PCOS is a hormone disorder where the woman’s body produces too much male hormone. This often prevents normal ovulation (the monthly release of the egg from the ovary), which can cause periods to become irregular or stop altogether. It can also make it difficult to get pregnant. ‘Polycystic’ literally translates as ‘many cysts’. This really refers to there being many partially formed follicles on the ovaries, which each contain an egg. These rarely grow to maturity or produce eggs that can be fertilised.
Common symptoms of PCOS may include:
- weight gain (especially around the belly)
- poor blood glucose control
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- high triglycerides (fat in the blood)
- excess body or facial hair (hirsutism)
These can lead to a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and sleep apnea. PCOS is relatively common, especially in infertile women. It affects 12 to 18 percent of women of reproductive age (between late adolescence and menopause). Almost 70 percent of these cases remain undiagnosed. It may run in families. Doctors don’t know what causes PCOS, and treatment usually focuses on managing the symptoms above.
Results from observational studies provide evidence that that the prevalence of impaired glucose tolerance (IGT), gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes (T2DM) is higher among women with PCS than among women from the general population. Women with PCOS with higher BMI’s are at greater risk of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
Steps you can take to reduce health risks
There is no specific diet that can prevent or treat PCOS. However, eating well and being active can help manage some of the symptoms of PCOS and the effects they have on your health.
Aim for a healthy weight
- Follow the Australian Healthy Eating Guidelines or Eat for Health Guidelines
This will ensure that you are eating the correct number of serves of each food group
- If you are overweight, a 5-10% weight loss can improve many of the symptoms of PCOS.
- Weight loss can reduce the amount of male hormone levels and regulate your period, which can make it easier to get pregnant.
Lower your risk of heart disease:
- Choose healthy fats instead of unhealthy fats.
- Eat at least two-three servings of fatty fish per week, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, trout or sardines.
- Use healthy fats and oils, like canola, sunflower or olive oil, or non-hydrogenated margarine instead of butter, coconut oil or palm oils.
- Choose foods that are lower in saturated fat, which is an unhealthy fat. Examples are: lean meats (visible fat removed, meat is not marbled), skinless poultry, lower fat milk and milk products, legumes (beans, peas and lentils), tofu and unsalted nuts
- Bake, boil, steam and stir-fry foods instead of frying or deep frying. Cooking and preparing foods using less fat can help to manage your weight which can reduce the risk of other risk factors. Try using a spray oil when cooking to avoid overuse.
- Seek personalised dietary advice from an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD)
Keep blood sugar levels stable
- Aim to eat three regular main meals/daily with 2-3 healthy snacks
- On your plate include ½ plate non-starchy vegetables, ¼ low GI carbohydrates and ¼ protein
- Low GI carbohydrates include; legumes, basmati/wild rice, pasta, sweet potato, corn
- Low GI carbohydrates will also help you to feel fuller for longer and increase satiety levels to prevent over-eating
- If you are not active, check with your doctor before starting. If you are already active, consider changing your routine or trying a new activity.
- See an exercise physiologist for more suggestions as to how to best tailor exercise for you.
- Better Health Channel. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/polycystic-ovarian-syndrome-pcos
- Eat for Health Guidelines: https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/sites/default/files/content/The%20Guidelines/n55g_adult_brochure.pdf
- Practiced Based Evidence in Nutrition (PEN): https://www.pennutrition.com/Home.aspx