The bad news? Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) affects as many as 1 in 10 women of child-bearing age. The good news is that this PCOS diet and lifestyle changes can help you overcome this condition. Nutrition Diva has 4 tips that will make you feel a lot better.
4 Ways to Improve Insulin Sensitivity
Tip #1: Lose weight (if you need to). Weight loss improves insulin sensitivity--and you don’t necessarily have to reach your goal weight to get this benefit. Even a modest amount of weight loss can begin to reverse symptoms of PCOS. For example, if you are 50 pounds overweight, losing 10 pounds can make a big difference in your PCOS symptoms, even though you might still be significantly overweight.
See also: How to Lose Weight Without Dieting
For people who have a significant amount of weight to lose, a good strategy is to lose weight in a stepwise fashion. Lose 5-10 pounds and then practice maintaining that new weight for 2 months before taking the next step down.
Tip #2: Be more active. Exercise is also a great way to improve insulin sensitivity. It also helps rebalance reproductive hormones. As a bonus, it can also help with weight loss. (A combination of aerobic exercise (anything that gets your heart up for 30 minutes a day) and strength training will work best.
Tip #3. Eat a low glycemic diet. Whether or not you need to lose weight, the best diet for PCOS appears to be one that is lower in carbohydrates (especially sugar and grain-based foods), higher in protein, vegetables, and fiber, and moderate in fat. In fact, I think that’s a great dietary prescription for just about anyone.
Tip #4. Eat regularly but not too frequently. Although some people claim that eating every 2-3 hours is ideal, spacing your meals out more can help improve insulin sensitivity. Instead of having a small meal or snack every few hours, try to get used to eating a more substantial meal and then waiting 4-5 hours before eating again. For tips on how to choose foods that will keep you full longer, please review my episodes on satiation and satiety.
See also: How Often Should You Eat?
Nutritional Supplements for PCOS
Most of you know I’m not a big fan of vitamin supplements; I’d prefer that you get your nutrition from foods. But there are times when targeted supplementation can be useful, and PCOS is appears to be one of them. Although the diet and lifestyle changes I just outlined are by far the most important things you can do, the following nutrients could be a useful addition to your regimen.
Vitamin D3. Women with PCOS tend to have low vitamin D levels—especially when they are also overweight. Some preliminary studies have shown that taking high dose vitamin D as a supplement improves symptoms of PCOS. The doses used in these studies are more aggressive than I would recommend taking without a doctor’s supervision. If you have PCOS, ask your doctor whether her or she would recommend a vitamin D supplement and how much. I’ve included links to the relevant studies below if you want to take them to your appointment with you.
Myo-Inositol. Inositol is a family of nutrients--often lumped together with the B vitamin family. One particular form, called myo-inositol, has been found to help women with PCOS improve insulin sensitivity and other symptoms. You can buy myo-inositol as a bulk powder online or from a vitamin store. The recommended amount is two tablespoons a day. Try adding it to your morning smoothie.
See also: How to Make the Perfect Smoothie
There are also some drugs that may help, which Dr. Sanaz Majd discusses in her episode on PCOS.
The good news is that PCOS is treatable--and often without medication! But a lot of it is up to you--and making lifestyle changes can be challenging. For extra support from women who know what you're going through, check out the groups and forums at PCOSupport.com and PCOSFoundation.org.
Farshchi H, Rane A, et al. Diet and nutrition in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): pointers for nutritional management. J Obstet Gynaecol. 2007 Nov;27(8):762-73. Link to study
Irani M, Seifer D, Minkoff H, Merhi Z. Vitamin d normalizes abnormally elevated serum antimüllerian hormone levels usually noted in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Obstet Gynecol. 2014 May;123 Suppl 1:189S. Link to study
Moran LJ, Ko H, et al. Dietary composition in the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome: a systematic review to inform evidence-based guidelines. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013 Apr;113(4):520-45. Link to study
Unfer V, Carlomagno G, et al. Effects of myo-inositol in women with PCOS: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2012 Jul;28(7):509-15. Link to study.