Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects the hormone balance in women, favoring the production of male hormones like testosterone over female hormones like estrogen and progesterone. This imbalance can lead to symptoms such as menstrual problems and infertility. Many women with this condition also develop insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. In a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, blood sugar control, weight loss, and cardiac risk were all improved when women with PCOS were put on a high protein, low carbohydrate diet.
The new study included data collected from 27 women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Participants were assigned to either a high-protein diet or a standard-protein diet for six months. Both groups received regular nutritional counseling and were guided to reduce their intake of sweets and soft drinks.
The aim of the high-protein diet was to get 40% or more of each day’s calories from protein and less than 30% of calories from carbohydrate. To achieve this, women in the high-protein-diet group were instructed to replace sugary and starchy foods with either protein-rich foods like meat, eggs, fish, and dairy foods, or with vegetables, fruits, and nuts. The aim of the standard-protein diet was to get less than 15% of calories from protein and more than 55% of calories from carbohydrate. There were no calorie restrictions with either diet.
At the end of the study, the following differences between the groups were seen:
- Women on the high-protein diet lost 4.4 kilograms (10 pounds) more than women on the standard-protein diet.
- Almost all of the extra weight lost by the women eating the high-protein diet was body fat, not muscle.
- The high-protein diet was associated with a greater reduction in waist circumference, indicating a greater loss of abdominal or belly fat. This type of fat has a strong link to cardiovascular disease.
- Women on the high-protein diet had lower blood glucose and C-peptide levels. C-peptide is a protein that is linked to insulin production. These findings show that blood sugar control improved more in this group than in the standard-protein diet group.
Implementing this type of diet is one of the first things I do with patients who have PCOS, and the results are consistently rewarding. Between these dietary changes and other nutritional and botanical interventions, I’ve witnessed the naturopathic treatment of PCOS being just as, or even more effective, than the medication regime often utilized in conventional medicine. Plus, these diet changes promote longer term health benefits, particularly with respect to cardiovascular health.
If you’ve been struggling with weight gain and other complications of PCOS, and you’ve only tried medications to address it, don’t feel like your options have been exhausted. Seek out a practitioner who can give you detailed dietary instruction, a method that has now been proven to work!
(Am J Clin Nutr 2012;95:39–48)