An estimated 15 to 20 percent of women of reproductive age have suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Because there isn't a specific test for PCOS, the symptoms women have are often misunderstood. PCOS is a common hormonal disorder, and one of the first clear signs that you may have it is if your menstruation is irregular—or in some cases, absent.
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Other symptoms include:
- Excessive weight gain - Many women with PCOS are more likely to be obese.
- Hirsutism - Or male pattern hair growth, usually around the chin, sides of the face, and the stomach, is common among women with PCOS.
- Acne breakouts - A hormonal shift can lead to oily skin, which can cause pimples.
- Struggle getting pregnant - Women with PCOS ovulate infrequently or not at all, which makes it harder to get pregnant.
Nobody knows the exact causes of PCOS but excess insulin plays a big role. Insulin is a hormone that lets cells use sugar, which is a source of energy for your body. If the cells resist the insulin, this can cause your sugar levels to spike, which then leads to even more insulin. As an effect, the production of androgen also increases, which makes it hard for women to ovulate. Too much androgen is also the reason why women with PCOS have more acne breakouts and male pattern hair growth.
Though there is no cure to PCOS, one of the ways women deal with this condition is by adjusting their diet or food intake. To be clear, there is no *standard* diet for people with PCOS. It's all about figuring out what works best for your body based on healthy food recommendations.
PCOS diet: best + worst food
Following a diet or meal plan that focuses on lower carbs is one of the major ways you can help your body if you have PCOS. If you look at your plate right now, what is the biggest food group you see? To avoid insulin spikes, it should be mostly veggies and some type of protein. Stay away from simple carbs like white rice or white bread because they're harder to break down. In fact, a 2013 review found that women with PCOS who followed a low-carb diet showed a bigger reduction in cholesterol levels and insulin resistance than those who still had a high-carb diet.
Other food for a low-glycemic index (GI) diet include: whole grains, legumes, seeds, fruits, and starchy vegetables. You can also go with more anti-inflammatory foods to avoid fatigue: fatty fish, leafy veggies, and fruits like red grapes, blueberries, blackberries, and cherries. If you need more protein, reach for eggs and chicken breast. Healthy fats include nuts and avocados. For dessert, dark chocolate is a popular option (in moderation, of course).
There are, obviously, some food you should avoid (no matter how much it hurts, lol). And we think you probably already know what those are: fast food, fried food, pastries, sugary beverages like soda and energy drinks, processed meats like sausages and canned goods, and too much red meat.
PCOS diet: best practices
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that you should still eat regularly. Do not skip breakfast. According to a study of 60 women, having breakfast as your biggest meal (and dinner as the smallest) can "reduce insulin levels by eight percent and testosterone levels by 50 percent over 90 days."
Regular exercise is also an important factor in keeping PCOS under control. A review found that working out can improve ovulation, reduce insulin resistance, and help with weight loss. Plus, more muscle mass can metabolize glucose.
Apart from diet and exercise, you also have to take care of your mental health. A hormonal imbalance is stressful enough, the last thing you should be worrying about is your condition. Stress and lack of sleep can actually aggravate the situation. You can try journaling as a relaxation technique; it'll also help you organize your thoughts and recognize your emotions at any given time. If you want to hit two birds with one stone, yoga is a good way to exercise and relax.
And if you're feeling particularly down about having PCOS, just remember that it isn't your fault that you have it. Plenty of women lead happy lives with this disorder, and so can you.
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