Can Losing Weight Really Help to Relieve PCOS Symptoms?

You know as well as we do that there’s no shortage of diets promising rapid weight loss and symptom reversal for people with PCOS. But, is there actually any evidence to support the shunning of sugar et al?

And, why are so many seeking weight loss as a means of managing PCOS symptoms in the first place?

We looked at what science has to say on the matter.

What's the link between weight and PCOS?

Whilst not everyone who has PCOS is considered – medically speaking – overweight (in fact, it’s quite common for people with PCOS to be within a “healthy” weight range), research suggests that between 40% and 85% of people with PCOS are overweight or obese. It’s clear that weight and PCOS are closely linked, but how?

The truth? It’s complex.

Obesity and weight gain are known contributors to the development of PCOS. This is because excess body fat is associated with insulin resistance, a condition which means your body can’t use insulin as effectively as it should. Your
cells can’t accept glucose from your blood as easily, and so your body produces more insulin in an attempt to help transport sugar from the bloodstream to your cells.

Insulin resistance is thought to be a potential cause of PCOS, and as many as 70-95% of people diagnosed with PCOS experience insulin resistance.

Now, here’s where it gets complicated.

Elevated levels of insulin is thought to increase levels of “male” hormones (including testosterone) in people with PCOS. And high levels of testosterone has been linked with weight gain and excess fat being stored around the abdomen. It’s a whole vicious circle.

But, to summarise, excess fat not only aids the development of PCOS but can increase the severity of symptoms too.

Can losing weight help to relieve PCOS symptoms?

It depends. Research has found that, for those considered overweight (by medical standards), losing around 5-10% of body weight could help to
reduce insulin resistance. This percentage of weight loss could also help to regulate periods and improve fertility in people with PCOS.

That said, it’s important to remember that weight loss is not always necessary. And, if you’re someone who has experienced difficult or unhealthy relationships with food and dieting in the past, focussing on weight loss probably isn’t the best approach for helping to relieve your PCOS symptoms.

The best thing to do? Speak to your GP, and aim to prioritise a diet full of nutritious foods as opposed to cutting out or restricting food groups.

How to lose weight with PCOS naturally

A balanced diet full of nutritious foods can help to manage PCOS symptoms  and it doesn’t need to be complex, either. In fact, the Eatwell Guide is a great place to start.

Studies have also found that a low glycaemic index (GI) diet, where wholegrains are eaten in place of refined carbohydrates, can be beneficial for people with PCOS, as it could help to reduce insulin resistance and regulate periods. The Mediterranean diet is another good option for people with PCOS.

Be mindful, though, that no one diet will suit everybody, and that the aforementioned diets are simply guides for getting started. It’s also worth noting that people with PCOS tend to be low on certain vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, zinc, and iron, so be sure to consult your GP or get advice from a dietitian or nutritionist before making any big diet adjustments.

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