Nutrition & polycystic ovary syndrome

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a common health condition affecting up to 1 in 5 women during their reproductive years. Concerningly, up to 70 per cent of women with PCOS remain undiagnosed. While many of us may have heard of PCOS, what the condition is, and how it can impact women’s health is often underestimated and misunderstood. This often-underdiagnosed hormonal condition accounts for significant healthcare costs of up to $400 million per year in Australia.

PCOS is a hormonal condition responsible for disruptions to the menstrual cycle, skin and hair changes, as well as formation of multiple cysts on the ovaries (hence the name – polycystic ovarian syndrome). PCOS can increase a woman’s risk of fertility issues, diabetes, heart conditions and some cancers.

Symptoms of PCOS vary from person to person, but may include; excess hair growth (hirsutism), acne, an irregular or absent menstrual cycle, easy weight gain, difficulty falling pregnant and psychological symptoms such as anxiety or depression.

Increased community awareness of PCOS is much needed, to improve diagnosis rates and offer women the support and advice they need to best manage their symptoms.

How does PCOS increase the risk of diabetes?

PCOS may increase the amount of the insulin hormone in the  blood. Insulin’s main function involves removing glucose (sugars from food) from our blood so our body can use it as energy efficiently. Insulin is released when glucose is detected – after we have eaten. For women with PCOS, insulin remains in the blood in higher than usual concentrations, often associated with insulin-resistance, also known as pre-diabetes.

It is important that insulin levels are managed to help reduce your risk of diabetes. The good news is, our eating and exercise habits can certainly help.

Nutrition and PCOS

The foods we eat can impact PCOS and exacerbate symptoms. While there is not one gold standard diet recommended for those who live with PCOS, many studies have shown that some foods are better than others.

With PCOS, our bodies are in a state of inflammation, so eating anti-inflammatory foods such as berries, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, nuts and olive oil may be helpful to reduce inflammation.

The types of carbohydrates we eat can also be an important factor for managing PCOS symptoms when it comes to managing PCOS symptoms with diet.

High fibre and low GI carbohydrates foods (those providing slow-burn energy that minimise big spikes in our blood sugar levels) are recommended for people who have higher than normal insulin levels. Sticking with low GI fruits such as berries, oranges, pears and grapefruits, non-starchy vegetables, wholegrains and legumes, is also ideal.

Unsaturated fats can also be beneficial for women with PCOS, such as those found in olive oil, nuts and oily fish.

These foods are recommended as ‘everyday’ foods for all Australians, in the Australian Dietary Guidelines and may be of great benefit to women living with PCOS. However, all women with suspected or diagnosed PCOS are strongly encouraged to speak with their doctor or an Accredited Practising Dietitian to seek out individualised advice that is right for them. 

For more information on PCOS, visit: Better Health Channel Victoria

Georgia Thacker

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