Nutrition for PCOS: What To Eat For Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
What is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a very common hormone disorder, affecting 1 out of 10 premenopausal women.
PCOS mainly affects a woman’s reproductive hormones and her menstrual cycle, and may affect fertility. However, it has effects beyond the reproductive system which include blood glucose regulation issues, insulin resistance, diabetes and even cardiovascular diseases.
What are the symptoms of PCOS?
Symptoms vary for each person and in some cases, women may be asymptomatic (experience no symptoms). It is important to note that not all women will experience all the given symptoms and they may vary from a mild to severe.
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Women with PCOS often have either irregular or no periods at all
- Ovaries enlarge and may contain surplus follicles around the egg
- Conceiving may be difficult due to problems in determining ovulation timings
- Sometimes, despite having regular periods, ovulation does not occur
- Excessive hair growth
- Increased levels of androgens (male hormones like testosterone) can lead to excess hair growth mainly on face, chest, legs and back
- Hair loss
- Excessive testosterone levels may cause thinning of hair on the head by stopping hair follicles to grow
- Oily skin or acne
- Due to testosterone, the sebaceous and sweat glands work more leading to inflammation and congestion in the skin pores
- Weight gain
- High levels of insulin can promote fat storage in the body leading to weight gain
How can nutrition help PCOS?
When it comes to managing PCOS symptoms, nutrition can play a key role. Eating a balanced diet, keeping active and implementing the following tips can really help.
Moderate carbohydrate intake
- Choose carbs with a lower glycaemic index (GI) whenever available. These include rolled oats, legumes (lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans), long-grain brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa sweet potato and traditional sourdough.
- The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking system that indicates how rapidly your blood sugar rises after eating various carbohydrates. As a result, “low GI” foods cause your blood sugar levels to rise more slowly, which can help lessen PCOS symptoms.
- While you don’t need to apply this with every single meal, be mindful of the type of carbohydrates you are consuming.
Number of meals per day
- Eating smaller, more frequent meals, rather than the conventional three, may help to balance blood sugar levels in the body, lowering insulin resistance and potentially preventing type 2 diabetes. Multiple research studies support this idea, including a 24-week randomised study of 40 women with PCOS who consumed 6 meals per day versus 3 meals per day.
Include plenty of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant rich foods
- Women with PCOS may have higher levels of oxidative stress and chronic low grade inflammation than women without PCOS, according to research.
- Following an anti-inflammatory diet has shown some encouraging outcomes in women with PCOS, normalising blood sugar, lowering cardiovascular disease risk factors and restoring menstrual cycle regularity.
- Load up on colourful fruits and vegetables – try to make your plate as colourful as possible!
- The Mediterranean Diet can be a great way to incorporate plenty of legumes, nuts, seeds and fish, well as health fats from extra virgin olive oil.
Other nutrition & lifestyle tips for PCOS
- Balance your meals and snacks, making sure they all contain a good source of protein, as well as healthy fats, fibre and complex carbohydrates.
- Manage stress levels to help with symptoms. Stress hormones such as cortisol can influence the HPO (hypothalamus-pituitary-ovarian) axis and HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis, which can worsen symptoms of PCOS.
- Don’t neglect your sleep! Adequate sleep can help improve insulin and androgen levels by balancing hunger hormones and reducing stress.
- Stay active with daily movement. Regular exercise can help with insulin resistance, as well as lowering stress and providing many other benefits to our physical and mental health.
- Supplements may help, but everyone is unique and so recommendations should be personalised. However, everyone in the UK is advised to take a vitamin D supplement (10 micrograms) every day in the winter months (October – March), when we do not get enough sunlight to meet our needs.
Although everyone with PCOS is unique and personalised management is essential, the suggestions included in this post are general PCOS management tips that are beneficial for most people.
Interested in making dietary changes to support your hormones and your menstrual cycle? I work with women 1-1 to optimise their diet for PCOS, as well as gut health issues and more.
If you’re looking to optimise your nutrition, transform your health and elevate your quality of life, please get in contact via Consultations or book a FREE 15-minute call and let’s chat about how I can help.
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Check out my other nutrition-related blog posts below:
- Stewed Apples For Gut Health
- Can Fruit Help With Weight Loss?
- How Does Stress Impact Gut Health?
- 10 Tips To Feel Your Best This Summer
- Can Nutrition Help Hay Fever?
- Calories In Alcohol
- Probiotics & Gut Health
- Nutrition for Hair: What To Eat For Healthy Hair
- Metabolism 101
- What is The Gut-Brain Axis?
- Bloating Tips & Anti-Bloat Supplements
- What is Fatty Liver (NAFLD) + How Can Nutrition Help?
- Reasons You’re Always Hungry
- 6 Tips for a Gut-Healthy Christmas
- Why You’re Tired All The Time
- The Blood Sugar Rollercoaster
- The Truth About Caffeine + 8 Coffee Alternatives
- Eat Healthy On A Budget: Tips to Survive the Cost of Living Crisis
- Juice Shots: What’s the Buzz About?
- How Seasonal Changes in Eating Habits Can Impact Our Skin
- Everything You Need to Know about FIBRE
- IRON: Functions, Sources and Tips for Absorption
- How To Eat for Mental Health: The Food-Mood Connection
- The Gut-Sleep Connection
- 7 Nutrition Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep
- Nutrition for Glowing Skin
- The Gut Microbiome: Fun Facts
- Gut Health: 6 Top Tips
- Magnesium: Why We Need It
- Prebiotics vs. Probiotics
- Plant-Based Protein
- Nuts About Nuts
- Benefits of Matcha + 3 ways to have it
Deswal et al. (2020). The Prevalence of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Brief Systematic Review. Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences, [online] 13(4), pp.261–271. doi:https://doi.org/10.4103/jhrs.JHRS_95_18.
Escobar-Morreale, H.F. (2018). Polycystic ovary syndrome: definition, aetiology, diagnosis and treatment. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 14(5), pp.270–284. doi:https://doi.org/10.1038/nrendo.2018.24.
NHS (2019). Symptoms – Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. [online] NHS. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos/symptoms/.
BDA (2022). Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and diet. [online] www.bda.uk.com. Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos-diet.html.
Barr, S., Reeves, S., Sharp, K. and Jeanes, Y.M. (2013). An isocaloric low glycemic index diet improves insulin sensitivity in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, [online] 113(11), pp.1523–31. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2013.06.347.
Papakonstantinou et al. (2016). Effect of meal frequency on glucose and insulin levels in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomised trial. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 70(5), pp.588–594. doi:https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2015.225.
Mohammadi, M. (2019). Oxidative stress and polycystic ovary syndrome: A brief review. International Journal of Preventive Medicine, 10(1), p.86. doi:https://doi.org/10.4103/ijpvm.ijpvm_576_17.
Salama, A., Amine, E., Salem, H.E. and Abd El Fattah, N. (2015). Anti-inflammatory dietary combo in overweight and obese women with polycystic ovary syndrome. North American Journal of Medical Sciences, 7(7), p.310. doi:https://doi.org/10.4103/1947-2714.161246.