PCOS Diet: How To Lose Weight and Treat Symptoms Naturally
You’ve been noticing some unusual symptoms in your body.
Your periods tend to be heavy and irregular. You have hair growth in unwanted places.
You’ve been gaining a significant amount of weight. You’ve also been experiencing headaches.
While there are many medical conditions which can cause the symptoms listed above, one possibility is that you have polycystic ovary syndrome, or "PCOS."
While many women discover PCOS during adolescence, others may only find out about it as they get older and experience problems with weight gain or pregnancy.
Many women who have PCOS have no idea they are afflicted.
Maybe you already know you have PCOS - or perhaps you only suspect that you might.
Either way, in this article you will learn all about this health condition and how you can treat it safely at home through dietary changes and other natural remedies.
What Is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)?
First of all, let’s talk about PCOS basics in case you are unfamiliar with the condition - or do not know a lot about it yet in-depth.
PCOS may occur at any age among women in their childbearing years. It is a hormonal imbalance typified through insulin resistance.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome is common.
It is estimated according to NIH/NICHD that as many as 4-8% of women in their childbearing years may suffer from this condition (1).
PCOS may be even more common than that, however.
Additional research (2) in Europe indicates that if different criteria are used, the prevalence of PCOS could be as much as 2-3 times higher than previously thought.
If that is the case, it is plausible that PCOS could affect as much as 24% of the population of women in their childbearing years.
Indeed, numerous women with PCOS have never been diagnosed with it, and may have no idea they have it.
This could account for around 70% of all women with PCOS (see 2 again).
So now that you know how common PCOS, let’s talk more about what it is.
If you have PCOS, your hormones are not being produced in balanced ratios.
Researchers are not entirely sure why this happens - the reasons seem to vary, as do the symptoms.
I will delve into both of these topics in more detail shortly, but suffice to say for now that insulin resistance seems to be involved (3).
When you have PCOS, several things tend to happen:
- First of all, your ovaries produce more androgens (a type of male sex hormones) than they should. While most research on this topic has focused on testosterone, a recent study (19) has discovered that a different type of androgen called "11-oxygenated C19 steroids" also plays a major part in PCOS.
- Secondly, this overabundance of androgens produces symptoms in your body. Too many androgens may lead to irregular periods, acne, hirsuitism, and so on.
- Thirdly, cysts can form on the ovaries. This is not ubiquitous, but it is a very common symptom. This is what lends the condition the name "polycystic ovarian syndrome."
- Fourthly, insulin resistance can be a problem as one hormonal imbalance may lead to another. This increases blood sugar levels, which can result in a number of health problems, including a higher risk for diabetes.
Why do cysts form on the ovaries in response to high levels of androgens?
In actuality, every one of the cysts is a follicle with an egg inside it.
These are eggs which failed to mature because of the hormonal imbalance. As a result, ovulation never took place.
It should also be noted that when ovulation fails to happen, this can throw other hormone levels out of balance.
That means the body may also fail to produce estrogen, progesterone, LH and FSH in proper amounts.
These disruptions can lead to additional symptoms and health risks.
KEY POINT: PCOS is a hormonal imbalance which causes the ovaries to produce androgens in higher ratios than is optimal.
This results in skipped ovulations, ovarian cysts, and a range of other possible symptoms and complications.
PCOS is known to be common, but is likely significantly more pervasive than previously thought.
Most women who have it may not even have been diagnosed.
What Are the Symptoms of PCOS?
While the symptoms of PCOS can vary a great deal from one woman to the next, there are strong patterns which may help in identifying the disorder.
Here are some symptoms to be on the lookout for:
When you fail to ovulate, you also fail to shed your uterine lining, which means that you miss a period.
You may have as few as eight periods a year in some cases (4).
In some cases, however, the opposite may happen.
You may have periods every 21 days or even more often than that.
If your periods come less frequently, your uterine lining has more time to build up. That means that when you do have a period, it may be extra heavy.
Hirsuitism is very common, affecting up to 70% of patients diagnosed with PCOS (1).
That means that you might grow hair in unusual places, like your chin, upper lip, back, chest, arms, thighs, or abdomen.
Acne occurs in around 15-30% of women with PCOS (1).
Some women with PCOS may experience headaches.
This may be either a direct result of the PCOS or a result of a secondary hormonal imbalance spurred by the PCOS (5).
This may occur as a result of PCOS (6), or it may be related to a secondary hormonal disorder.
This is a very common symptom of PCOS. It is estimated (7) that around 80% of PCOS patients are obese.
There is a condition called “Acantosis nigricans” (often simply abbreviated as “AN”) which may occur with PCOS.
AN causes patches of skin to thicken, darken, and take on a “velvety” consistency (8). Skin may also sometimes be oily (which can feed into acne).
While PCOS may lead to hirsuitism, it can also lead to androgenic alopecia (hair loss).
This may have to do with insulin markers (9).
Remember, this symptom is not a guarantee, despite the name "polycystic ovarian syndrome."
It is also useful to keep in mind that other conditions may cause ovarian cysts as well, so having cysts does not guarantee you have PCOS.
Other hormonal imbalances
When your production of androgens is off, you may also have high testosterone and imbalances in estrogen and progesterone.
Note that you do not necessarily need to have "high" levels of male sex hormones in order to experience the symptoms of imbalance (18).
You just need a poor ratio in relation to female sex hormones.
There is a strong link between infertility and PCOS.
Indeed, over 75% of all cases of anovulatory infertility can be attributed to polycystic ovary syndrome (10).
The relationship between PCOS and insulin is still being studied, but it is well documented (11).
I will detail this more in the next section.
Insulin resistance and obesity may increase your chances of developing type 2 diabetes (21).
If that process is already far enough long, you may notice diabetes symptoms like blurry vision or an increase in your hunger or thirst.
Additional common symptoms of PCOS may include breast tenderness, mood changes and alterations in libido.
Because your hormone levels are awry, you should not be surprised if you present with other symptoms as well.
Note that PCOS can be hard to identify because it may mask as a range of other conditions.
My friend can testify to this, as she has a large number of PCOS symptoms, but no evidence has been found that she has PCOS (she has even been checked for ovarian cysts).
It is more likely her symptoms are the result of another hormonal imbalance, likely too much estrogen in relation to progesterone.
The reasons these imbalances may occur on their own is poorly understood at this point by scientists, but they seem to be quite common, just like PCOS.
So do not rush headlong into assuming you have PCOS, even if you have a large number of suspicious symptoms.
Also keep in mind that it is possible to have PCOS without any obvious presentation.
A lot of people have a stereotypical image in their minds of a PCOS patient as a rundown woman who is obese with facial hair.
But a thin woman without hirsuitism who is active and energetic can still have PCOS.
It is best to do some investigation of your hormone levels. Talk to a doctor to confirm your diagnosis.
KEY POINT: PCOS may present with widely varied symptoms, but some common ones include ovarian cysts, weight gain, insulin resistance, irregular periods, headaches, and more.
Because symptoms may differ so much and because they also can be caused by other imbalances in the body, PCOS often slips under the radar and remains undiagnosed.
If you rely on self-diagnosis though, you may misdiagnose yourself with PCOS when you actually suffer from something else.
For this reason, you should seek professional diagnosis.
What Causes PCOS?
The following are 4 factors that causes polycystic ovary syndrome:
Researchers are not 100% sure what causes one woman to have PCOS while another does not.
There may be a few different factors involved.
Genetics likely is involved in PCOS (12).
In fact, a number of different genes may play a role in the development of PCOS (13).
KEY POINT: Multiple genes seem to be involved in the development of PCOS.
Another likely factor is insulin resistance, as previously mentioned.
It has been found that around 70% of PCOS patients also suffer from insulin resistance (14).
Obesity is one possible cause of insulin resistance (15).
If you have insulin resistance, it means that your body is unable to make appropriate use of insulin.
Your pancreas produces insulin for digestive purposes. Your body needs it in order to convert sugars into usable energy.
When your body is insulin resistant, more of it is needed in order to convert the sugars.
This means that the pancreas ends up generating more insulin.
At this point, the increase in insulin causes your ovaries to increase production of androgens. This in turn can lead to PCOS.
The irony of all of this is that it can lead to a vicious cycle.
As discussed previously, weight gain is one possible result of PCOS. And as just mentioned now, obesity may contribute to insulin resistance.
But that means that insulin resistance can increase through PCOS.
This continues to contribute to the production of excess androgens, making PCOS worse.
So PCOS and insulin resistance exacerbate each other. It is critical to get them both under control in order to manage both conditions.
The good news is that you can do a lot through diet to manage both insulin resistance and weight issues.
I will delve into dietary suggestions for PCOS management in more depth later in this article.
KEY POINT: Insulin resistance and PCOS have a complex relationship.
Being insulin resistant increases the chances that you will get PCOS.
Having PCOS in turn may lead to insulin resistance (or make existing insulin resistance worse).
The two feed into each other in a vicious loop.
Just as researchers have discovered that many women with PCOS have insulin resistance, they have also noticed that many have higher levels of inflammation.
Inflammation can also result from obesity - and just as you might expect, the two tie in intimately with insulin resistance as well (16).
It has been found that high amounts of inflammation are associated with higher androgen production (17).
Other Factors Which May Play Into the Development of PCOS
I just mentioned how obesity can contribute to inflammation and insulin resistance, which may in turn spur the development of PCOS.
While obesity can have many causes, it is worth keeping in mind that poor diet and a lack of exercise can be among them.
That means that lifestyle factors can be involved in causing PCOS.
Anything which throws off the hormonal balance in your body may also contribute to PCOS.
That encompasses a wide range of possible factors - everything from working out too much or too little to a thyroid disorder or chronic stress.
This (20) study does a great job emphasizing the importance of lifestyle when it comes to PCOS management.
According to the study, "Normalization of menstrual cycles and ovulation could occur with modest weight loss as little as 5% of the initial weight."
That means that if you weigh 200 pounds, losing just 10 pounds could have a considerable impact on your PCOS symptoms.
Losing 10 pounds when you weigh 200 pounds is not easy, and it may require significant changes to how you eat and work out.
But it can be accomplished, and it can lead to great improvements in the quality of your life and your health.
KEY POINT: If you have runaway inflammation in your body, that can feed into the development of PCOS.
SUMMARY OF CAUSES OF PCOS:
Researchers have not discovered one single definite "cause" of PCOS, but have identified inflammation, genetics and insulin resistance as factors which may feed into the condition’s development.
In some cases, your lifestyle choices may also impact your ovarian health, so be proactive and take care of yourself.
When Should You Consider Seeing a Doctor for PCOS?
If you have symptoms of hormonal imbalance, you may feel tempted to self-diagnose and treat.
But because PCOS and other conditions can easily be confused and may require a different treatment approach, it is important to touch base with a doctor.
If you have been missing periods and do not know the reason, or if you have been getting periods which are more frequent or heavier than you expect, that might necessitate a trip to the clinic.
Remember that one woman’s "normal" is not the same as another.
If you are used to "irregular" periods and feel fine in all other respects, you probably are fine.
You should be particularly suspicious if your irregular periods are definitely out of phase for you, and/or you have other possible symptoms of PCOS.
If by any chance you are experiencing symptoms of diabetes, then you should definitely get that checked out immediately.
Been trying to get pregnant and haven’t been having any success? If it has been 12 months or more, a doctor’s appointment is definitely in order.
A lot of women only find out they have PCOS when they fail to get pregnant.
KEY POINT: The only way to be sure that you have PCOS is to see a doctor.
If skipping a period now and again is not unusual for you, there is no reason to sound the alarm bells over your next missed period.
But if your symptoms are unusual for you and/or you are having a hard time getting pregnant, it may be time for a check-up.
How is PCOS Diagnosed?
If you do visit a doctor, several different criteria will be used to determine whether you have PCOS (22).
- If your androgen levels are high, this is a strong indication for PCOS.
- Irregular menstrual cycles may mean you have PCOS.
- Ovarian cysts may also indicate PCOS.
Since any one of these symptoms may be present in a range of other conditions (not just PCOS), doctors do not rely on just one of these symptoms to make a diagnosis.
Instead, PCOS is only diagnosed if at least two symptoms are present.
So if you have high androgen levels and ovarian cysts, you could be diagnosed with PCOS even if your menstrual cycles are regular.
If you have ovarian cysts and irregular menstrual cycles, you might be diagnosed with PCOS even if your androgen levels are not high (this could mean the male to female sex hormone ratio is off).
If you have no ovarian cysts but do present high androgen levels and irregular cycles, you might also be diagnosed with PCOS.
I mentioned previously that my friend have many PCOS symptoms and was checked for cysts and never diagnosed with PCOS.
That is because she had no cysts and her menstrual cycles are usually regular. It is only her hormone levels which are off.
During your exam, you can expect the doctor to ask you questions about common symptoms of PCOS.
You may undergo a pelvic exam as well as an ultrasound to check whether there are any cysts.
Additionally, you will likely be given blood tests. The purpose of these tests is to check your hormone levels as well as other markers in your body.
Your androgens will be measured along with your cholesterol, triglyceride, and insulin levels.
This not only helps a doctor to diagnose PCOS, but also tells your healthcare provider whether you might be at risk for (or already developing) diabetes, heart disease or other complications.
KEY POINT: At your doctor’s appointment for PCOS, you may have a pelvic exam, ultrasound, and/or blood tests.
If you have irregular periods, high androgen levels and/or ovarian cysts (at least two of the three), you may be diagnosed with PCOS.
Possible Complications of PCOS
If you are suffering from PCOS, it is imperative that you get the condition under control.
When hormones are not produced in the appropriate ratios, it can throw off other body systems, leading to potentially serious complications.
Here are a few of the possible complications of PCOS.
This is a condition which disrupts breathing while sleeping.
It can lead to significant lost sleep and subsequent fatigue during the daytime.
If you have PCOS and are obese, you are at a 5-10 times higher risk for sleep apnea (25).
PCOS disrupts ovulation, and ovulation is necessary if you want to get pregnant.
This is why PCOS is such a prominent cause of infertility.
Other hormonal disorders
Your body’s hormonal systems function in an interconnected web.
If one part of the works is malfunctioning, it is common for that to cascade into other production problems. This may lead to further issues.
When you have metabolic syndrome, you have problems with blood sugar, blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol and abdominal fat.
This increases your risk of developing stroke, heart disease, and diabetes (24).
Depression and anxiety
PCOS can affect moods in a couple of ways.
First of all, hormonal disorders can have a direct impact on emotions.
Secondly, the symptoms of PCOS can themselves be distressing, which may lead to further destabilization of mood.
For these reasons, depression and anxiety risk are higher for women with PCOS (26).
As mentioned before, the lining for your uterus thickens over time.
So the longer you go without ovulating, the heavier your periods tend to be when you have them. But there are other consequences as well.
A thicker lining in the uterus is associated with a higher risk for endometrial cancer.
Indeed, women who have PCOS have a 2.7 times higher risk (27).
As already discussed, your risk for metabolic syndrome increases with PCOS.
It is worth emphasizing that this also increases your risk for diabetes - particularly in conjunction with insulin resistance.
While all of these risks are potentially serious, if you take care to treat PCOS, you may be able to reduce your chances of developing these secondary conditions.
KEY POINT: A number of potentially serious complications can ensue from PCOS.
These include endometrial cancer, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, mood disorders, sleep apnea, infertility, and secondary hormonal disorders.
Thankfully, treatment options are available to help prevent these complications (see below).
Treatment Options for PCOS
If it is discovered that you have PCOS, then you will need to work with your healthcare provider to select a treatment option.
Note that there is no cure for PCOS. All you can do is manage the symptoms and do your best to prevent complications.
Both medical treatments and natural at-home treatments are available. Let’s take a look at both so that you are familiar with all your options.
Medical Treatments for PCOS
While natural treatments for PCOS are available, some women choose to pursue medical treatments.
Here are some options which are available:
This is a drug for treating type 2 diabetes. Since it directly affects insulin levels, it is also prescribed to treat PCOS.
Patients can get the best results from Metformin by pairing it up with diet and exercise changes.
Studies have found it to be more effective (29) than simply making lifestyle changes without medication.
Birth control (hormone replacement therapy)
Some women opt to take artificial hormones in the form of birth control in order to provide balance and alleviate symptoms.
There is some contention as to whether HRT is a safe option for women.
See the Women’s Health Initiative for more information.
If you have PCOS and you are trying to get pregnant, Clomiphene can boost your fertility.
It is not without its own risks, however; it makes it more likely that you will have multiple births (30).
Medicines for hair removal or growth
If your PCOS is causing hirsuitism, there are hair removal treatments you can use like Eflornithine (Vaniqa).
You can also use laser hair removal to permanently clear up problematic spots.
If your PCOS is causing the opposite issue - hair loss from your scalp, you can use Minoxidil (Rogaine).
This is something to consider if you are desperate to get pregnant and all other methods are failing. Surgery is of course an invasive option.
A process called "ovarian drilling" involving a laser is used to return ovulation to regular, reliable cycles.
KEY POINT: A number of medical treatments are available for dealing with PCOS.
You can try controlling PCOS naturally, or you can use a combination of natural methods and medical treatments to keep your symptoms manageable.
Natural Treatments for PCOS
14 Dietary Recommendations for Treating PCOS Safely and Naturally
Diet can make a significant difference when it comes to managing PCOS. How you eat has a major influence on your insulin levels.
A number of studies demonstrate that modest weight loss of 5-10% of initial body weight improves metabolic, reproductive and psychological features of PCOS (79).
Let’s take a look at some suggestions for getting your PCOS symptoms under control through your choice of foods and beverages.
1. Eat a low-glycemic index (GI) diet.
You know that insulin resistance and PCOS are interrelated.
One trick which you can use to mitigate the effects of insulin resistance is to eat a low-glycemic index (GI) diet.
That means that you avoid foods with a high GI in favour of those which have a lower GI.
If you are not familiar with the glycemic index, it is a scale which ranges from 1 to 100.
A food’s placement on that scale tells you how quickly it raises blood sugar.
Foods with a low glycemic index raise your blood sugar levels gradually.
Those with a high glycemic index do the opposite. They tend to cause your blood sugar to spike.
Remember, insulin is needed so that your body can convert sugars into energy which you can use.
If you eat foods which have a high GI, you are spiking your blood sugar levels.
This in turn can cause spikes in insulin.
Foods which have a low GI are less likely to produce these spikes.
Indeed, the low-GI diet has proven results.
This study (31) found that 63% of women on a standard weight loss diet experienced improvements in menstrual regularity.
95% of women on a low-GI diet experienced improvements.
In another study (32), it was found that a low-GI diet was more effective than a standard weight loss diet at improving insulin sensitivity.
Looking for a list of high, medium and low GI foods? You can view a chart put together by the Harvard Medical School (33).
Foods and beverages with a value of 70 or higher are considered to be high-GI foods. They should be avoided with PCOS.
Those with a value ranging from 56-69 are considered medium-GI.
If you see a food or beverage with a GI of 55 or under, that is low-GI, and a good option for your regular diet.
KEY POINT: If you eat a low-GI diet with PCOS, you can improve your insulin sensitivity while also bringing regularity back to your periods.
2. Make breakfast your biggest meal of the day.
Many people make dinner their largest meal of the day by default.
They may eat a small breakfast or skip breakfast altogether.
If you have PCOS, however, breakfast really may be the most important meal of your day.
In one study (34), it was found that hormonal balance in women with PCOS was improved by making breakfast the largest meal of the day and dinner the smallest one.
Several key improvement areas were noted in the study.
First of all, women who ate half their calories each day during breakfast saw a reduction in insulin levels by 8% over a 90 day period.
Women in that group also saw an average drop in testosterone levels of 50% over that same time period.
Finally, there were possible improvements in fertility. Women in the group that ate the larger breakfast and the smaller dinner ovulated 30% more.
If you decide on this approach, make sure that you increase breakfast size and decrease dinner size accordingly.
If you only eat a larger breakfast but continue to eat the same size lunch and dinner, you will just be adding calories to your diet.
This will result in weight gain, which will make your PCOS symptoms worse.
KEY POINT: Another dietary trick for treating PCOS is to make breakfast your largest meal of the day and dinner your smallest one.
This can improve ovulation as well as insulin sensitivity, and can even reduce testosterone levels.
3. Start supplementing your diet with healthy fats.
A lot of people do not get enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diets.
A number of studies have been conducted directly on this topic.
One such study (36) found that women who took omega-3 supplements over an eight-week time period were able to improve their insulin sensitivity by 22%.
In another study (37), participants took both omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E for a period of twelve weeks.
This led to improvements with both insulin resistance and testosterone levels.
Another study was conducted on obese PCOS patients who replaced some of the carbohydrates in their diet with unsaturated fats (38).
It was found that doing so resulted in improvements to insulin levels.
KEY POINT: Eating fewer carbs and more healthy fats (particularly omega-3 fatty acids) can improve insulin sensitivity and help combat the effects of PCOS.
4. Reduce your intake of carbohydrates.
Speaking of carbs, simply reducing carbohydrates in general may have a positive effect when it comes to your health and PCOS.
Carbs are sugars, so when you eat them, your body needs to produce insulin in order to convert them.
It has been found that even moderately reducing carbohydrate intake can help improve insulin levels for those who suffer from PCOS (39).
As you know, losing weight can go a long way toward reducing the symptoms of PCOS and preventing further complications.
How much more effective is this than a standard weight loss diet?
Here (41) is a study which showed that women with PCOS on a low-carb diet were able to lose 1-5% more weight than those who were following a standard weight loss diet.
Another study (40) shows that reducing carbohydrates can improve not just insulin sensitivity, but also levels of insulin, glucose and testosterone in the blood stream.
If you want to learn more about the benefits of low carb, continue exploring the articles on our site.
Quite a few of them focus on this amazing diet, which has numerous other advantages for health.
KEY POINT: Eating a diet which is low in carbohydrates can lead to improvements in PCOS markers and symptoms.
5. Boost your protein intake.
While you are eating fewer carbohydrates and more fat, you should also look into eating more protein.
Research (47) has shown that women who eat a diet consisting for 30% protein who have PCOS have lower levels of free androgens than those who are on a diet which consists of only 15% protein.
Another benefit of a high protein diet concerns a hormone called ghrelin.
Ghrelin sends your body hunger signals.
When you eat higher amounts of protein, ghrelin is suppressed for a longer time than occurs when you eat high amounts of carbs (48).
This is why you usually feel fuller for longer after eating a meal high in protein than you do when you eat a meal which is high in carbohydrates.
This can further assist you with your efforts toward weight loss.
KEY POINT: Eating more protein is wise if you have PCOS. It can reduce your androgen levels while simultaneously increasing satiety.
6. Consider taking some vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency is quite common, even in First World countries.
Quite a few factors can play into it.
Those who live in locations where cloud cover is pervasive through large parts of the year are quite likely to become deficient if they do not supplement.
I know this, because I live in the North, and more than one doctor has mentioned it to me.
Those whose occupations keep them out of the sunlight from dawn until dusk also miss out on vital vitamin D.
How is this relevant to PCOS? Well, the symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can include some of the same symptoms you experience with PCOS.
That means that vitamin D deficiency can exacerbate the symptoms of PCOS.
This is why medical professionals often recommend that PCOS patients take vitamin D (56).
Why not just get more vitamin D through diet?
While you can to some degree increase your vitamin D intake through diet, there are actually not too many foods which are high in this essential nutrient.
For that reason, if you are not getting enough vitamin D from sunlight, you pretty much have to resort to taking supplements.
KEY POINT: Vitamin D deficiency is very widespread, and it can cause quite a few unpleasant symptoms in common with PCOS.
So if you are deficient, it can make PCOS worse.
Taking vitamin D will treat these deficiency symptoms, preventing the worsening of your condition.
7. Try taking chromium supplements.
Chromium is found in quite a few different foods, including broccoli, tomatoes, pears, shellfish, and nuts.
Nonetheless, you may want to consider taking a chromium supplement - or just consciously eating more foods which are rich in chromium.
One small study (57) found that insulin sensitivity improved by as much as 38% in overweight PCOS patients who took 1,000 mcg of chromium over a period of two months.
Then again, a larger study (63) which was conducted on diabetic patients did not note any matching findings. Chromium had no effect on insulin sensitivity.
KEY POINT: Chromium is another nutrient which may lead to improvements in PCOS patients.
Consider taking a supplement. Note however that further research is needed to verify that chromium is in fact useful for this purpose.
Right now there is limited conflicting evidence in both directions.
8. Eat a diet which is naturally anti-inflammatory.
You already know that inflammation is involved with the development and worsening of PCOS.
For this reason, you should focus on eating an anti-inflammatory diet.
That means a diet which empathizes foods that have an anti-inflammatory effect (like those which are high in omega-3 fatty acids), and curbs foods which have an inflammatory effect (like those high in omega-6 fatty acids).
Research has backed this method up as an effective one. An anti-inflammatory diet can (58) lead to moderate weight loss in conjunction with other improvements.
These include better blood pressure, hormone levels, body composition, menstrual regularity, and more.
Avoiding anti-inflammatory foods is pretty straightforward.
It mainly means steering clear of refined carbohydrates, processed meats, fried, greasy foods, margarine, and sugary foods and drinks.
As for anti-inflammatory foods, try and add fatty fish such as tuna and mackerel to our diet.
Other good anti-inflammatory foods include nuts, leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, olive oil, and fruits such as cherries and strawberries.
KEY POINT: Another step you can take with your diet to get PCOS under control is to eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
9. Eat more fiber.
Something else you can do to further your dietary goals for managing PCOS is eat more fiber.
When you have more fiber in your system, that helps to regulate your digestion.
This can reduce insulin resistance (28).
There are a lot of different foods which are high in fiber and very good for you in other respects.
Some examples include leafy green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, peppers, lentils, nuts, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, and berries.
KEY POINT: Eating more fiber can improve your digestive health while fighting against insulin resistance.
There are many healthy sources of fiber to choose from.
10. Watch out for binge eating.
If you have PCOS and have a tendency to engage in binge eating, you are not the only one.
It turns out (59) that around 60% of women with PCOS who are overweight sometimes binge eat.
So be aware of your eating habits, particularly at times when you are not feeling your best emotionally. Make sure that you do not overindulge.
KEY POINT: Binge eating is a pattern that has been observed in overweight women with PCOS.
Avoid binge eating to control your weight and your PCOS symptoms.
12. Stay hydrated.
While you are focused on what you eat, do not forget about what you drink.
Keep in mind that juices and sodas are sources of calories.
So if you are trying to lose weight, simple pure water is usually your best bet.
KEY POINT: If you drink more water and keep yourself adequately hydrated, you will have an easier time meeting your weight loss goals.
13. Try fasting.
Some cases of PCOS are particularly stubborn, and may not respond well even with low carb.
There are however many anecdotal success stories involving fasting for PCOS.
Some women who have struggled to see results with low carb alone were able to achieve improvements through fasting.
As it turns out, these anecdotes are backed up by scientific research as well.
One fascinating study (71) looked at the effect that fasting had on women with PCOS during Ramadan.
While it was a relatively small study (40 participants), it was found that fasting reduced stress neurohormones in PCOS sufferers.
Fasting can also reduce glucose, insulin, IGF-1, and IGFBP1 levels (72).
This in turn can improve ovarian function while helping to balance out androgen levels. It may also boost fertility.
Many people combine fasting and low carb as complementary dietary therapies.
So if you are looking for a diet which delivers a one-two punch against PCOS symptoms, you might want to follow a low carb diet with intermittent fasting.
KEY POINT: Intermittent fasting can help balance your hormones and improve the function of your ovaries, leading to a reduction in PCOS symptoms.
You can try it on its own or in conjunction with low carb and the other dietary suggestions above.
14. Try supplementing using inositol.
Inositol is one substance which has been found to be effective in treating PCOS (77).
It is a type of sugar alcohol compound. It occurs naturally in fruits, grains, beans, and nuts, particularly oranges and cantaloupes.
Unfortunately, bioavailability is not always the best in these forms.
For that reason, you may want to take an inositol supplement.
If you check out the link above, it references a study where participants were split into an experimental group and a control group.
A mere 6% of the control group had menstrual cycles during the study.
Meanwhile, an impressive 86% of the experimental group taking inositol menstruated.
So this is something else to consider if you want to get your cycles more regular.
KEY POINT: Research indicates that inositol can help to make menstrual cycles more regular for patients with PCOS.
5 Lifestyle Treatments for PCOS
Now you should have a pretty good idea for how you can adjust your diet to treat PCOS.
Eat fewer carbs and more healthy fats and proteins. Make sure your diet is anti-inflammatory and low on the glycemic index.
Drink more water, eat larger meals in the morning and smaller meals in the evening, and supplement as needed.
But diet does not exist in a vacuum. All of our lifestyle choices are important when it comes to managing PCOS effectively.
So let’s take a look at other important lifestyle treatments and adjustments which can help you to get your symptoms under control.
1. Get your exercise.
Working out is important for optimal health no matter what your circumstances are, but it can be particularly valuable to those who have PCOS.
Working out can increase weight loss by as much as 10% and improve insulin resistance by as much as 30% (49).
Furthermore, for overweight PCOS patients, exercising in conjunction with a diet to lose weight can improve body composition (50).
How much do you need to work out to enjoy great benefits for PCOS? Maybe not as much as you think.
You can potentially diminish belly fat while improving insulin sensitivity if you work out for just three hours a week (51).
Studies have also shown that working out for at least three months can lead to a reduction in inflammation if you have PCOS (52).
Because inflammation and insulin resistance are connected (53), reducing inflammation can help improve your symptoms while also preventing other diseases which are associated with chronic inflammation.
KEY POINT: If you exercise while eating a healthy diet for PCOS, you can reduce inflammation, fat, and insulin resistance.
You will also enjoy broad benefits of exercise for general health.
2. Do what you can to reduce your stress levels.
Previously I talked about how stress can lead to binge eating.
Stress has also been linked to cardiovascular disease (64) as well as other health conditions.
That means that chronic stress can potentially contribute to PCOS as well as other interrelated conditions.
If you want to function at your best, you need to do what you can to get stress under control.
In some circumstances, that means removing stressors from your path.
If you tend to be overcommitted, cut back on your obligations a bit. If there are toxic people or situations in your life you can be rid of, let them go.
Try as we might, however, we cannot possibly get all stressful influences out of our lives.
Thankfully there are a lot of other things that we can do to try and improve how we respond to those stressors.
What should you do? Well, that depends on your personality and what helps you feel calm and centered.
For some people, exercise itself does a great job at mitigating the effects of stress (65). Working out also can help to alleviate anxiety.
Another thing you can try which works for a lot of people is meditation. Meditation can help relieve anxiety and stress (66).
If you have no experience with meditation, it is good to know going into it that there is no one "right" way to meditate.
Mindfulness is a very popular technique, but there are other forms you can try as well. You also can come up with your own way to meditate.
Another technique which you can use to try and reduce stress is deep breathing.
This method also has received a good deal of academic attention, and has produced promising results in research studies (67).
Do you enjoy crafting? A lot of people say that knitting, painting, jewelry-making, and similar activities help them to reduce stress.
It turns out the reason may have to do with similarities between the repetitive motions involved in crafting and the repetitions involved in certain forms of meditation (68).
Indeed, it could be said that certain forms of crafting are actually meditations in themselves.
What else can you do to relieve stress? Well, the options are pretty much limitless.
Something as simple as a change to your diet could make a major difference - like adding more potassium (69).
You might even find that you are less stressed if you purchase a houseplant (70).
There are also activities which are subjectively enjoyable to different people which can produce a relaxing effect.
If you love to read, open a book. If you enjoy sports, join a local team. If you like playing video games, turn on your console more often.
Overcommitted and feel like you don’t have time? Maybe it is time to re-evaluate your priorities.
You may need to reduce unnecessary commitments and set aside more time for yourself. Your own well-being needs to come first.
KEY POINT: Stress has the potential to make PCOS symptoms worse while causing other health problems.
Try and reduce your stress by working out, meditating, or using other methods.
3. Get the sleep you need to function at your best.
How much sleep do you get each night? Six hours? Seven? Fewer? Maybe just four or five?
A lot of us rarely get a full night’s rest. We have jobs that demand that we rise at five o’clock in the morning.
We then work for eight hours, drive two hours home, and try desperately to squeeze in a little time for ourselves before bed again.
That often means that we to cut into our sleep time so we can get other things done.
But there are quite a few potentially serious health consequences of chronic sleep deprivation. And that includes the worsening of PCOS symptoms.
A couple of studies have looked at the relationship between PCOS and sleep.
One study (73) found that women with PCOS are about twice as likely as those without to suffer from sleep disturbances.
According to the researchers who conducted the study, obesity and depression played a role in difficulties falling and staying asleep.
Another study (74) took a look at some of the consequences of these sleep abnormalities.
While the researchers did not find any relationship between sleep duration and androgenic and ovarian measures, there were a few noteworthy findings:
- Women who got 6 hours of sleep or less were more likely to report irregularities in the lengths of their menstrual cycles.
- Women who reported they got 6 hours of sleep or less a night also had increased fasting insulin levels and were more likely to display insulin resistance.
Incidentally, the study looked at exercise as well, and noted that women with PCOS who failed to exercise regularly also were more likely to have higher mean fasting insulin levels.
All of this means that if you are not getting more than 6 hours of sleep every night, you are taking the risk of making your PCOS worse.
So if you need to, shift around some of your priorities. Do what you can to lead a balanced life which includes time for the rest you need.
KEY POINT: PCOS symptoms can be worsened by chronic sleep deprivation.
Make sure you are getting more than 6 hours of sleep each night.
4. Stay away from endocrine disruptors.
Did you know that every day, you come into contact with chemicals which can act on your body in a similar way to hormones?
Known as "endocrine disruptors," these chemicals do exactly that - they disrupt your endocrine system.
Xenoestrogens for example are substances which behave like estrogen in the body. When they come from plants, they are known as "phytoestrogens.”
Being as endocrine disruptors confuse the body, they can lead to certain hormones being overproduced or underproduced.
As such, they may play a role in PCOS (75).
Some endocrine disruptors are present in air pollution. Unless you have the luxury of choosing where you live, there is probably not much you can do about that.
You can however steer clear of many common endocrine disruptors which show up in plastics, cleaning products, beauty products, unfiltered water, and so on.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a list of common endocrine disruptors.
There will never be a time when you completely manage to get away from endocrine disruptors, but you can at least minimize your exposure.
KEY POINT: Endocrine disruptors in your products and environment may be contributing to your PCOS. Do what you can to purge these chemicals from your lifestyle.
5. Consider alternative therapies.
Finally, there are quite a few alternative therapies which some women report are helpful when coping with PCOS.
Some of these even have scientific research backing them. For example, it has been found (78) that acupuncture is "a safe and effective treatment to PCOS."
Some patients also try acupressure, massage therapy, chiropractic adjustments, and herbal remedies.
All of these are worth considering and exploring. You may find that one or more of them makes a difference for you, and does so in a gentle, natural way.
KEY POINT: Along with dietary changes and more rest and exercise, you can consider incorporating alternative therapies into your treatment plan for PCOS.
Conclusion: Treating PCOS Through Simple Dietary and Lifestyle Changes Can Make a World of Difference
The symptoms of PCOS can be annoying at best, debilitating at worst.
If you are trying to have a baby, it is even easier to despair at ever getting your hormones balanced and your condition to a point where it can be managed.
But it is possible in many cases to make a significant difference through a few simple changes to your lifestyle and diet.
By following the recommendations in this guide, you may be able to bring your hormones into balance, reduce your symptoms, and improve your fertility.
Remember, the best results come from a long-term commitment to change, so make your PCOS treatment plan and stick with it!