Managing PCOS through nutrition and lifestyle

PCOS, short for polycystic ovarian syndrome is a common condition that affects the functionality of a woman’s ovaries. It is thought that 5-10% of women of childbearing age have this condition, which makes it the most common hormonal reproductive issue seen in woman, of childbearing age. 


Causes of PCOS

The exact cause is still unknown but women with PCOS frequently have a sister or mother with PCOS, however, there is not yet enough evidence to suggest that there is a genetic link.

Polycystic ovary syndrome has also been shown to have a strong correlation with insulin resistance, with compensatory hyperinsulinemia affecting about 65-70% of women with PCOS. The symptoms experienced by those with PCOS are a result of the hormonal imbalances associated with the condition. 

PCOS diagnosis

PCOS is diagnosed in women who have at least two of the following:

1. High levels of androgens, also known as the ‘male hormones’.
2. Irregular or lack of a menstrual cycle.
3. Small cysts (fluid-filled sacks) presenting on their ovaries – though not everyone with PCOS will experience this. 

Managing PCOS

There is currently no known cure for PCOS, it is, therefore, important for a woman with PCOS to be able to manage her symptoms throughout her life.

Symptoms of PCOS can be modulated through diet and lifestyle.

With insulin resistance being one of the most impactful physiologies associated with PCOS, managing blood insulin levels and improving insulin sensitivity through diet and lifestyle can have many beneficial effects.

Managing insulin resistance and other methods of managing the condition are discussed below.

Insulin resistance: Can be reduced by consuming foods of a lower GI (glycemic index), avoiding saturated fats (instead consuming monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, in moderation) and ensuring adequate intake of protein-protein improves the body's response to glucose load, helping to balance blood sugar levels.

Fruit on a white tableEat lots of fruit and veg: I know It's boring to hear but it's oh so important! Getting your five-a-day promotes satiety, provides fibre and maintains the micronutrient content of the diet. Fibre is also important for eliminating broken-down hormone products that are found in stools and avoiding re-absorption which can lead to further hormonal imbalances.

Check vitamin D levels: Low serum vitamin D has been positively associated with PCOS related symptoms, addressing vitamin D deficiency could improve hormone regulation and insulin resistance.

Identifying gut dysbiosis: Research shows that there is a link between gut dysbiosis and polycystic ovary syndrome, such that modulation of the gut microbiome (the unique flora of gut bacteria) may be a potential treatment option for women with PCOS.

Eliminating endocrine disruptors: These are chemicals that can interfere with the hormonal systems, examples include but are not limited to plastics, pesticides and household chemicals.

Micronutrients, supplementation and managing stress are also important factors in managing PCOS.
With a personalised nutrition plan, which addresses the underlying causes of PCOS, women with PCOS can lose weight, gain menstrual regularity, get pregnant and more! Remember, everyone is different so individualised care with a nutrition professional is key.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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