Do You Suffer From PCOS?
By Christine Miller, MS, RD/LD, CDE
eDiets Diabetes Expert
Do you suffer from acne, unwanted facial hair or hair loss? If so, you may have troubles that are more than skin deep. Read on to learn more about the links between women, insulin resistance and PCOS.
Most people have never heard of PCOS. Yet this condition happens to be the number one cause of infertility in women. In reality, PCOS affects far more than fertility. By the age of 40, an estimated 40 percent of women with PCOS will go on to develop type 2 diabetes.
What is PCOS?
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is a disorder in which women have higher than normal levels of male hormones, often referred to as androgens. The most well known androgen is testosterone. This extra amount of androgens can mean upsetting or embarrassing symptoms including acne, excessive hair growth on the face or chest, and abdominal weight gain. Additionally devastating can be a pattern of hair loss similar to male-pattern baldness.
Why is PCOS a Health Hazard?
PCOS does not only affect your appearance. Besides fertility problems, women can be plagued by absent or irregular menstrual cycles, enlarged or cyst-like ovaries, and a higher risk for certain cancers. Women with PCOS are also seven times more likely to develop diabetes and four times more likely to develop high blood pressure.
The Root Cause of PCOS
Although the cause of PCOS may be partially rooted in bad genes, a vast majority of women with PCOS are insulin resistant. This means that the body cells do not properly respond to normal levels of insulin. Insulin is required to move blood sugar or glucose from the blood to the inside of every cell of your body. If your cells do not respond to insulin, the body churns out more. Higher levels of insulin will directly increase the production of the male androgens like testosterone.
What Can I Do?
The core treatment for PCOS is exercise, weight loss and eating right. There are also medications which can help with some of the symptoms of PCOS. But without proper diet and exercise, the underlying problems will continue to persist.
Exercise is not only critical to weight loss, but it is one of the best ways to help make your cells respond better to insulin. Aim for exercise at least five days a week for at least 30 minutes per session.
Studies have found women with PCOS have a decreased ability to burn calories after meals. So, it is not your imagination if it seems harder for you to lose the weight! You do not need to reach your goal weight to see improvements in symptoms. A mere five percent weight loss may do the trick.
Nutrition Strategies for PCOS
If you have PCOS, you must eat in a way to reduce your risk of diabetes and cancer and at the same time, eat in a way which improves your body’s sensitivity to insulin. Some key points to remember are to:
Get enough, but not too many carbs. Avoiding carbohydrates is not advisable because some types of carbohydrate foods can lower your risk for various diseases. Consider one of the eDiets carbohydrate-controlled diet plans like The Gycemic Impact Diet(CLICK HERE).
Eat the right type of carbohydrates. Focus on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nonfat or one percent milk/yogurt in limited quantities. For best results, spread these foods throughout five or six smaller meals each day.
Eat a daily serving of nuts and/or legumes. One-third cup nuts eaten five times a week has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease by over 40 percent. Additionally, legumes like beans, lentils, or soy foods are rich in soluble fiber which can improve insulin response to meals and reduce high cholesterol levels.
Decrease your intake of bad fats. Diets high in saturated fats increase insulin resistance. Steer clear of butter, fatty cuts of meat, cheeses, or dairy products with over one percent fat. Avoid foods which list the word “hydrogenated” in the ingredient list. This fat is problematic because it worsens blood fat levels.
If you have PCOS or suspect you have it, consult with your physician so you can be monitored and receive proper medical treatment. Remember that much of the keys to managing PCOS are within our daily control. Make the choice to exercise and eat right and you can live a healthier life and achieve control of PCOS.
Christine Miller is a Registered and Licensed dietitian, as well as a Certified Diabetes Educator. Christine moderates the Living with Diabetes support group, answers individual questions and conducts online meetings for diabetics. Christine received her Masters Degree in Nutrition from Texas Woman’s University in 1991. In addition to her responsibilities at eDiets, Christine also shares her professional time between her private practice and her continuing work with the Joslin Diabetes Center affiliate in Safety Harbor, Florida.