Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a hormonal disorder that affects between 5 and 8 percent of women in the United States, according to Dr. Geoffrey Redmond, MD, at the Hormone Help Center. The myriad symptoms of PCOS include acne, oily skin, increased growth of facial and body hair, loss of scalp hair, irregular periods, infertility, insulin resistance, weight gain and depression. Women with PCOS should follow current dietary recommendations, says registered dietitian Martha McKittrick, RD, CDE, on the OBGYN website. Untreated PCOS may lead to increased risk of endometrial cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Low Glycemic Carbohydrates
When eating food the pancreas releases insulin, which enables conversion of sugar for energy or for fat storage. Many women with PCOS experience insulin resistance, says McKittrick, and this can trigger unpleasant symptoms, such as sugar cravings and weight gain. Since high intakes of carbohydrates may cause elevated insulin levels, McKittrick suggests "starting with a diet that is 40 percent carbohydrates and work[ing] your way downward if need be." Reduced cravings, increased energy levels and regular periods are some indicators of successful management of insulin levels. McKittrick recommends eating low glycemic carbohydrates, such as whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, beans, fruits and vegetables.
Angela Grassi at the PCOS Nutrition Center explains that women with PCOS have "a higher rate of cardiovascular risk factors," such as elevated levels of LDL cholesterol and low levels of HDL cholesterol. Grassi suggests that a diet for PCOS should consist mainly of plant-based foods since they contain vitamins, minerals and fiber that help to reduce blood lipid levels, blood pressure and insulin. Plant-based foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. They contain fewer calories than animal produce and require lengthier amounts of chewing, which adds fullness to meals and prevents weight gain, says Grassi.
Grassi recommends that women with PCOS follow a diet that is "limited in animal products, many of which contain saturated fats and cholesterol that are known to clog arteries (butter, margarine, cream, red meat and mayonnaise)." A diet for PCOS should consist of heart-healthy fats that help to lower cholesterol levels .These include monounsaturated fats, from foods such as olive oil, canola oil and nuts, and omega-3 fatty acids from almonds, walnuts, egg yolk, flaxseed and oily fish, such as salmon and mackerel.
On The Natural Health Website for Women, Dr. Marilyn Glenville recommends that women with PCOS take a multivitamin and mineral supplement to ensure sufficient intake of all essential nutrients. She particularly recommends chromium as a supplement to assist the formation of glucose tolerance factor, which reduces feelings of hunger and helps control food cravings. She also recommends vitamin B for effective thyroid function, which is necessary for weight control. Zinc is another important supplement that she suggests for women with PCOS because zinc deficiency may cause loss of taste and smell and create a need for stronger tasting foods, such as high-calorie fatty, sugary and salty foods. In addition, Glenville recommends magnesium supplements for insulin efficiency and supplements of coenzyme 10 to help control blood sugar levels.