Does the "PCOS diet" actually exist?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome affects 15% of women who are of reproductive age.
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Last updated on
April 30, 2024
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Does The "PCOS Diet" Actually Exist? | Kin Fertility
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If you suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), your body might find it hard to break down certain foods due to your hormone balance. Although this can seem extremely annoying and unfair, the good news is that research suggests your diet can have a positive impact on PCOS symptoms [1].

Here, we’re running through diet adaptations that are thought to help women with PCOS, so you can make positive lifestyle changes to manage your condition.

What is PCOS?

PCOS is a condition that affects 15% of women who are of reproductive age [1]. Often, women with PCOS will experience cramps and pain during their period and assume that it’s just the normal symptoms of menstruation.

However, for many women with PCOS, these symptoms will escalate and start to interrupt their day-to-day life until they realise that something isn’t quite right.

PCOS is diagnosed using the Rotterdam criteria, which requires two of the following three criteria:

  • Infrequent or irregular cycles, lasting 36 days or more
  • Typical male face and body hair, signs of increased male hormones, or raised levels on a blood test
  • Polycystic ovaries on ultrasound

Yep, that means polycystic ovaries alone don't instantly give you a PCOS diagnosis. Common symptoms include irregular or no periods, issues with weight gain, acne, unwanted hair, and difficulty falling pregnant.

In Australia, it’s thought that 70% of women who have PCOS are either misdiagnosed or undiagnosed and most of these women only learn they have the condition when trying to conceive.

The underlying reasons for PCOS are still a bit of a mystery, and therefore managing the condition can be a nightmare for many women. However, a lot of women with PCOS swear by specific diets that are said to combat the symptoms.

Does PCOS make you gain weight?

Not necessarily, however, PCOS does affect weight management and insulin resistance — making it harder for the body to use the hormone insulin. This insulin resistance means that women with PCOS can find it harder to absorb and utilise carbohydrates, causing glucose to remain in the bloodstream.

Insulin is linked to feeding your fat cells, and as women with PCOS are unable to use the sugars and starches they consume in the form of energy, this can cause weight gain.

Insulin resistance can also make it harder to lose weight. Because this weight gain is instigated by male hormones, it is more likely to be held around the midsection, which is considered a lot more unhealthy as it sits around your organs.

What diets can work for people with PCOS?

It’s incredibly hard to assign a specific diet to a group of people, as each body is different.

However, the following diets have been proven to help women suffering from PCOS by helping to boost weight loss and control insulin production.

The DASH Diet

The DASH diet is thought to be good for women who struggle with insulin resistance as it is rich in fish, poultry, fruit and vegetables, and lacks fatty dairy products and refined sugars.

The DASH diet refers to Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, which is considered a combination diet for anyone who is suffering from hypertension or high blood pressure.

A recent study found that this diet can help reduce insulin resistance and belly fat over 8 weeks, which is ideal for women suffering from PCOS [2].

A low GI diet

A low GI or low glycemic index diet can be great for women who want to stabilise their insulin levels and regulate their periods.

The low GI diet relies on foods that raise your blood sugar levels slowly and steadily so that insulin spikes are reduced. This can greatly help women who suffer from PCOS, as it can regulate periods.

A recent study​ on women following a low GI diet showed that menstrual regularity improved in 95% of cases [3].

A high-fat, low-carb diet

Many women with PCOS find that consuming a normal amount of carbohydrates can lead to weight gain. However, when some of the refined carbs in a woman’s diet are replaced with healthy fats, studies have shown that​ women with PCOS can see improved insulin levels.

When following a high-fat, low-carb diet — also known as a ketogenic diet — it’s important that the carbs being reduced are refined carbs like white bread, white pasta, and sugary cereals. These carbs should be replaced with healthy fats like avocado, oily fish and olive oil to boost insulin regulation.

Carbohydrates are not the enemy, and some complex carbs can help maintain a healthy weight.

However, in women with PCOS, reducing overall carb intake can improve hormonal imbalance. Carbohydrate intake causes an increase in insulin levels as carbs are broken down.

A low-carb diet has also been proven to lead to additional weight loss of up to 5% in women with PCOS.

Mediterranean diet

If you're looking for a healthy diet, the Mediterranean one is hard to beat.

Its benefits are many — it protects against type 2 diabetes, reduces the risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, prevents heart disease, and you guessed it, it helps you manage PCOS symptoms in many ways, including:

  • It eliminates many foods that may trigger inflammation (the ones we list in the next section)
  • It is rich in vitamins and phytochemicals that help balance your hormones
  • It improves blood sugar levels and addresses insulin resistance

What foods should you avoid?

If you have PCOS, there are certain foods you want to steer away from — mainly those that increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and other health problems:

  • Highly processed foods
  • Red and processed meats
  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Sugary drinks
  • Fried foods
  • Unhealthy fats

Other ways to manage PCOS symptoms

Of course, changing your diet isn't the only way to minimise your symptoms. There are other lifestyle changes you can make to feel better:

  • Reduce your caffeine intake
  • Up your probiotic intake
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Move your body and opt for gently, low-impact exercises like Pilates or yoga
  • Try to sleep 7-9 hours per night
  • Reduce your stress levels

For more information on this condition and how to manage it, take a look at our guide to PCOS.

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