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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common fertility issues women face.
PCOS affects about one in ten women , and it doesn’t just affect your ovaries. Women with PCOS often struggle with hormone imbalance too — in fact, hormone imbalance seems to be both a contributing factor and a symptom of PCOS.
Over the last decade, I’ve worked with a lot of patients who have PCOS. Many of them are frustrated; their doctors have prescribed birth control or hormone therapy to balance their hormones and relieve symptoms of PCOS, but they just aren’t seeing results.
While birth control and hormone therapy are common treatment plans, they don’t work for all women. If they don’t help you, it can be hard to know what to do next.
When one of my patients comes in with PCOS, my go-to strategy is nutrition. What you eat has a profound impact on your hormones, and with a few small changes, you can see a huge improvement in your PCOS symptoms. In fact, fertility researchers say that lifestyle interventions like diet and exercise are the most effective way to treat PCOS .
If you’re struggling with PCOS or hormone imbalance, these three dietary changes can help you get rid of your symptoms and feel like your best self.
1) Get rid of sugar and refined carbs
This is the most important piece of dietary advice I can give, especially if you have PCOS.
Weight loss is one of the best things you can do to manage PCOS. Decreasing your body weight by just 5% has a huge impact on PCOS symptoms and hormonal imbalance .
If you have PCOS, though, weight loss can be especially challenging. About 70% of women with PCOS also have insulin resistance, which is when your body struggles to control blood sugar and insulin properly . Insulin resistance leads to weight gain and makes it particularly difficult to lose weight .
Cutting out sugar and refined carbs is one of the best ways to reverse insulin resistance. It’s especially valuable if you have PCOS. Women with PCOS who ate a moderate-carb diet instead of a high-carb one saw a 30% decrease in their insulin resistance .
In another study, women with PCOS who ate a low-carb diet saw even more improvement in their insulin response, as well as significant fat loss (especially belly fat) .
If you have PCOS, try cutting out sugar and refined carbs, and replacing them with healthy fats like olive oil, salmon, and avocados. The switch will help balance your hormones and relieve your PCOS symptoms.
2) Make sure you’re eating enough
PCOS (and the hormonal imbalances associated with it) can sometimes cause sudden weight gain, which can be disheartening. You may be tempted to severely cut calories in an attempt to lose weight.
However, long-term calorie restriction doesn’t work well for sustainable weight loss. Low-calorie dieting can cause further hormonal imbalance that makes it harder to lose weight [7,8].
As tempting as it is to cut calories and lose weight quickly, your best bet for healthy, sustainable weight loss is to focus on eating good food, not eating less food. A study of 609 people found that those who followed a healthy, whole food diet without calorie restriction consistently lost weight over time .
Weight gain is frustrating, but you’re still best off avoiding crash diets. Eating well can help correct the underlying problem that caused the weight gain and put you on the road to weight loss and better health.
3) Try fermented foods
Women with PCOS often have an imbalance in healthy gut bacteria, which could make symptoms worse [10,11].
Your gut bacteria play a surprisingly large role in hormone metabolism. They break down estrogen, keeping your sex hormones balanced. But when you don’t have enough healthy gut bacteria, you may struggle to break down estrogen, and your levels may become too high . High estrogen contributes to PCOS and can make it more severe .
Yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and other fermented foods are all packed with probiotic bacteria that can improve your gut health and help you bring your hormones back into balance .
Try eating a serving or two of fermented foods every day.
Manage PCOS and balance your hormones naturally
Diet is one of the most powerful tools you have for hormone balance. The right foods can make a major difference in how you feel day-to-day and can change your hormone levels surprisingly quickly. If you struggle with PCOS or hormone imbalance, try making the dietary changes you just read about and see how you feel.
And for more personalized tips for improving your wellbeing, why not take my Power Type Quiz? It’s a free quiz that gives you insight into your unique body, as well as diet and lifestyle guides that help you look and feel your best.