussed above, inflammation is one of the big issues associated with PCOS. Antioxidants reduce the free radicals that can cause inflammation. Whole foods are ideal at tackling inflammation. There are a lot of options to choose from too. Leafy greens, nuts, dark chocolate, avocado, lentils, blueberries, blackberries, and broccoli – are all well suited for anti-inflammatory properties. Including these in your diet in good quantities will help you fight the symptoms of PCOS.
You need a lot of fiber in your diet. This is one of the reasons why all medical practitioners advise you to take whole foods over processed foods. Fibers help in slowing down the metabolism of the food which helps in controlling the blood glucose levels thus keeping insulin levels in check.
Weight loss is also advised for people with PCOS, and fibers help keep you feeling full for longer. Fibers help in maintaining gut health and thus regulate hormone production in the body.
You certainly need proteins in your diet for good muscle health and growth. Having lean proteins is a good way to manage your protein intake while also balancing your fat intake. Eggs, Chicken, lean beef, fish, lean pork, etc are good to include in your diet. There are also options such as tofu and greek yogurt if you are a vegetarian.
What to Exclude from Your Diet
As important as eating the right kind of food is not eating the wrong kind. Here are some things you should be keeping out of your diet.
- Processed foods – Processed foods are low in nutrients and fibers as the germ of the grain is removed before the foods are processed. There are also artificial sugars included here. Processed foods such as white bread, pasta and rice should be avoided as best as possible.
- Processed meats and red meat – The higher fat content means these should be ruled out of your food. They also tend to increase cholesterol levels which can further aggravate the risk of heart disease
- Diary and gluten – Diary and gluten are shown to create inflammation in the body in many cases. Avoiding dairy and gluten as best as possible is advised for people with PCOS.
- Alcohol – While red wine has a lot of antioxidants, there should be limited consumption. Reduce alcohol consumption to 1-2 glasses a week.
- Caffeine – Caffeine consumption should also be moderated if you have PCOS. Caffeine has been found to negatively impact fertility beyond a cup a day.
Tackling PCOS is not an easy task. There are a lot of factors at play, and there are issues such as the increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart diseases to be considered in the long run along with fertility issues. Lifestyle changes, including a suitable diet and regular exercise are key in managing PCOS symptoms in the long term.
A balanced diet with a strong emphasis on plant-based foods is the best bet to deal with various issues related to PCOS. This will prevent weight gain, help tackle obesity and also regulate hormone and insulin production in your body. Including necessary supplements in your diet will also help.
If you have issues with menstruation and you think you have PCOS, consulting a healthcare provider is the best thing to do. If you are trying to get pregnant, a fertility specialist will help you formulate a diet plan along with other fertility treatments necessary to carry a healthy pregnancy to term.
Looking for the best fertility treatments for PCOS? Rise fertility has helped many aspiring parents take baby steps! Get in touch today to book a consultation with our experts!
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