10 Practical Tips for Losing Weight with PCOS, According to Experts
The Office of Women’s Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 1 in 10 women in the U.S. may have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
PCOS is a disorder characterized by multiple cysts in the ovaries that lead to ovulation abnormalities, irregular menstruation, and hormonal imbalances (1).
Hormonal abnormalities caused by PCOS may also result in extra hair growth on the body.
According to experts, PCOS is one of the most common causes of infertility in women throughout the world. With treatment, however, pregnancy is still possible (1).
This article briefly explores PCOS and its contribution to obesity in women.
The three key features of PCOS are (1):
- Irregular or missed periods
- Hirsutism – increased hair growth on the body due to raised androgens (e.g., testosterone) in the body; and,
- Ovarian cysts
What causes PCOS?
The cause is unknown, but several well-researched theories state that multiple factors contribute to its development, including genetics, insulin resistance, high androgen levels, and chronic inflammation (2).
PCOS tends to run in families, with multiple genes affecting the ovaries and reproductive hormones.
A very intricate relationship exists between insulin resistance and PCOS. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood glucose (i.e., blood sugar). It lowers blood sugar by transporting sugar to the cells, where it is used for energy.
Problems occur when excess sugar in the blood forces the pancreas to secrete more insulin. Over time, the cells stop responding to the insulin, making them more resistant, thus inducing insulin resistance.
Androgen imbalances are another possible cause of PCOS. Insulin resistance has a domino effect on the body – it increases the production of specific androgens (for example, testosterone) and disrupts the menstrual cycle.
Some researchers and experts suggest that chronic inflammation is an important, yet overlooked, factor in PCOS.
Bob Tygenhof, from the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine, states, “There is a powerful concept at the very core of PCOS, which is often neglected, and that is the essential fact that inflammation is the driver of ALL of these problems!”
He further states that many scientists and researchers may not even be aware of the connection between chronic inflammation and PCOS. Getting to the root of chronic inflammation and treating it may help ease PCOS symptoms.
Researchers from one study state: “Chronic low-grade inflammation has emerged as a key contributor to the pathogenesis (i.e., ‘The development of a disease and the chain of events leading to that disease.” – rxlist.com) of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).”
Additionally, researcher Anna Druet from Helloclue states, “People with PCOS are much more likely to have chronic low-grade inflammation, which is measured via blood tests for C-reactive protein (CRP—a marker of inflammation in the body) (23-25).”
PCOS AND WEIGHT GAIN (3)
Insulin resistance contributes to PCOS. It also induces weight gain and obesity in some women with PCOS. The ineffective insulin combined with dysregulation of androgens promotes the conversion of excess blood sugar into body fat.
Insulin resistance disturbs the hunger-regulating hormones that lead to uncontrolled eating. These unchecked eating habits contribute to weight gain. Women with PCOS who gain weight typically have apple-shaped bodies because they store most of their fat in their abdomen.
Researchers discovered that women with PCOS tend to have lower levels of the anti-inflammatory hormone adiponectin, which regulates the body’s fat and blood glucose levels.
Insulin resistance also lowers adiponectin levels in the body.
The researchers stated: “Low adiponectin levels in polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) have been largely attributed to obesity which is common among these patients. In addition, evidence also suggests that low adiponectin in PCOS may be related to insulin resistance (IR) in these women.”
Chronic inflammation associated with PCOS makes it harder to lose weight because it increases weight.
Weight gain and obesity are not the only PCOS-related issues. Others include:
- Diabetes Mellitus
- High Cholesterol
- Endometrial Cancer
- Sleep Apnea
10 Helpful Tips on Losing Weight with PCOS – According to Experts
Is it possible to lose weight with PCOS?
It can be challenging, but it is possible!
Losing weight reduces the risks of diabetes, hypertension, and infertility.
Women with PCOS could shed unnecessary weight and reduce some PCOS symptoms by following specific steps.
Losing Weight with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (4):
Below are a few researched ways to lose weight with PCOS:
1. Moderate carbohydrate intake
Despite being the body’s primary energy source, carbohydrates also contribute to weight gain and obesity. Foods high in refined carbohydrates cause increased insulin production, resulting in weight gain.
Eating low carbohydrate foods is useful when losing weight with PCOS. Additionally, low glycemic index foods (e.g., non-starchy vegetables) slowly raise blood sugar levels; therefore, reducing insulin spikes.
As a result, the body becomes more sensitive to insulin, which helps with losing weight.
2. Limit processed food
Processed foods contain some of the highest amounts of added sugars and refined carbohydrates. These include candy, soda, French fries, white bread, donuts, pizza, and so forth. They are also high in sodium, which increases blood pressure. Experts recommend limiting processed foods.
3. Increase fiber intake
A significant component of a healthy diet is fiber. Experts recommend incorporating it into our meal plans. Research shows the many health benefits of fiber, three of which include lower blood sugar, fewer insulin spikes, and feeling fuller longer.
A high-fiber diet may also help lower blood pressure and remove unhealthy blood cholesterol. Vegetables, whole grains, low-sugar fruits, nuts, and seeds are all great sources of fiber.
4. Healthy fat
There is a misconception that all fats are unhealthy; however, certain fats are healthy, and experts recommend including them in the diet. These fats include those derived from fatty fish, olives, nuts, seeds, and avocados, among others. Healthy fats are essential for the protective functioning of the body.
Related article: Why You Should Eat Healthy Fat to Burn Fat and Lose Weight
5. Eat at regular intervals
To better manage PCOS and weight loss, experts recommend eating at regular intervals. However, meal frequency has mixed recommendations. Some experts recommend 3 meals, while others suggest 4 to 5 (i.e., 3 main meals and 1 or 2 small healthy snacks).
Monica Reinagel, a nutritionist from Scientific American, stated, “Although some people claim that eating every 2-3 hours is ideal, spacing your meals out more can help improve insulin sensitivity. Instead of having a small meal or snack every few hours, try to get used to eating a more substantial meal and then waiting 4-5 hours before eating again.”
PCOS expert Martha McKittrick stated that most women she worked with benefitted from 3 moderately sized meals with a snack in-between.
She also recommended a snack between meals with the widest time gap (i.e., lunch and dinner) and added, “…Don’t feel you NEED to eat snacks in between meals if you feel fine without doing so as studies are mixed as to whether it is beneficial.”
As we can see, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to PCOS and meal frequency.
Working out is one of the best ways to lose weight. Moderate exercise is remarkably effective in lowering high blood sugar levels, increasing insulin sensitivity, and shedding extra pounds.
Researchers state that monitoring carb intake and regular exercise are vital in reducing PCOS symptoms:
“Therapy, which should be individualized, should incorporate steroid hormones, antiandrogens, and insulin-sensitizing agents. Weight loss by way of reduced carbohydrate intake and gentle exercise is the most important intervention; this step alone can restore menstrual cyclicity and fertility and provide long-term prevention against diabetes and heart disease.”
Related article: Exercise Boosts Brain Power, Lowers Cancer Risk, and Much More!
7. Reduce inflammation
Inflammation is an astonishingly overlooked component of PCOS, yet significantly reducing chronic inflammation is essential for losing weight and improving PCOS symptoms.
Junk food increases inflammation, so limiting its consumption is necessary for reducing inflammation and improving health.
Natural foods rich in fiber, healthy fats like omega 3, and lean protein (e.g., skinless chicken) reduce chronic inflammation.
Reducing life’s stressors is also important for reducing chronic inflammation.
8. Limit alcohol intake
The American Botanical Council stated that according to PCOS expert Dr. Stansbury, women with PCOS should severely limit or avoid alcohol. The liver plays a vital role in helping the body break down and remove excess hormones, but alcohol impedes the liver’s ability to perform these functions.
B vitamins play an essential role in carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism, including hormone regulation. They also regulate insulin, which helps improve insulin sensitivity.
Specific B-vitamins, like Inositol (or Myo-inositol), may reduce high testosterone levels in women with PCOS, thus improving insulin sensitivity. It may also help balance the vital hormones involved in ovulation and regular menstruation.
B5 may reduce chronic inflammation by regulating pro-inflammatory hormones, like cortisol.
Foods high in B-vitamins include whole grains (e.g., brown rice, barley, and enriched cereals), carrots, meat (e.g., fish, poultry, and lean red meat including beef liver), eggs and dairy products (e.g., milk and cheese), legumes (e.g., chickpeas and lentils), seeds and nuts (e.g., sunflower seeds and almonds), leafy vegetables (e.g., broccoli and spinach), sweet potatoes, and fruits (e.g., avocados, oranges, and bananas), and nutritional yeast.
According to a registered dietician, it is best to steam, roast, bake, or grill vegetables to retain their vitamins. Avoid boiling them, as the vitamins end up in the water.
B-vitamins, including Myo-inositol, are available in supplement form to fill in the gaps where meals fall short.
10. Herbs may help:
Herbs have been used for medicinal purposes for centuries.
Researchers analyzed 33 studies that focused on the use of herbs on women with PCOS and other endocrine/hormonal disorders. Their findings suggested that some herbs may help mitigate PCOS symptoms.
The researchers suggested:
“… that six herbal medicines may have beneficial effects for women with oligo/amenorrhea, hyperandrogenism and PCOS.”
These six herbs include Vitex agnus-castus (Vitex Chaste Berry), Cimicifuga racemose (Black cohosh), Tribulus Terrestris, Glycyrrhiza spp., Paeonia lactiflora (Chinese peony), and Cinnamomum cassia (Chinese cassia or Chinese cinnamon).
Other herbs, like Maca Root, contain glucosinolates, a phytonutrient that regulates cortisol and hormone levels. The American Botanical Council lists herbs like Gymnema Sylvestre, Schisandra, and white peony for their potential benefits.
These suggestions are just a few of the many ways women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome can lose weight.
Incorporating any of these tips and working with a doctor who specializes in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, weight loss, and better management of PCOS and its symptoms is possible.
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(2) J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol. 2010 Oct; 122(1-3): 42–52. Insulin and hyperandrogenism in women with polycystic ovary syndrome
(3) Adiponectin protects against development of metabolic disturbances in a PCOS mouse model;
(3) How’s Polycystic Ovary SyndromeRelated To Weight Gain? – Embry Women’s Health. https://embrywomenshealth.com/hows-pcos-related-to-weight-gain/.
(5) Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Diet; OnPoint Nutrition; https://www.onpoint-nutrition.com/pcos-diet