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The PCOS Diet: Natural Treatment for PCOS

Updated on July 9, 2011

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a growing epidemic among American women, and women around the world.

Fortunately, it is possible to ease the symptoms of PCOS, and perhaps even cure the condition, with dietary changes.

PCOS is closely related to two related conditions: obesity and insulin resistance. About 50-60% of women diagnosed with PCOS are seriously overweight and nearly all display some degree of insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance can trap women in a vicious cycle: weight gain causes insulin resistance causes additional weight gain causes greater insulin resistance... If left unbroken, this cycle can eventually result in the development of type 2 diabetes and many other serious health problems.

Insulin resistance is also closely tied to PCOS. PCOS is caused by a hormone imbalance that causes an excess of androgens (male hormones) such as testosterone. One of the functions of insulin is to trigger the production of androgens, and excess insulin will trigger excess testosterone and other male hormones, resulting in PCOS.

Therefore women diagnosed with PCOS should make dietary changes designed to minimize their insulin resistance and help them lose weight.

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The Glycemic Index Diet

The Glycemic Index Diet was originally developed to help diabetics manage their blood sugar levels, but it is effective for people with insulin resistance (generally considered by the medical profession to be "pre-diabetic") as well.

The Glycemic Index Diet restricts carbohydrates, especially sugars and refined carbohydrates such as white bread and white rice. These foods have high glycemic indexes, which can cause spikes in blood sugar that contribute to the development of insulin resistance. Some fruits also have high glycemic indexes, and should be avoided or restricted, as should some starchy vegetables, such as corn.

In general, the more fiber and other nutrients a carbohydrate has, the safer it is to eat. Sugary processed foods and soft drinks, which are essentially empty calories, should be eliminated completely, while whole grains, brown rice, and fresh fruits are safe for nearly all patients.

Vegetables are one of the healthiest choices for women with PCOS. Photo by thebittenword.com
Vegetables are one of the healthiest choices for women with PCOS. Photo by thebittenword.com

Does Low-Carb Mean High Protein?

Women with PCOS should reduce carb consumption, but that doesn't mean switching to a high protein diet such as the Atkins Diet. High protein diets do not provide sufficient dietary fiber for women with PCOS, and because women with PCOS are already at greater risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and stroke, than non-PCOS women, the high amounts of saturated fats in the Atkins diet and similar high protein diet plans may be too dangerous for women with PCOS.

Instead, replace carbohydrates with plenty of high fiber vegetables, beans, and legumes, and increase consumption of unsaturated fats such as those found in olive oil, canola oil, walnuts, and coldwater fish such as salmon.

Drinking plenty of plain water is also extremely important for women with PCOS, as water plays an important role in maintaining proper hormone balance.

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