Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common hormonal problem affecting 1 in 15 women. PCOS displays symptoms of missed or irregular menstrual cycles, high levels of male hormone (androgens) resulting in facial hair, male pattern baldness and/or acne, obesity and multiple fluid filled cysts in either ovaries as seen on an ultrasound. PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility.
What causes PCOS?
One of the common conditions PCOS women have is insulin resistance. Insulin resistance and increased luteinising hormone (LH) stimulate ovarian androgen production, resulting in higher levels of free testosterone in a woman’s body. This increase in androgens causes acne, hirsutism (excessive hair growth on a woman’s face or body) and male pattern baldness. Metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and obesity are frequently present in women with PCOS. A decrease in follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) cause impaired development of follicles. This is a major cause of missed menstrual cycles (anovulation). Metabolic syndrome is a condition of high levels of small low density cholesterol, elevated triglycerides, hypertension and high blood glucose levels and low level of high density cholesterol.
What other health problems are PCOS women at risk of?
Women with PCOS are at a much higher risk of developing diabetes before age 40. The risk of heart attack is 4 to 7 times higher in women with PCOS than women of the same age without PCOS. Women with PCOS are also at higher risk of developing endometrial cancer due to irregular menstrual periods and low levels of progesterone. Progesterone causes the endometrium to shed each month as a menstrual period. Without progesterone, the endometrium becomes thick in the absence of menstrual periods and this increases the risk of endometrial cancer. Women with PCOS tend to have higher rates of gestational diabetes, miscarriage, preeclampsia and premature delivery of babies. Insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome are modifiable conditions for PCOS and these can be improved with a good PCOS diet and exercise.
Diet for Managing PCOS
Because insulin resistance is the result of high level of insulin production that causes the cells to be less sensitive to insulin signaling for glucose update, successful management of insulin resistance can help manage PCOS. Successful management of insulin resistance will involve an uptake of low carbohydrate, low sugar and high protein foods. Low glycemic load carbohydrates cause less fluctuations in blood sugar levels and is beneficial for women with PCOS who normally suffer from insulin resistance. Therefore, women with PCOS should reduce consumption of processed foods and saturated fats, and revert to a diet high in fresh vegetables and fruits, meat, eggs, legumes, seeds and nuts provide the nutrients without the unnecessary blood sugar fluctuations. Because women with PCOS have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts and legumes provide the diet with fibre, essential minerals and good fats for better lipids and cardiovascular risk management. Chromium and magnesium are important to help maintain normal blood sugar and insulin levels. It is difficult to obtain a high level of chromium from food sources. So, supplementation may be required. Combining chromium with vitamin C and niacin can enhance its absorption. Foods containing chromium include brewer’s yeast, broccoli, romaine lettuce, raw onions and ripe tomatoes. Magnesium rich foods include green vegetables, broccoli, beans and nuts. Cinnamon and licorice are herbs known to improve insulin sensitivity and lower androgen levels.