Submitted by Kate Seldman Mon 04/25/2011
Is it possible to reduce symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) with a special diet? Doctors say yes. Physicians recommend that women with PCOS try to lose weight if possible: studies indicate that even when they lose only 5% of their total body weight, their insulin levels are reduced, their PCOS-associated acne and hirsutism decrease, and their testosterone levels go down. In women with PCOS, high testosterone can impact fertility, as can insulin resistance. Many women with PCOS have insulin resistance, also known as hyperinsulinemia. Doctors agree that insulin is a major player in PCOS: elevated levels cause cysts in ovaries, hindering fertility, and can also be responsible for weight gain that’s hard to reverse. A special diet can reduce insulin resistance, improving fertility as well as helping patients drop stubborn pounds. The usual low-fat diet often doesn’t work for women who suffer from PCOS. These women may eat low-fat or “diet” foods, but if they keep eating refined carbohydrates like white bread, cereals and pasta, their insulin levels will stay elevated. Instead, doctors say PCOS sufferers should eat what’s called a low glycemic index diet. The low glycemic index diet is based on how high or low a food scores on the glycemic index: a food that’s high on the GI will raise blood sugar levels a lot, while a food that’s low will raise them less. However, doctors’ opinions differ on whether the numbers themselves are useful: a Snickers candy bar only scores 55 on the GI, and white rice and brown rice rank the same, even though it’s clear brown rice is a better health choice. For PCOS sufferers, doctors often say it’s better to follow the general principles of the GI diet, rather than focus on the numbers. This modified GI/PCOS diet still includes carbohydrates, but they should be complex unrefined carbs like whole-grain breads, cereals and pastas; whole grains; brown rice; and beans. Dieters should eat lean protein like chicken, fish and turkey, rather than fatty meat. In terms of fish, they should eat varieties high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, mackerel and herring, while steering clear of fried fish, and watching their consumption of high-mercury fish like swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel. They should also eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and stick to low-fat, unsweetened dairy products. Protein is also an important element of a diet intended to reduce PCOS and promote fertility, as it controls the amount of sugar in the blood. Doctor’s don’t recommend eating excessive amounts of protein or trying to follow Atkins-type diets, because these diets often involve high-fat protein sources like red meat or eggs. It’s also recommended that you combine a protein with a carb – for example, eating peanut butter on bread rather than just a piece of bread – because the protein will slow down the absorption of the carbohydrate, which will keep insulin levels low. Diet alone may not be enough to treat PCOS, but doctors agree that in some women, treating hyperinsulinemia with a low glycemic index diet may increase fertility.