Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (or more commonly, PCOS) is a hormonal condition characterized by many small cysts on the ovaries. Women with PCOS have abnormal menstrual cycles and an excess of androgen- a hormone more plentiful in males. In addition to abnormal menstruation, PCOS is associated with increased risk for obesity, Type II Diabetes, and heart disease.Many women find it challenging to lose weight with PCOS.
The exact causes of PCOS are not fully understood, but it appears that an excess of the hormone insulin, family history, and inflammation all play a role in the development of PCOS.
Symptoms include irregular menstrual cycles, weight gain, acne, depression, insulin resistance, facial hair, insulin resistance, and finding it tough to lose weight with PCOS.
Menstrual abnormalities and reproductive issues aside, weight gain and obesity are the most common complications associated with PCOS. Women with PCOS typically suffer from hyperinsulinemia, a condition wherein the body produces excess amounts of the hormone insulin.
Having higher than normal levels of insulin prompts the body to store more calories as fat, especially around the midsection. As such, women with PCOS tend to have high levels of abdominal fat.
Unfortunately, PCOS and weight loss tend to exacerbate each other: as body weight increases, PCOS symptoms become even more severe. It’s a vicious cycle of weight gain, androgen and insulin production, and cyst development. This helps to explain why so many patients find it challenging to lose weight with PCOS.
While no cure exists for PCOS, it can be managed. Lifestyle modification is the most common treatment for women with PCOS. Occasionally, a physician may prescribe medication in an effort to control hormones.
However, given the risks of pharmaceutical intervention, most physicians choose to treat with dietary modification and weight loss before turning to drugs in an effort to control the condition.
It’s important to note that, while weight gain is more common and weight loss more difficult for women with PCOS, weight loss is not impossible and dramatically improves disease outcomes. Even a moderate amount of weight loss can reduce the severity of symptoms and improve menstrual regularity. Therefore, lose weight with PCOS is often a primary recommendation for reducing symptoms.
For women with PCOS, dietary needs are more complex: a diet that works for a woman without PCOS may not work for a woman with PCOS, given hyperinsulinemia that occurs as a trademark of the syndrome. Controlling insulin through diet is key to being able to lose weight with PCOS and controlling its symptoms.
Individual dietary needs will differ for PCOS patients, making it crucial to tailor dietary strategies to each patients. Even for women without PCOS, “cookie cutter” diets do not work, and this is especially true for women living with a hormonally complex condition.
In order to lose weight with PCOS and keep it off long term, women with the condition will need to work with a Nutritionist and/or Physician to determine individual carbohydrate tolerance and glycemic needs.
While many popular diets promote a severe and systematic reduction of all carbohydrates (such as the Ketogenic diet), these diets are not approved for the treatment of PCOS and should not be attempted, less they increase risk for heart disease, metabolic syndrome, or other serious PCOS complication.
Rather than eliminating carbohydrate altogether, determining individual carbohydrate tolerance and focusing on glycemic management and Calorie control is more conducive to weight loss and management for women with PCOS.