Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a complex condition in which a woman’s ovaries are generally bigger than average. Polycystic means the ovaries have many cysts or follicles that rarely grow to maturity or produce eggs capable of being fertilised.
Up to a third of women may have polycystic ovaries seen on an ultrasound, but they do not all have PCOS.
PCOS is relatively common, especially in infertile women. It affects 12 to 18 per cent of women of reproductive age (between late adolescence and menopause). Almost 70 per cent of these cases remain undiagnosed.
Symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome :
Women who have PCOS may experience:
- irregular menstrual cycles – menstruation may be less or more frequent due to less frequent ovulation (production of an egg)
- amenorrhoea (no periods) – some women with PCOS do not menstruate, in some cases for many years
- excessive hair growth and acne – possibly due to increased free testosterone
- scalp hair loss
- reduced fertility – (difficulty in becoming pregnant) related to less frequent or absent ovulation
- mood changes – including anxiety and depression
Causes of PCOS :
PCOS is a hormonal condition commonly involving high levels of insulin or male hormones known as ‘androgens’, or both. The cause of this is unclear.
In some women, PCOS runs in the family, whereas for others, the condition only occurs when they are overweight.
Long-term health risks of PCOS :
PCOS is associated with long-term health risks. Research shows that PCOS is related to insulin resistance and the development of diabetes, especially if women are overweight.
PCOS and weight gain :
If you have PCOS, your body makes too much androgen. Androgen is often called the “male hormone,” but small amounts are made in women’s bodies too. If your body makes too much androgen, it can lead to weight gain, especially around the belly area. This type of weight gain can increase the risk of:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- High triglycerides
- Heart disease and
Tips for maintaining a healthy weight with PCOS :
There is no specific diet that can prevent or treat PCOS. However, eating well and being active can help manage some of long term complications of PCOS. The good news is that losing anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can help with weight-related health problems.
The best eating plan if you have PCOS is one that helps you manage your weight and also lower the long term risks of diabetes and heart disease. This plan should be low in saturated fat and high in fibre. Start by making healthy food choices following Canada’s Food Guide.
- Choose better fats:
Too much saturated and trans fat in the diet can lead to weight gain, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Limit foods that contain saturated and trans fats. Instead of these bad fats, choose smaller amounts of healthy unsaturated fats, which are found in vegetable oils like canola and olive oil, avocado and nuts. Aim for a total of 30 to 45mL (2 to 3 Tbsp) of healthy fats each day. You can learn more about choosing healthy fats
- Increase fibre:
Eating more fibre can help maintain blood sugar levels and lower your cholesterol. Plus, fibre helps make you feel full, so you tend to eat less. This can help with weight control. Aim for 21 to 25 grams per day. Here are some high fibre foods to try:
- Fruit – especially berries, pears, oranges, figs, kiwi
- Vegetables – especially peas, spinach, squash and broccoli
- Whole grains – such as oats, brown rice, whole wheat, quinoa, barley and buckwheat
- Legumes – such as lentils, chickpeas, soybeans and kidney beans
- Cereals made with wheat bran, psyllium or whole grain oats
- Nuts and seeds – such as almonds, flax, sunflower seeds
- Enjoy protein:
Similar to fibre, protein also helps you feel full for longer, so you will eat less. This is a great way to help control your weight. Make sure that you have some protein at every meal and snack. Instead of always choosing meat, you can also try chicken, turkey or fish. Or, try vegetarian options such as legumes, soy or a quarter cup of nuts or seeds. Milk and low fat yogurt are also good sources of protein.
- Foods to limit:
Some foods cause weight gain if you eat them often. Choose fewer foods that are high in sugar, salt, refined flour and fat such as:
- White rice, pasta or bread
- Baked goods
- Regular soda
- Candy and chocolate and
- Salty snacks
- Be active:
Try to get at least 2 ½ hours of exercise each week. Start with 10 minutes of activity and work up to longer times as your body adjusts. Review the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for activity ideas. Even if you don’t lose weight, exercise can help control your blood sugar and cholesterol levels and lower your risk for heart disease and diabetes.
- Bottom line:
There is no specific diet that can prevent or treat PCOS. However, eating well and being active can help manage some of the long term complications of PCOS. An eating plan that is high in fibre and low in saturated and trans fat can help lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Call EatRight Ontario at 1-877-510-5102 for more information about PCOS.