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Demystifying the Three Most Common Misconceptions about PCOS
PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) is a leading cause of infertility, affecting 5 to 10 percent of women of reproductive age. Lifestyle changes – diet, exercise and weight management – are often the best way to manage the hormonal imbalances that result from PCOS.
In recognition of PCOS Awareness Month, we spoke to Carolyn Gundell, MS, about the myths surrounding PCOS and diet. Gundell leads the Fertility Nutrition Program at Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut (RMACT), and the fertility center’s PCOS clinic.
1. Myth: “If I do not eat any carbs, my PCOS symptoms will get better.”
Truth: Carbohydrates are our primary source of energy, and they should total 40-45% of calories consumed throughout the day. Rather than white bread, white rice and pasta, choose carbohydrates that have a lower glycemic index. Many low glycemic carbohydrates are packed with nutrients such as fiber, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, protein and energy – all important for ovulatory balance, weight loss and improved cardio-metabolic profile.
Gundell recommends no more than one-half cup of cooked lower glycemic whole grain or starchy servings, or one slice of sprouted bread, at each meal. Low glycemic carbs include: quinoa, black bean or lentil pasta, wild, black or brown rice, bulgur, barley, lentils and all beans, sweet potatoes, wheat berries, oats, wheat germ, whole grain and low-sugar cereals. Protein with every meal and snack will help maintain glucose control and reduce hunger and cravings.
PCOS meal planning is not about restriction and chronic dieting, but instead about balanced eating with a variety of nutrient-dense foods.
2. Myth: “I will improve my fertility ONLY if I lose weight.”
Truth: We observe improved ovulation, lowered glucose, insulin and lipid levels, and improved insulin sensitivity in our PCOS patients who participate in regular, consistent physical activity combined with a healthy meal plan, even without significant weight loss, Gundell says.
Physical activity improves the way our muscles respond to insulin. Increased insulin sensitivity results in overall less insulin which helps to reduce androgen production – which stimulates FSH – and in turn improves ovulation.
3. Myth: “Meal skipping is the only way that I can control my weight.”
Truth: Meal skipping is a very common behavior seen in PCOS patients, according to Gundell. However, very low caloric intake causes a PCOS metabolism to shift into fat storage mode, and weight gain or no weight loss often results. Once balanced eating is restored, starting with an early breakfast rich in protein and fiber, weight loss continues. As soon as meal skipping starts again weight loss stops.
Recent studies support the benefits of a balanced breakfast to increase metabolic rate, keep glucose and insulin stable and regulate appetite in both lean and overweight PCOS adolescents and women.