Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Written by Katherine Nicholls
Katherine Nicholls
Nutritionist Resource Content Team

Last updated 26th April 2023 | Next update due 25th April 2026

Can dietary change support PCOS symptoms? Here we explore how nutritional support can help those living with PCOS and manage the condition, as well as some general information about the diagnosis and treatment of PCOS.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormone condition that describes a number of symptoms. These symptoms include irregular periods, excessive hair growth on the face and body, oily skin and acne, thinning hair and hair loss (from the scalp), weight gain and difficulty conceiving.

This hormone condition is thought to affect one in 10 people in the UK and while the cause is not definitively known, the condition is related to abnormal hormone levels and is thought to be hereditary. 

In this video, Dietitian Monika Bettney explains how polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can affect us and how working with a nutrition professional can help.

Symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome

Those with ovaries will commonly begin to notice symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome between their late teens and early 20s. Not all the PCOS symptoms will occur in all sufferers; for example, some may experience extremely irregular periods, whereas others may have normal cycles but find excess body hair.

Some sufferers will experience mild symptoms, while others may suffer more than one, these can include:

  • absent or irregular periods
  • acne, usually on the face
  • thinning hair
  • excess body hair on the face, forearms, lower legs, around the nipples and lower abdomen - this is known as hirsutism
  • weight gain - cells are resistant to the insulin controlling sugar levels, this means the sugar isn’t used properly and is stored as fat instead
  • miscarriage - those with PCOS usually have a raised level of the luteinising hormone, and sufferers with high levels of this stand a 65% increased risk of pregnancy resulting in miscarriage

Long-term risks of PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome can, over time, increase the risks of developing health problems later in life. PCOS is also a common cause of infertility - with many discovering the condition when trying to conceive.

Those with PCOS are at an increased risk of developing:

Diagnosing PCOS

PCOS is usually diagnosed by your GP or healthcare provider. They will carry out blood tests at a suitable time during the menstrual cycle to determine whether or not you are affected.

Once the diagnosis has been made, options for management can then be discussed. If treatment is needed, your GP or specialist may prescribe you medication and/or may recommend certain lifestyle changes.

For more complicated cases, you may be referred to a professional specialising in female reproductive health, such as a gynaecologist or endocrinologist.

A PCOS diet

While there’s no current cure for PCOS, symptoms can be effectively treated and managed. A healthy, balanced diet can help to reduce and manage some of the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome and can assist with weight management, helping to regulate insulin levels.

Finding the right diet to tackle the symptoms of PCOS can be a complex process and needs to be tailored to each person’s symptoms and lifestyle. Contacting a qualified nutrition professional can help you understand and manage helpful dietary and lifestyle changes.

Nutritionists who can help with PCOS

How can a nutrition professional help you?

Whilst some people will feel comfortable devising their own nutrition and fitness programme, others may need extra support. Those who feel they don’t have the necessary knowledge and experience may benefit from consulting a nutrition professional.

If you do decide to seek professional support, your practitioner will usually begin by gathering information about your current diet and lifestyle. This is so they can build a realistic, effective nutrition programme including a tailored diet for PCOS, unique for you. This may involve providing a food diary. You may be asked to record everything you have consumed over a period of time before or during the sessions, with details of your moods and menstrual cycle included.

At this early stage, you will also have the opportunity to discuss any dietary requirements or related health conditions that will need to be considered when creating your PCOS diet.

While nutritional support cannot eradicate PCOS, it can provide you with support for simple changes to eating and exercise patterns. Nutrition professionals will explain how these changes may help alleviate symptoms of PCOS and help manage the condition. 

When consulting a nutrition professional, remember they are not just there to give you a kick-start to weight-loss. They are also there to monitor your progress and to provide ongoing motivation, support and advice.

Does your weight make a difference?

Weight gain is one of the most common side effects of PCOS. Whilst it is essential that those with PCOS seek professional medical advice and treatment for the condition, a nutrition professional could provide individuals with extra support if they are struggling to manage their PCOS diet independently.

According to the NHS, individuals losing just 5% of their body weight will experience an improvement in symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome.

Following a low GI (glycaemic index) diet

The glycaemic index is a way to monitor how quickly blood glucose rises after eating carbohydrates. Foods with a low GI can cause your blood levels to rise slowly, and it’s thought that these are helpful in reducing the symptoms of PCOS.

Low GI foods can improve and help balance insulin levels; those with PCOS are often resistant to the effects of insulin, therefore, they have more insulin in their blood. This rise in insulin levels means the levels of testosterone are also increased. The increase in both insulin and testosterone upsets the natural hormone balance in the body, which can cause symptoms to flare up.

Those with the condition may find replacing high GI foods effective, even if they do not need to lose weight. It has also been found that when combined with weight-loss, a low GI diet can help regulate the menstrual cycle.

As well as the potential to help ease some of the symptoms worsened by being overweight, a balanced, nutritious diet can also help to reduce the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease as well as improve overall health and well-being.

Foods typically included in a PCOS diet

Healthy fats

Unsaturated fats are essential in managing the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are vital in a PCOS diet as they help maintain the cell wall, which absorbs the nutrients we need. EFAs also help to rebalance hormones, manage weight and can help fertility. ‘Healthy’ fats can include oily fish (salmon or mackerel), avocado and olive oil.

Magnesium-rich foods are also important to include, as a deficiency in magnesium has recently been linked with an increased risk of insulin resistance. Dark, leafy greens, nuts and seeds can help provide you with the mineral.

Organic meat 

It is helpful to eat good quality, lean meat if you suffer from PCOS. Grass-fed meat often contains fewer hormones and the livestock is less likely to have been fed genetically modified foods. The GM foods fed to standard livestock can contain pesticides, if consumed, it can be more difficult to manage hormone levels and treat symptoms of PCOS.

In addition to organic meat, organic dairy products, best in the form of live, natural yoghurt, (rather than cheese or milk) are advised as it contains bacteria beneficial in a diet for PCOS.


Fruit is rich in fibre and is a good source of essential vitamins and minerals. Whilst some are reluctant to add fruits into their PCOS diet due to the sugar content when eaten, in the correct portions and as a whole, fresh fruit (as opposed to dried or juiced) can be an extremely healthy alternative to ready-made, high-sugar snacks. Fruit is vital in providing the body with the nutrients needed to combat the symptoms of PCOS.

Fruits with a low GI include cherries, plums, apricots, prunes and grapes.

If you are concerned about the rise in blood sugar and insulin levels caused by fruit, enjoy a handful of seeds or nuts as a side snack - the protein in the seeds can help regulate the rising glucose levels. Aim for two to three portions of fruit per day and increase your vegetable intake for fibre, minerals and antioxidants.

Chromium is an important mineral involved in regulating blood sugar and insulin levels. This can sometimes be low in a highly refined diet; opting for more complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, broccoli and nuts can help to provide this.


If you are trying to get pregnant, it is particularly important to consider whether you are getting the right amount of nutrients in your PCOS diet. For support and advice on following a healthy PCOS diet for pregnancy, please consult your GP or a suitably qualified professional.

It has been found that the sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) is usually low in those with PCOS. Lignans, found in flax and sesame seeds, chickpeas and carrots are reported to increase this.

Due to the underlying hormonal imbalances, it is important to have the right proportion of different food groups at every meal. This should include a balance of protein fibre, healthy fats and whole grain carbohydrates.

- Rania Salman, Registered Dietitian, PgDip (Merit), BSc (Honours), MBDA

PCOS treatment

There are a variety of treatments available which can effectively control the symptoms of PCOS.

Hormone treatment

Hormone therapy is often used as a PCOS treatment as a way of alleviating certain symptoms. In some cases, hormone medications are prescribed to block any unwanted hair growth, acne and high testosterone levels.

Diabetes medication

Medication commonly used by diabetes sufferers has been found to be an effective PCOS treatment. Found to increase ovulation amongst those who have the condition, experts believe it may reduce health risks linked to insulin resistance and the effect of abnormal hormone levels.


This is a fertility drug occasionally offered to sufferers as a PCOS treatment. This is because clomiphene is capable of stimulating the ovaries if you are not ovulating.

Please consult a medical professional for more information on PCOS medication.


A treatment option for PCOS may be to undergo a minor surgical procedure. Laparoscopic ovarian drilling (LOD) is a treatment offered to those suffering from fertility problems often associated with the condition. The ovaries are treated with either heat or laser, to target and break down the tissue producing the male hormone.

Further reading

Search for a nutritionist
Would you like to provide feedback on our content?
Tell us what you think

Please note we are unable to provide any personal advice via this feedback form. If you do require further information or advice, please search for a professional to contact them directly.

You appear to have an ad blocker enabled. This can cause issues with our spam prevention tool. If you experience problems, please try disabling the ad blocker until you have submitted the form.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA, the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Find a nutritionist dealing with PCOS

All nutrition professionals are verified

All nutrition professionals are verified