Understanding polycystic ovary syndrome and how it is linked to weight gain among women.
Polycystic ovary syndrome, commonly known as PCOS, is a hormonal disorder common among adult women. The condition is characterized by hormonal imbalances, irregular periods, and the development of small collections of fluid (follicles) on one or both ovaries.
Up to 7 percent of women of reproductive age can be diagnosed with PCOS. One of the biggest struggles of those with the condition is losing weight. They have high levels of male hormones and are “insulin resistance,” meaning cells in muscles, fat, and liver don’t respond well to insulin.
The body cannot use the glucose from the blood for energy. Because of this, most women are either obese or overweight. They are also at risk of certain health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, uterine cancer, and sleep apnea.
“Some people with PCOS complain they have a hard time losing weight no matter what they do,” says Daniel Dumesic, MD, division chief of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at UCLA, who also specializes in PCOS.
Those with PCOS are recommended to make a lifestyle change, like shedding pounds to decrease its severity and improve insulin resistance. Insulin is one of the essential components in the body, and the condition makes it hard to produce the hormone.
Too much insulin leads to the high production of androgen. This is a known male hormone, and an increased level among women causes hair growth, acne, irregular periods, and weight gain. The fat is stored in the abdomen, and those with the condition are said to have an “apple shape.”
The importance of weight loss if you have polycystic ovary syndrome.
Women with PCOS are advised to cut some pounds, as weight loss lowers the risk of developing many diseases. It was reported that losing 10 percent of the body weight could bring the menstrual cycle back to normal.
Another benefit of losing weight is improving insulin sensitivity and reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other PCOS-related complications. But before kicking off your weight loss journey, visit the doctor first to check your body mass index (BMI).
The doctor may prescribe certain medications approved for PCOS. For instance, they could give you Metformin (Glucophage), a diabetes drug that helps the body utilize insulin more. They could also provide birth control pills or anti-androgen medications to block the effects of male hormones.
PCOS can be treated if appropriately managed. Some
celebrities have been diagnosed with the condition, such as Gemma Collins. The
“The Only Way Is Essex” star embarked on a weight loss journey as she
battles with the hormonal disorder.
What to eat and not to eat if you have polycystic ovary syndrome?
Reducing carb intake can help you lose weight if you have PCOS. According to one study, obese women with the condition and insulin resistance followed a 3-week diet of 40 percent carbs and 45 percent fat. They followed another 3-week diet of 60 percent carbs and 25 percent fat.
During each phase, the participants’ protein intake was at 15 percent. The results showed that the blood sugar level of both phases was similar, but the insulin level went down by 30 percent during the lower-carb, higher-fat phase.
“Lowering carb content lowers insulin levels, which can help with weight loss,” says Caroline Apovian, MD, an endocrinologist, weight-loss researcher, and director of the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at Boston Medical Center, via Women’s Health.
Eat foods rich in fiber.
Increasing fiber intake was said to be an effective way to lose weight because it helps you stay full after a meal. One research found that higher fiber intake was linked to lower insulin resistance in women with PCOS. Another one saw that higher fiber intake was associated with lower body weight.
Eating protein is essential, as well.
Aside from fiber, consuming protein also stabilizes blood sugar levels and increases feelings of fullness after a meal. It aids weight loss by burning more calories, managing hunger hormones, and reducing cravings. High-protein foods include nuts, eggs, meat, dairy, and seafood.
Don’t forget about the healthy fats.
Incorporating healthy fats in your diet can help you tackle weight loss and other PCOS symptoms. Per one study involving 30 women with the condition, a low-fat diet was compared to a higher-fat diet. The result showed that the latter resulted in a more fat loss after eight weeks.
Fermented food also helps.
Eating fermented food is another way to manage PCOS. Healthy gut bacteria are important in metabolism and weight loss. Several studies revealed that women with the condition have fewer beneficial gut bacteria than those who do not have the hormone imbalance.
Certain probiotic strains could help the body shed some pounds. Yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, and other fermented foods are all high in probiotics. These foods can help you up the numbers of healthy bacteria in your gut.
Processed food and sugar are unhealthy.
Lastly, limiting your processed foods and sugar consumption is recommended if you have PCOS. These two components increase the blood sugar level, which leads to an increase in insulin resistance. Foods high in added sugar and refined carbs include cookies, cakes, candy, and fast food.
“I suggest women eliminate added sugars because it raises their blood sugar substantially, which then leads to a crash and even worse hunger levels, as well as cravings,” says Alisa Vitti, founder of integrative hormonal center Flo Living.
What else can you do to manage your weight if you have polycystic ovary syndrome?
Practice mindful eating.
Besides eating healthy foods, it is also important to practice mindful eating if you have a hormone disorder. Reportedly, women with PCOS are three times more likely to have an eating disorder than those who do not have the condition.
Practicing mindful eating could be a solution, as it increases your awareness of hunger and fullness. Mindfulness-based approaches to food could help you address unhealthy eating behaviors, such as emotional eating and binge eating.
Find ways to manage inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is common among women with PCOS, as sugar and processed foods may contribute to inflammation. Diets high in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, whole grains, and fatty fish may protect the body against inflammation.
Sleep will always be necessary.
Getting enough sleep is essential to overall health. Those with PCOS suffer from sleep disturbances, leading to feeling extra sleepy during the day. Lack of sleep is linked to hormones that drive hunger, including cortisol.
Moreover, not sleeping well during the night was associated with a higher risk of being overweight. According to a review of 18 studies, people who slept less than 5 hours per night were more likely to be obese. Other studies also linked better-quality sleep to fat loss.
Don’t forget to exercise.
If you have trouble sleeping, exercising regularly may help you. Working out has been known to improve weight loss and is effective for those with PCOS. Researchers conducted a 12-week study involving 16 women who did 45–60 minutes of cardio 3 times a week.
The result showed that the control group lost 6.4 percent of body fat, while women with PCOS lost 2.3 percent. Even though the outcome for those with the condition is lesser, it proves that doing exercise positively impacts insulin sensitivity.
Take care of your mental health.
In addition to maintaining your physical health, taking care of your mental health is also essential, including managing your stress. High levels of cortisol are produced if you are stressed, and if this happens regularly, it may eventually lead to insulin resistance and weight gain.
“Stress increases cortisol levels, which is linked to weight gain,” Vitti explains.
There are a few effective ways to manage stress and lower cortisol levels. For instance, studies have noted that doing yoga and meditation helps you decrease this stress hormone. Spending time in nature is another way to ease your mind.
Women with PCOS may also consider taking supplements to manage their weight. Opt for Inositol, mostly known as Myo-inositol, a supplement that is beneficial for weight loss among women. The compounds are related to B vitamins that help improve insulin sensitivity.
“I recommend a few supplements very strongly for women with PCOS,” says Vitti. “Vitamin C, selenium, N-acetylcysteine, and alpha-lipoic acid gently support the liver to improve its ability to break down extra estrogen in the body, which women with PCOS have.”