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The Role Diet Plays in PCOS

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) affects a large number of women between five and eight percent of all women. It is the number one reason for infertility among women, and can increase the risk of endometrial cancer if it's not treated. Women with this metabolic disorder are also at a higher risk for diabetes and heart disease. Many women don't realize that diet also plays a huge role in PCOS, and women can effectively treat PCOS with balanced nutrition. Diet may also help with insulin resistance as well as alleviating symptoms like excessive body hair, acne and irregular periods.

Doctors aren't sure what causes PCOS, but it's believed that insulin plays a central role. Insulin, a hormone that is released by the pancreas when food is eaten, takes sugar from the blood into fat, liver cells and muscle. If this process doesn't work properly, the cells resist insulin, and the pancreas must work much harder. Fortunately, this finding means a better understanding of PCOS, and hopes for improved treatment.

Before, treatment focused individually on each problem: hormones for excessive hair, antibiotics and topical treatments for acne. Now, treatment aims to treat the insulin resistance as a whole with weight loss (if needed), exercise and diet. Since almost 60 percent of women with PCOS are overweight, diet and exercise can mean great improvements in lifestyle. If an overweight woman loses even five percent of her body weight, she will probably see an improvement in skin problems, and periods can begin to regulate over time. It can be difficult for women with PCOS to lose weight, since high insulin levels mean increased fat storage. This is why the typical diet may not work for a lot of women with PCOS.

A diet low in carbohydrates, called a low-glycemic index diet, is often the best treatment for women with PCOS who want to lose weight. There is no recommended daily intake of carbohydrates for women with PCOS, and most doctors agree that no one diet works for all women. Many physicians advise women to eat a diet with 50 percent of their calories coming for carbohydrates, although more obese women with PCOS should eat less than 40 percent.

However, it's not recommended that women increase the amount of protein they eat to make up for the lack of carbs. These high fat diets can lead to heart disease and high blood pressure, so it's a much better idea to eat a balanced diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and fish, and low fat dairy products.

Try to choose whole grain foods rather than processed starches and refined products, as well as fresh fruit rather than juice. Combine protein and fat with carbohydrates, which will slow blood sugar from the carbohydrates: eat peanut butter rather than jam on toast, for example. Eat your carbohydrates at various times throughout the day, rather than all at once. This will prevent a quick rise in blood sugar and insulin.


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