Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine and metabolic disorder that affects up to 10% of women of childbearing age. PCOS is typically characterized by an excess of insulin and androgens (male sex hormones) circulating in the body as well as formation of cyst(s) on the ovaries. Common symptoms of PCOS include acne, excessive hair growth, irregular periods and heavy bleeding. On top of this, women affected by PCOS may also develop complications such as an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, infertility, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, PCOS is under-diagnosed because it frequently mimics other diseases; often women don’t even know they have it.
What causes PCOS?
While the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, research suggests that blood sugar imbalance, inflammation and genetics all play a role in the development of the disorder. Approximately 50%-70% of women with PCOS are also insulin resistant (don’t respond well to insulin). Being overweight can increase inflammation, which has been indicated to increase androgen levels. Additionally, PCOS seems to run in families.
How can PCOS be treated?
Conventional management of symptoms of PCOS includes drugs and/or surgery. Metformin (decreases blood sugar and increases insulin sensitivity), Clomiphene (fertility drug) and birth control pills and are common drugs used to reduce symptoms of PCOS. Some women may also choose to have hair removal surgery or ovarian surgery.
There is a lot to say about implementing dietary and lifestyle changes in order to manage PCOS symptoms. Altering what you eat, losing excess weight and exercising can aid in decreasing the negative effects of living with PCOS. These factors are also essential in the reduction of risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life.
Some of the dietary modifications for PCOS management include eating a low glycemic diet full of high fiber foods, consuming anti-inflammatory foods and herbs, and balancing blood sugar. Working with a dietitian or certified nutritionist can be incredibly helpful to those who seek further understanding of what should be included in a PCOS diet.
Exercise is another crucial aspect of balancing hormones and decreasing PCOS symptoms. While some movement is always better than none, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, plus two days of strength training per week.
If you suspect you have PCOS or are actively seeking help in managing your symptoms, consult with your healthcare practitioner and seek a certified nutritionist to aid in the dietary and lifestyle changes we mentioned above.
Our nutritionist Katie Southworth is now taking new clients and can offer important nutritional support for those suffering from PCOS. Call 206-853-0534 today or click here to schedule an appointment with Katie.
Written by Lauren K., student intern, Bastyr University
- Learn More About Treating PCOS. https://www.ifm.org/news-insights/womhorm-pcos/. Accessed September 6, 2019.
- Wolfram T. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. September 2018. https://www.eatright.org/health/pregnancy/fertility-and-reproduction/polycystic-ovarian-syndrome. Accessed September 7, 2019.
- Watson S. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment. Healthline. November 2018. https://www.healthline.com/health/polycystic-ovary-disease. Accessed September 6, 2019.
- Liepa G. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and Other Androgen Excess–Related Conditions: Can Changes in Dietary Intake Make a Difference? Wiley Online Library. February 2008. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1177/011542650802300163. Accessed September 7, 2019.
- Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. US Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/be-active/physical-activity-guidelines-for-americans/index.html. Accessed September 7, 2019.