Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

PCOS is a hormonal disorder in which women develop multiple cysts in their ovaries due to over-production of male hormones (androgens) such as testosterone. These hormonal imbalances cause irregular menstrual cycle and difficulties in conceiving. Causes of this disorder are still not clear but many studies have linked it with hereditary and environmental factors. PCOS also increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes due to increased insulin level in body and increases CVD risk because of high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in blood.

Symptoms of PCOS:

  1. Disrupted menstrual cycle.

  2. Heavy bleeding.

  3. Excessive hair growth (hirsutism).

  4. Oily skin and acne.

  5. Thinning of hair and male pattern baldness.

  6. Obesity.

  7. Depression and mood swings.

Complications of PCOS:

  1. Type 2 diabetes.

  2. Heart disease.

  3. Hypertension.

  4. Endometrial cancer (uterine cancer).

  5. Sleep apnea (repeated pauses in breathing during sleep).

Diet recommendations:

High levels of insulin not only lead to increased blood sugar level but also pose a risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Too-high levels of insulin can cause your ovaries to produce more androgens and make it difficult to lose weight. Therefore, fiber rich diet having controlled amounts of carbs, high protein and medium fat are recommended. Minimally processed carbs such as whole grains and legumes are a good choice as they have low GI and are rich in fiber which helps in regulating blood sugar levels and reducing insulin over production whereas protein rich foods help in satiety and overall healthy functioning of body. Women suffering from PCOS have been found to have higher inflammation hence, anti-inflammatory foods may also be good additions.

High fiber: Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts), leafy greens (spinach, lettuce etc), peppers, beans (chickpeas, soybeans, kidney beans etc), lentils, berries, sweet potatoes, pumpkin.

Carbohydrates: whole grains such as oats, brown rice, whole wheat, quinoa, barley and buckwheat.

Fruits: apples, blueberry, cherry, grapefruit, grape, orange, peach, pear, plum, strawberries and kiwi.

Protein: Eggs and lean meats like chicken and fish.

Dairy: Low fat and no added sugar.

Fats: fatty fish, nuts, olive oils, avocados and vegetable oils such as sunflower oil, corn oil and soybean oil.

Anti inflammatory: Olive oil, fatty fish, spinach, tomatoes, kale, blueberries and strawberries.

Superfoods for PCOS:

  1. Nuts: walnuts and almonds have been linked to regulating androgens.

  2. Cinnamon: helps in lowering blood sugar and insulin levels thus reducing testosterone production. Studies have also found improved menstrual cycle and fertility.

  3. Apple cider vinegar: helps increase insulin sensitivity and lowers blood sugar levels.

  4. Avocados: healthy source of fats and help reduce inflammation.

  5. Salmon: good source of lean protein, vitamin D and omega- 3 fatty acids which help in reducing testosterone levels.

References and further reading:

De Sousa, S. M. "Metabolic syndrome, diet and exercise." Best Practice & research. Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology 37 (2016): 140-151.

Hartmann, Georgia, and Bradley McEwen. "Insulin resistance and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): Part 2. Diet and Nutritional Medicine." Journal of the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society 25.1 (2019): 18.

Legro RS, Arslanian SA, Ehrmann DA, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome: an Endocrine Society clinical practice guideline. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2013;98(12):4565-4592. doi:10.1210/jc.2013-2350,

Melo AS, Ferriani RA, Navarro PA. Treatment of infertility in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: approach to clinical practice. Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2015;70(11):765-769. doi:10.6061/clinics/2015(11)09.

Moran, L. J., et al. "Weight management practices associated with PCOS and their relationships with diet and physical activity." Human Reproduction 32.3 (2017): 669-678.

Poulton, T., 2020. PCOS Superfoods – I'm Particularly Fond Of #2. [online] Pcosdietsupport.com. Available at: <https://www.pcosdietsupport.com/diet-tips/pcos-superfoods/> [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Sullivan, D., 2019. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment. [online] Healthline. Available at: <https://www.healthline.com/health/polycystic-ovary-disease> [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Unlockfood.ca. 2020. Nutrition Tips For Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) - Unlock Food. [online] Available at: <https://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Women-s-Health/Nutrition-Tips-for-Polycystic-Ovary-Syndrome-PCOS.aspx> [Accessed 8 July 2020].

Weatherspoon, D., 2019. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Diet Do’S And Don’Ts. [online] Healthline. Available at: <https://www.healthline.com/health/pcos-diet> [Accessed 8 July 2020].