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Nutritional interventions to support symptoms of PCOS

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal imbalance and common condition that affects approximately 5-10% of women of reproductive age worldwide.

In PCOS, the ovaries produce higher levels of androgens (male hormones such as testosterone) than usual. This can disrupt the normal development and release of eggs from the ovaries, leading to small cysts on the ovaries.

The exact cause of PCOS is unknown but it is believed to be due to a range of genetic and environmental factors. Insulin resistance, in which the body's cells do not respond properly to insulin, is commonly associated with PCOS.

The symptoms of PCOS can vary between women though they often include:

  • Irregular periods: Women may experience infrequent, prolonged, or absent menstrual periods.

  • High androgen levels: Elevated levels of androgens such as testosterone can cause symptoms such as acne, excessive hair growth, on the face, chest, back or abdomen.

  • Polycystic ovaries: The ovaries may appear enlarged and have multiple small cysts, as seen on an ultrasound examination.

Other possible symptoms and complications associated with PCOS include weight gain or difficulty losing weight, insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol levels, sleep apnoea, mood swings, depression, and fertility problems.

While diet alone cannot cure PCOS, making certain dietary changes can help manage symptoms and improve overall health in women with PCOS. Here are some dietary tips that may be beneficial:

  • Eat a balanced diet: Focus on consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods, including fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. This can help support hormonal balance, manage weight and provide essential nutrients.

  • Include lean proteins: Incorporate lean sources of protein into your meals, such as chicken, turkey, fish, legumes, and tofu. Protein-rich foods help stabilise blood sugar levels, promote satiety, and support muscle health.

  • Healthy fats: Include sources of healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and oily fish like salmon or mackerel. Healthy fats provide important nutrients and can help reduce inflammation in the body.

  • Limit processed and sugary foods: Minimise or avoid highly processed foods, sugary snacks, sodas, and sweetened beverages. These foods can contribute to weight gain, worsen insulin resistance, and disrupt hormonal balance.

  • Be mindful of refined carbohydrates: While carbohydrates are an essential part of a balanced diet, aim to avoid refined carbohydrates and simple sugars and choose low-glycemic index (GI) foods. Low-GI foods release sugar into the bloodstream more slowly, helping to stabilise blood sugar levels. Examples of low-GI foods include vegetables, legumes and whole grains – just real food!

Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day. The best indication of hydration is your urine which should be pale-coloured.

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