Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a very common female endocrine (hormone secreting glands) condition which is characterised by excessive androgens (mainly the male hormone testosterone) in the blood and anovulation (no ovulation). This leads to underdeveloped ovary follicles which are unable to fully release their eggs, then becoming attached to the ovary edges and developing into excess amounts of egg filled cysts (polycystic). Symptoms of PCOS often include sub-fertility, irregular periods, acne, excessive hair, insulin resistance and obesity which can all be extremely distressing for the individual. Consequently, low self esteem and depression are also common for sufferers.
A review (1) on PCOS published last year (2010) in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society journal looked into the roles that diet and weight have on the symptoms. The review reports on the great impact weight loss has for those that are obese as it helps with insulin resistance and reduces the male hormone testosterone, which then improves ovulation and fertility. However, weight is not the only concern with PCOS and diet has also been shown to be a powerful influence on the symptoms. Due to the link between PCOS and insulin resistance, low glycaemic index diets (which include foods which release glucose in to the blood slowly and steadily to prevent sugar highs and lows) have been shown to benefit insulin sensitivity and the menstrual cycle for sufferers. These foods include beans, lentils, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, nuts, salmon, meat (excluding red meat), all vegetables except green peas, sweet corn and carrots and fruits such as apples, oranges, grapes and pears among many others. As you can see from this list of healthy foods, low G.I foods are a great addition to any diet as they also keep you fuller for longer, are packed with nutrients, and can help with weight management as well. In addition to these foods, the authors of the review also commented on reports that fatty acids may help with the symptoms of PCOS as they reduce the levels of abdominal fat and liver fat, and new research suggests that fatty acids may also reduce androgen secretions, which again can benefit PCOS symptoms.
The fantastic effects of food on PCOS was also recently addressed on the Channel 4 programme Food Hospital which many of you may have seen, where a young lady was suffering with the classic symptoms previously described. After 12 weeks of improving her diet aiming to reduce the amount of testosterone in her body (by including the foods mentioned earlier, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and limiting junk food), the sufferer significantly reduced her symptoms. She also had a considerable boost to her self esteem as her facial hair had reduced and she had lost weight. The results were positive and are a good representation of how powerful food can be for our health, and supports any efforts to make more healthy diet and lifestyle choices.
Written by Lauren Foster
(1) O’Connor, A. Gibney, J. and Roche, H.M. (2010) Metabolic and hormonal aspects of polycystic ovary syndrome: the impact of diet. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 69, 628–635.