Polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS is a condition associated with hormonal imbalance in women during their reproductive age. This imbalance is related to reproductive hormones (estrogen and progesterone) that interfere with the function of the ovaries (sometimes resulting in development of cysts in the ovaries). However, the imbalance is also associated with other hormones that help regulate storage of fat, sugar levels and appetite.
Symptoms of PCOS include irregular menstrual cycle, excess facial hair, acne, low energy and unexplained weight gain. The condition, in most women, can go misdiagnosed and may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, which in turn increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases and other lifestyle disorders. Although the main cause of PCOS is genetic, studies have shown that simple dietary modifications can improve the symptoms and help fight PCOS.
The reason why diet and nutrition is directly linked with PCOS is because nutrients play an important role in hormonal regulation and production. Therefore, while making dietary changes, it is essential to apply them to every meal you eat. It is equally important to be consistent with the changes you make over a period of time. Here are a few diet tips that can help you fight PCOS and alleviate your symptoms.
- Avoid eating sugary and processed foods: Processed and sugary foods like bread, biscuits, potatoes and cakes are high in glycaemic index and eating foods with higher glycaemic index can directly interfere with insulin production, thereby throwing your sugar levels off balance. One of the key areas to manage PCOS is to keep a check on sugar levels and weight. Therefore, avoiding these foods can help you in the long term to prevent PCOS complications.
- Choose gluten-free options: Gluten is a naturally occurring protein found in grains like barley, wheat and rye. While consumption of gluten is still debatable, women with PCOS are largely advised to avoid gluten containing foods because they can aid insulin resistance and increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. They also cause inflammation which is liked to excess androgen production. This can further contribute to weight gain and irregularity in menstruation. Alternatives like whole grains can be added to daily diet to replace gluten rich foods.
- Avoid soy protein: There is enough evidence establishing a link between soy consumption and increased estrogen levels in women. Consumption of soy can therefore cause an imbalance in your hormonal levels triggering PCOS symptoms. You can switch to other sources of protein from lean meat, lentils and whole grains instead of soy.
- Increase intake of fibre–rich fruits and vegetables: Foods such as dark leafy vegetables, cauliflower, tomato, mushroom, broccoli, bell peppers as well as fruits including apples, grapes, pears and citrus fruits are rich in fibre content. Fibre not only regulates estrogen metabolism but also helps in weight loss and controlling sugar levels.
- Maintain a balance between carbohydrate and protein intake: While planning your daily meals, make sure that you have a proper ratio of lean protein with complex carbohydrates. For instance, if you are having chicken or fish for lunch, don’t forget to couple it with a preparation of sprouted grains like brown rice, millet, quinoa or amaranth. Having a balance between carbs and protein intake will actually help you balance insulin levels and improve your fertility.
- Plan smaller meals with intervals: Another effective change would be to reduce portion size and spread your meals at least 3-4 hours apart. This will not only help control spike in sugar levels but also help in weight regulation. Mindful eating also increases self-awareness and keeps you away from eating disorders.
- Reduce intake of coffee: Coffee contains caffeine which is long associated with increase in estrogen levels and disruption in hormonal cycle. Instead of coffee as your primary beverage, switch to green tea which will not only help you in weight loss but also improve your overall energy level.
- Increase the intake of healthy fats: Unsaturated fatty acids like omega 3 and omega 6 are available in plenty foods including nuts and seeds, avocado, olive oil as well as fish. These fatty acids improve hormonal regulation by enhancing absorption of certain nutrients. Further, they also regulate cholesterol and sugar levels.
- Drink enough water: There is a link between dehydration and PCOS. Therefore, increased water intake and PCOS diet modification go hand-in-hand. Water regulates metabolism and is essentially required to maintain every function of the human body, including hormonal regulation. It also flushes out any toxins causing harm to your hormonal cycle. Although the general recommendation is to drink 2-3 litres of water every day, you can drink more than that through different preparations throughout the day.
- Avoid alcohol: Alcohol is associated with disruption in sleep and appetite. It causes mood swings and also affects energy levels over a period of time. All of these can have a negative impact on your hormonal cycle. So it is best that you avoid alcohol intake for a while if your symptoms are persistent.
While these tips can definitely help you to keep your symptoms under control, it is advised to seek help from an expert depending on the severity of your condition.
Dietician Arti Jain
Nutrition and Weight loss Consultant, Founder and Chief Nutritionist of Diet4Health
MSc (Dietetics), PG Dip(Nutrition), Diabetic Educator (USA), International Sports Nutrition (California), Genetic Diet Expert