What is PCOS and What Does it Have to do with Nutrition & Exercise?

  • 1 Minute Read
  • Nov 20, 2013

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a complex metabolic condition that is thought to affect 5-10% of women. The medical world has made progress in recognizing that this syndrome can involve more than just the reproductive system, while often including insulin resistance (IR). The good news is that women with PCOS can positively impact their condition with a healthy lifestyle plan.

What is PCOS and What Does it Have to do with Nutrition & Exercise?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a complex metabolic condition that is thought to affect 5-10% of women. Men, while this does not apply to you, it may impact someone you know. Symptoms of PCOS can vary from woman to woman. Common symptoms may include infertility, irregular periods, unexplained weight gain, acne, oily skin, skin tags, and increased hair growth on the face, chest, stomach, and back, cysts on the ovaries, pelvic pain, and male-pattern baldness (1).

The medical world has made progress in recognizing that this syndrome can involve more than just the reproductive system, while often including insulin resistance (IR). IR is the reduced capacity of insulin to carry glucose (sugar) from the blood into the body cells. This means the pancreas produces more insulin, and guess what? Excess insulin production leads to an increase in stored body fat. In PCOS, it also appears to increase male hormone production, like testosterone. The good news is that women with PCOS can positively impact their condition with a healthy lifestyle plan.

The PCOS nutrition and exercise plan is targeted at treating IR by tempering the cascade of reactions that interplay between the reproductive and endocrine systems. Think of it as nurturing rather than aggravating the insulin response.

The plan often includes the following guidelines:

  1. Eat smaller amounts of foods throughout the day, trying not to go longer than 4 hours without food. Skipping meals does not work well for PCOS.
  2. Carbohydrate intake has the most power over the insulin response. Learn which foods have carbs. Spread carb foods throughout the day, and balance them with lean proteins and healthy fats. Severely limiting of carb intake is not the answer. Shoot for 40-45% carb intake. This is usually about 30 grams of carbs at main meals and 10-20 grams of carbs at snacks.
  3. Choose high fiber foods and healthy carbohydrates. Choose whole fruits instead of juices. Choose whole grains, beans, peas, lentils and plenty of veggies.
  4. Go Mediterranean. Focus on healthy fats, like olive oil, and vegetable fat sources, like nuts, seeds, avocado, olives and fatty fish.
  5. Go lean and low fat with meats and dairy in order to limit saturated fat, and lay off foods like butter, bacon, cheese, hot dogs, and rich desserts. Avoid trans fat like the plague.
  6. Get sweaty! Include both cardio and resistance exercise, and aim for 60 minutes most days of the week. Exercise gets the insulin moving. If you move, the insulin will move.
  7. Losing just 10 pounds can greatly improve insulin resistance, lessen PCOS and in many women, improve fertility.

A registered dietitian nutritionist familiar with PCOS can help you create a personalized, healthy lifestyle plan. If you can identify with the PCOS symptoms above, you might want to seek advice from a medical specialist who is trained in endocrinology or women's health. There are medical treatments that can benefit PCOS along with the healthy lifestyle plan. You may also find the following websites useful to learn more about PCOS.

1. http://www.womenshealth.gov
2. www.PCOSnutrition.com

Other Health Issues->PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome)
Brenda Braslow
Brenda Braslow, MS, RDN, LDN, CDE - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)

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