Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a condition caused by hormone abnormalities, is commonly seen in women of the reproductive age group.

It is characterised by menstrual cycle abnormalities, excess male hormone (androgen) levels, excessive hair growth, scalp hair loss, acne, infertility and obesity in women. 

Although the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, it most likely results from a combination of factors, including genetic and environmental factors. Similarly, while there is no particular treatment for PCOS, it is said that your diet has a major impact and can help improve symptoms of PCOS. 

Before you take a look at the diet do’s and don'ts, let’s quickly understand some of the causes, signs and symptoms of PCOS.

Factors That May Contribute to or Increase Your Risk of PCOS

1. Hereditary: If you have a woman (mother or sister) diagnosed with PCOS, then you are more likely to develop PCOS than someone whose family or relatives do not have the condition. 

2. Stress: In response to high levels of stress, the pituitary gland secretes adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH then stimulates the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones, namely, cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline.

In addition to these, ACTH also stimulates the production of adrenal androgen hormones. High levels of androgen hormones can increase the risk of PCOS.

3. Insulin resistance: Insulin resistance means your body is unable to send enough glucose to the cells needing fuel for bodily functions. 

The pancreas makes more insulin to compensate for this and extra insulin triggers the ovaries to produce more male hormones. These higher levels of androgens interfere with normal ovulation, cause irregular periods or amenorrhea (the absence of menstrual cycles), infertility, and result in the development of ovarian cysts. 

Common Signs And Symptoms of PCOS  

  • Irregular periods or no periods at all

  • Excessive hair growth (hirsutism) – usually on the face, chest, back  

  • Weight gain

  • Thinning hair and hair loss from the head

  • Acne and oily skin

  • Difficulty getting pregnant (because of irregular ovulation or failure to ovulate)

  • Mood disorders (anxiety, depression, poor body image, and even eating disorders)

  • Tiredness and low energy, sleep apnea and insomnia

If you experience any of the above symptoms, consult your gynaecologist and get yourself checked for PCOS. 

Along with medications and lifestyle modifications, eating the right diet can also help reduce the impact the PCOS.

Managing PCOS With The Right Diet

While there is no standard diet for PCOS, choosing foods that help combat insulin resistance and help you maintain a healthy weight is the first step in your fight against PCOS.

There are a variety of food groups and foods that are recommended for women with PCOS, the most important ones being: 

  • Foods with a low glycemic index (those that do not allow insulin levels to rise quickly)

  • Foods with anti-inflammatory properties

  • Foods from the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet

Likewise, it is advisable to avoid processed, fatty foods with added sugars and preservatives since they contribute to weight gain and increase the risk of heart diseases (anti-DASH diet).

Foods to Eat in PCOS

  • Natural, unprocessed foods

  • High-fiber foods such as green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, etc.

  • Fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, sardines

  • Avocados, coconut, dark red fruits, such as red grapes, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and strawberries

  • Broccoli, cauliflower, tomato, spinach, pumpkin

  • Dried beans, lentils, and other legumes

  • Olive oil 

  • Nuts, including pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, and pistachios

  • Dark chocolate in moderation

  • Spices, such as turmeric and cinnamon

Foods to Avoid in PCOS

  • Pastries and white bread

  • Fried foods, such as fast food

  • Sugary beverages, such as sodas and energy drinks

  • Sugary desserts

  • Pasta/noodles  

  • Excess red meat

Remember, if you are on a PCOS diet, before experimenting and charting your own diet plan, consult your gynaecologist and/or nutritionist/dietician to understand the impact on your health of removing and adding certain foods to your diet.

Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.