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Weight gain can be a complex and frustrating symptom of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). One report found that 40 to 80 per cent of women with PCOS are reported to be overweight or obese, while further research suggests that women with PCOS have a higher rate of weight gain than those without, gaining on average an additional 1 to 2kg per year.
Lifestyle modification remains the first line of treatment for PCOS, with even a small weight loss in particular cited as one way in which women can improve their symptoms and help restore normal ovarian function. This is easier said than done, however, particularly as PCOS has proven metabolic complications. Learn how PCOS impacts diet and exercise, and how you can help manage your weight below.
What is PCOS?PCOS is primarily a hormonal disorder caused by high levels of male hormones (androgens) which prevent the ovaries from functioning normally. Because of an overproduction of some androgens, women with PCOS commonly (but not always) have cysts on their ovaries. Other symptoms of PCOS can include:
PCOS and your metabolismPCOS also has metabolic characteristics, the prevalence of which increases with age. In particular, women with PCOS are more likely to produce excess insulin and have greater insulin resistance. This makes it harder for their bodies to use energy. Excess insulin can also cause high blood sugar, which is why women with PCOS have a substantially increased risk for type 2 diabetes. In addition, insulin resistance can, in turn, cause your ovaries to produce too many androgens — giving rise to PCOS symptoms.
How can diet and exercise help sufferers of PCOS?Women with PCOS may be able to improve their insulin sensitivity through diet and exercise. And, becoming more sensitive (or less resistant) to insulin can help you lower the androgen levels that contribute to PCOS symptoms.
PCOS and exerciseExercise is great for those with PCOS as it increases the ability of blood sugar to enter the body’s cells, even without insulin. Essentially, it helps your cells to use glucose for energy, instead of weight gain.
Current research hasn’t yet recommended any specific type of exercise for PCOS sufferers over another. Instead, PCOS sufferers are generally advised to aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise (such as hiking, yoga, leisurely swimming, golf, tennis, or brisk walking) each week. Alternatively, opt for 75 minutes of rigorous exercise, such as running, aerobics, HIIT, or intense swimming. Strength and conditioning exercises should also be incorporated into your exercise regime, preferably twice a week.
PCOS and dietIt’s important to understand that PCOS isn’t caused or cured by certain foods or food groups. That means unless you have an intolerance or allergy to a particular food, there’s no need to cut it out of your diet completely to manage PCOS. However, exercising proper nutrition will help to reduce many health problems associated with PCOS — including insulin resistance.
In general, what is healthy for the average woman is also healthy for a woman with PCOS. That means eating a balanced diet rich in protein, fruits and vegetables, beans and whole grains, and over all limiting calories of the goal is fat loss.
FibreHigh-fibre foods can be useful to women with PCOS as they help combat insulin resistance by slowing down digestion and keeping blood sugar levels stable.
5 simple dietary tips to help you manage PCOSWhile weight loss can be helpful in proactively managing PCOS symptoms if you are already overweight, not everyone with PCOS needs to lose weight.
It can be tempting to cut out fat altogether when you’re trying to lose weight. A healthy supply of omega-3 fatty acids, however, has been shown to help balance hormones and improve insulin sensitivity in PCOS sufferers. Healthy fats also help you to feel full and satisfied after you've finished eating. They can be found in avocados, oily fish, and nuts, or you might want to try omega-3 supplements instead.