Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Reviewed by Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN
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Approximately 10 percent of young women have a hormonal disorder called polycystic ovarian syndrome. Women with PCOS often have insulin resistance (the body does not use insulin well), resulting in too much insulin in the body. Increased production of androgens, or male hormones, also is a hallmark of PCOS. These hormonal abnormalities can cause metabolic and reproductive disruptions.


PCOS tends to run in families, but the exact cause is not known. Symptoms include:

  • Infrequent menstrual periods, no menstrual periods and/or irregular bleeding
  • Infertility due to lack of ovulation
  • Increased hair growth on the face, chest, stomach, back, thumbs or toes
  • Acne, oily skin and dandruff
  • Weight gain, especially around the mid-section
  • Insulin resistance or Type 2 diabetes
  • High cholesterol and/or blood pressure
  • Thinning hair on head
  • Pelvic pain
  • Depression and anxiety due to appearance and/or infertility
  • Endometrial cancer

If you are having symptoms you believe to be related to PCOS, see your physician.

Diet and PCOS

Research has shown healthy eating habits and regular physical activity helps to manage PCOS.

Eating more whole-grain foods, fruits, vegetables, lean meats and low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese or yogurt can help lower your blood sugar, improve your body’s use of insulin and normalize hormone levels.

A healthy eating plan for women with PCOS includes:

  • Four to five meals or snacks every day, including breakfast. Don’t skip meals.
  • A variety of foods from all the MyPlate food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. Moderate portions of healthy fats, such as olive and canola oils, walnuts, almonds and avocados.
  • Protein in all meals and snacks. Try nut butters, lean meats, fish, tofu, beans, lentils and low-fat dairy products with all meals and snacks.
  • Healthy beverages such as water, low-fat or fat-free milk or soy beverage or 100 percent fruit juice.

Physical Activity and PCOS

Regular exercise can help alleviate symptoms of PCOS. Get moving with at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week. Increase muscle mass with strength-training exercises at least two times a week.

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