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Living a Healthy Lifestyle with PCOS

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Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, is a hormonal disorder that affects nearly one in 10 women worldwide. Nearly half do not even know they have it. While there’s no cure for PCOS, it can be treated with healthy lifestyle habits.
PCOS is difficult to diagnose and can impair many different areas of a woman’s life, including her ability to have children and maintain a healthy weight. It can also affect appearance, hormones, heart health and the menstrual cycle. Women with PCOS are at a greater risk of having a heart attack or diabetes. Early treatment can help prevent these occurrences.
Symptoms of PCOS are brought on by elevated levels of androgens, sometimes referred to as male hormones. Though women also make these hormones in small amounts, when produced in higher amounts than normal, it creates small cysts on the ovaries and affects the menstrual cycle. Obesity can make symptoms worse.
Short-term symptoms

  • Irregular menstrual cycle or periods

  • Unexplained weight gain and difficulty losing weight

  • Acne

  • Thinning of hair on the head

  • Excessive hair growth on body or face

Long-term symptoms

  • Infertility and endometrial cancer

  • High blood pressure and cholesterol levels

  • Insulin resistance (elevated insulin levels)

Treatment for PCOS includes:

  1. Regular physical activity: Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least five days a week to help your body use insulin more effectively. Moderate-intensity exercise includes walking at a brisk pace, hiking, water aerobics and biking.

  2. Proper use of medication: Metformin (glucophage) may be used to control blood glucose levels. Take this medication if prescribed by your physician.

  3. Healthy nutrition: In a nutshell, a balanced eating plan contains whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy and healthy fats.

Seven tips for eating well with PCOS

  1. Stay as "close to the farm" as possible. Choose whole fruit over fruit juice and whole grains over refined grains to get the most nutritional “bang for your buck.”

  2. Eat more fiber. Fiber helps you feel fuller longer by slowing digestion and the release of sugar into the blood. Select whole-grain breads and cereals and whole fruits and vegetables to pack in more daily fiber.

  3. Enhance fullness. In addition to fiber, balance each meal and snack with lean protein and healthy fat to minimize hunger.

  4. Space meals throughout the day. Eat smaller meals and snacks every four to five hours rather than three big meals a day. This helps keep your body fueled, stabilizes your blood sugar levels and may prevent you from overeating.

  5. Pay attention to portion sizes, especially with carbohydrates. Consuming too many carbohydrates at one time can cause a spike in blood sugar and insulin levels. Aim for 30-45 grams of carbohydrates for meals and 15 grams of carbohydrates for snacks.

  6. Limit saturated fat. Saturated fat can increase inflammation and cholesterol levels. Major sources include fatty meats (bacon, sausage and ribs), whole milk dairy foods (whole milk, cheese and cream) and coconut products.

  7. Love low-carbohydrate vegetables. Vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, leafy greens, carrots, tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms contain a low amount of carbohydrates and are packed with nutrients that keep you healthy.

Even if you don’t have PCOS, following these nutritional guidelines and exercising regularly can help you with your weight loss or weight maintenance efforts. If you have been diagnosed with PCOS, meet with a registered dietitian nutritionist at Cooper Clinic to help you with lifestyle management.
For more information about Cooper Clinic Nutrition, visit or call 972.560.2655.

Article provided by Samantha Goedde, Oklahoma State University student, and Cooper Clinic Nutrition Services.