Around 6-15% of women in the age group of thirteen to forty-five have Polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS. These women have excess male hormones and their lab results show insulin resistance. Women who are overweight or obese are at higher risk of developing this condition. This is because being overweight increases insulin resistance, which in turn can cause excess male hormone action in the female body.
Healthy nutrition and lifestyle modifications should be the first-line treatment for PCOS.
Gynaecologists avoid any hormonal medications at the initial stage because of the inherent side effects of these drugs. Metformin is often prescribed to reduce the underlying insulin resistance. Some women with severe acne or body hair may also be prescribed drugs that directly lower male hormone levels. But each of these comes with its side effects.
Diet plays an important role in managing insulin resistance, correcting the hormonal imbalances and in weight management. Various studies have evaluated the impact of diet on the symptoms of PCOS, especially on insulin resistance and weight management.
A study was conducted on healthy females with PCOS who are not on any insulin-sensitizing or hormonal therapy. This study concluded that a moderate reduction in dietary carbohydrate has a positive effect on insulin blood test results. This effect may improve reproductive and endocrine functions.
In a systematic review for analyzing the dietary effect in the treatment of PCOS, it was found that various dietary compositions have a different impact on female health. While a monounsaturated fat-enriched diet causes greater weight reduction, menstrual irregularities are managed and the overall quality of life is improved with a low glycemic-index diet. High protein diet results in improved self-esteem and fewer incidences of depression. According to this systematic review, caloric intake should be reduced to target weight loss to improve the symptoms of PCOS.
The study conducted on 54 females suffering from PCOS analyses the contribution of dietary mistakes in the development of PCOS. The study concluded that dietary mistakes result in poor functioning of ovaries that may lead to PCOS.
It is clear from the research that dietary management is essential in the female of childbearing age who may or may not suffer from PCOS.
Following are some of the ingredients to be incorporated in the diet, to obtain an effective diet plan for vegetarians and vegans that helps in managing PCOS:
Glycemic index is a measure of the increase in blood sugar due to a certain food. Foods which increase the sugar level are considered as high glycemic index food items. Low glycemic index vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers, spinach, cauliflower and tomatoes should be included in the diet. Fruits such as oranges, grapes, apples, and berries have a low glycemic index.
Women with PCOS should incorporate whole grain carbohydrates in their diet as they have a low glycemic index. Carbohydrates are required to maintain a healthy level of blood sugar, improving gut health and reduce the tendency for binge eating.
Various evidence shows that animal protein may lead to ovulatory infertility. Also increased vegetable protein in diet results in increased insulin sensitivity and increased rate of ovulation.
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Females with PCOS should limit the consumption of dairy products including milk because these products may trigger insulin levels in the body. In a study, a direct relationship was established between milk consumption and the risk of PCOS.
Legumes contain a considerable amount of fiber which helps in maintaining the blood sugar levels and improves gut health. Legumes such as chickpeas, soybeans and lentils should be incorporated into the diet of PCOS patients.
Eating more plant foods such as legumes, fruits, vegetables and whole grains reduces inflammation and improves insulin resistance. This is because the plant foods generate a low level of advanced glycation end-products as compared to non-vegetarian foods.
Various studies have suggested that supplementing enough carbohydrates with proteins provides metabolic advantages in patients with PCOS.
While this may be a challenge for vegans, vegetarians can benefit hugely by including good fats like ghee, butter and cold-pressed oils to their diet. A study published by Sepalika in International Journal of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology showed the positive effects experienced by women who used a Low Carb, Good Fat diet to reverse their PCOD symptoms. Good fats contain healthy cholesterol, which is the building block of all hormones in the human body. When treating hormonal imbalances like PCOD, it is crucial to consume sufficient good fats.
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