Healthy Diet for Women with Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

First of all, what exactly is PCOS? Polycystic ovary syndrome or known in short form as PCOS is a condition in women of childbearing age that causes hormonal imbalances and problems with their metabolism. According to research, PCOS is a condition with 1 out of 10 women of childbearing age experiencing PCOS. In fact, it is so common that many women who have this condition do not have a diagnosis. This is one of the most common hormonal endocrine disorders and affects 8-20 percent of women.

PCOS have many effects on a woman’s body, one of the most significant effect it has is that it causes hormonal imbalance in the body. Many women with PCOS develop several small cysts, or fluid-filled sacs, on their ovaries that, although not harmful, can cause the hormonal imbalance in the body to happen. This can lead to ovarian problems such as having late or irregular periods, to having prolonged menstrual periods or not being able to menstruate for months. Because of this, PCOS is said to have an effect on a woman’s ability to ovulate. 

The irregular ovulation of the ovaries may make it difficult for women who have PCOS to become pregnant and at worse can cause them to become infertile if PCOS is left untreated. In fact, PCOS is the most common cause of infertility in women. Even when a woman with PCOS becomes pregnant, the pregnancy can have higher chances of miscarriages, gestational diabetes, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, preeclampsia, and premature delivery.

PCOS and Hormones

The hormones in a woman’s body with PCOS become imbalanced, particular hormones such as androgen, insulin, and progesterone. These hormones’ levels become out of balance from their normal level in the body and affect the body in different ways. 

  • Androgen for women with PCOS is said to rise to higher levels than normal. Androgens are “male” hormones, and high level in women causes hair loss or thinning hair on the scalp, excess hair growth in places such as the face, body, and back, and complication getting pregnant.
  • Insulin hormones are responsible for managing and maintaining blood sugars in the body. Women with PCOS may have an imbalance of insulin in their body that could either make their blood sugar levels too high or become resistant to insulin that can lower blood sugar levels in the body.
  • Progesterone hormones in women with PCOS can lessen, preventing ovulation that causes irregular periods.

PCOS Symptoms

There are multiple other symptoms of PCOS other than irregular menstruation, the possibility of infertility, and a difficult pregnancy. PCOS being a condition caused by hormonal imbalance can bring symptoms such as acne, oily skin, weight gain, inability to lose weight, excess hair, thinning hair on the scalp, irregular periods, depression, anxiety, and headaches. If left untreated, PCOS can lead to more dire conditions such as diabetes, sleep apnea, infertility problems, complications during pregnancy, high cholesterols, high blood pressure, liver disease, and endometrial cancer among others.

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Causes of PCOS

The cause of PCOS and how it’s developed is still currently unknown. But there are several suspected reasons why women have this condition. 

  • It’s Hereditary

Genes may play a factor for women to develop PCOS. There is a more likely chance for women to have PCOS if their female relatives, especially their mother or their sister, have PCOS.

  • Low-grade Inflammation

This term is used to describe the ability of white blood cells to produce substances that fight off infection. Through research, it was found that women with PCOS carry a certain type of low-grade inflammation that promotes the production of androgens by polycystic ovaries. This can potentially cause hormonal imbalance and lead to heart and blood vessel problems.

  • Excess Androgen

Imbalance of hormones is one of the main symptoms that we see in women with PCOS. The ovaries producing high levels of androgens may cause acne and hirsutism seen PCOS.

  • Excess Insulin

Having excess insulin can cause a domino effect in the body. Excess insulin can cause your body to become resistant to the effects of insulin, causing blood sugar levels to rise, which in turn, prompting the body to produce even more insulin. Too much insulin within the body will cause an increase in androgen production, which then causes problems with ovulation.

PCOS Treatments

There is no one way to treat PCOS. In fact, there is no known cure for it but there are ways to help alleviate the symptoms, especially if the woman with PCOS wants to get pregnant or reduce the risks of developing a secondary condition that PCOS can bring. To help alleviate symptoms of PCOS, those affected should first consult their doctors, as symptoms are felt differently by each individual, treatment will be personalized according to their unique set of symptoms. But here are some several recommended treatment options for women with PCOS such as medication. 

Birth control is the most common form of medication for women with PCOS as it helps with regulating their menstrual cycles by keeping their hormones in check and keeping estrogen levels stable. Lifestyle changes are also recommended to alleviate PCOS symptoms. Women with PCOS are recommended to be active, maintain a healthy weight, lessen carbohydrates and eat a balanced diet. All these will help in stabilizing hormone problems within the body of women with PCOS and may even prevent the development of secondary conditions brought on by PCOS.

Healthy Diet for Women with PCOS

Now comes the exciting part. One of the lifestyle changes women with PCOS are recommended to undergo is to eat a balanced diet. Of course, it is important to consult doctors and nutritionists on what foods to eat because women have their own unique set of symptoms. Here, we are discussing healthy diet plans that are generally recommended for women common symptoms of PCOS. 

It is highly recommended for women with PCOS to watch what they eat as certain foods can have a significant effect on their PCOS and its effect on the body. There is no official standard of what kind diet women with PCOS need to take, but there are some recommended diets and foods to avoid that are widely agreed upon that can help manage PCOS and are beneficial to those with the condition.

In general, there are three basic diets that women with PCOS are recommended to follow: (1) a diet low in glycemic index (GI), (2) an anti-inflammatory diet, (3) the DASH diet.

  • Low glycemic index diet

A diet low in glycemic index is especially beneficial to women with PCOS because it does not cause insulin levels to rise or only rise slowly compared to other foods, for example, carbohydrates. This is because foods that are low in glycemic index are digested slower by the body. Foods such as fresh fruits, nuts, whole grains, seeds, starchy vegetables, and other unprocessed foods low in carbohydrates can all be included in a low glycemic index diet. 

  • Anti-inflammatory diet

This diet helps to combat inflammatory symptoms caused by PCOS. Foods such as berries, fatty fish, leafy greens, and extra virgin olive oil can be included in an anti-inflammatory diet and help reduce inflammatory-related symptoms.

  • The DASH diet

Exactly what DASH stands for, the Dietary Approached to Stop Hypertension is a diet aimed at reducing hypertension and risks or the impact of heart disease. As PCOS have similar symptoms that can also lead to heart diseases, the DASH diet is often recommended by doctors to help alleviate these symptoms. The DASH diet includes fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables, whole grain, and low-fat dairy produce.

It is also highly recommended to include high-fiber vegetables such as broccoli and legumes as fiber-rich foods help to combat insulin resistance by slowing down the body’s digestion which reduces the impact of sugar on the blood. Lean protein food sources may also be beneficial to women with PCOS such as fish and chicken.

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There are multiple foods to avoid if you have PCOS. Generally, unhealthy foods should be avoided such as heavily processed foods, including sugary beverages, fast food, and fried foods. Food high in carbohydrates should also be avoided such as white bread and white rice as it causes inflammation within the body and exacerbates insulin resistance. Other inflammatory foods should also be avoided such as red meats. 

There are several Filipino dishes that women with PCOS can eat to adhere to their healthy diet. Fish sinigang is especially a nutritious and delicious dish that is beneficial and non-detrimental to women with PCOS. There are multiple recipes for sautéed vegetables recommended for women with PCOS to eat. Instead of eating white rice as per Filipino custom, brown rice is a healthier alternative to those with PCOS who still want to eat wholesome Filipino recipes. It is just a matter of being careful and creative on what foods to eat without sacrificing the delicious taste that we are used to.

 

References:

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017, August 29). Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pcos/symptoms-causes/syc-20353439

Smith, L. (2018, January 5). What is polycystic ovary syndrome? Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265309.php

Sridhar, D. (2016, May 18). Everything you need to know about pscos (polycystic ovarian syndrome). Retrieved from https://www.practo.com/healthfeed/everything-you-need-to-know-about-pcos-polycystic-ovarian-syndrome-16079/post

Gaither, K. (2019, March 25). What is pcos? Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/women/what-is-pcos

Dresden, D. (2018, September 06). What to eat if you have PCOS. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323002.php

Whelan, C. (2018, November 02). Can my diet relieve symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)? Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/pcos-diet#foods-to-add

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