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[5 min read] Medical nutrition therapy for PCOS

Did you know that 1 in 10 Australian women of childbearing age have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)? PCOS is one of the most common endocrine (hormone-related) disorders, and reportedly up to 70% of women with the condition remain undiagnosed [1]. From hormonal imbalances to metabolic changes such as increased production of insulin and androgens, many symptoms of PCOS can be difficult to pinpoint or diagnose in its earliest stages [2]. Initial diagnosis and management usually occur in primary care settings.

For further information on this topic, you may be interested to learn more about the HealthCert Professional Diploma program in Medical Nutrition Management.

PCOS cannot be cured. Management requires identification and management of current symptoms, consideration to fertility and emotional concerns, as well as preventative activities to minimise the risk of future health problems [3]. Lifestyle changes such as dietary approaches and exercise should always be a core part of managing the condition long term, in addition to other treatment measures.

While there is no dietary pattern that is “best” for helping to manage PCOS, making nutritious food choices and maintaining a balanced diet should be encouraged. Sustainable and practical dietary change can be achieved by working with an Accredited Practising Dietitian specialising in PCOS.

  1. Low-GI carbohydrates

Patients with PCOS are intrinsically insulin resistant and have a high risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes [3]. Low-glycaemic index (GI) foods are recommended to manage insulin resistance and stabilise post-prandial blood sugar levels. The GI measures how quickly a food containing carbohydrates increases blood sugar after eating. High GI foods raise blood sugar quickly, while low GI foods raise blood sugar more slowly and gradually. High blood sugar triggers the release of more insulin, which can worsen symptoms of PCOS by causing changes in levels of testosterone and other hormones [4].

  1. Choose anti-inflammatory foods

Research shows that women with PCOS tend to have higher levels of inflammation, suspected in part caused by insulin resistance, but also could be related to increased visceral fat gain [5]. Anti-inflammatory diets have been shown to help modulate the inflammatory state and improve metabolism and reproduction in women with PCOS [6]. Anti-inflammatory foods include berries, fatty fish like salmon and tuna, broccoli, avocado, green tea, grapes, tomatoes, leafy greens, olive oil and mushrooms.

  1. Don’t fear the good fats

Saturated fats can increase inflammation and disrupt insulin signalling, worsening insulin resistance and other symptoms of PCOS [7]. Patients may see improvements in symptoms by reducing dietary saturated fats and replacing them with healthier mono- or polyunsaturated fats, such as in fatty fish, nuts and seeds, and extra-virgin olive oil. A recent systematic review of omega-3s for PCOS found 9 trials involving nearly 600 patients which showed that omega-3 fatty acids improved insulin responses, lipid profiles and increased adiponectin levels [8].

The bottom line

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a common, lifelong condition that appears to be increasing in prevalence with increasing obesity. The focus for primary care physicians should be on accurate diagnosis, prevention, and management of excess weight gain, as well as long term support and management of psychological, metabolic, and reproductive health.

A high-quality, well-balanced diet with healthy fats, lean protein, high fibre and low GI foods can help patients manage their weight and optimise their nutrition.

Learn more about medical nutrition for PCOS with the online HealthCert Professional Diploma program in Medical Nutrition Management.

– Lynette Law, Accredited Practising Dietitian

Read another article like this one: The MIND diet – Nutrition for dementia



  1. Teede, H., A. Deeks, and L. Moran, Polycystic ovary syndrome: a complex condition with psychological, reproductive and metabolic manifestations that impacts on health across the lifespan. BMC Med, 2010. 8: p. 41.
  2. Ndefo, U.A., A. Eaton, and M.R. Green, Polycystic ovary syndrome: a review of treatment options with a focus on pharmacological approaches. P t, 2013. 38(6): p. 336-55.
  3. Rocha, A.L., et al., Recent advances in the understanding and management of polycystic ovary syndrome. F1000Res, 2019. 8.
  4. Shishehgar, F., et al., Does a restricted energy low glycemic index diet have a different effect on overweight women with or without polycystic ovary syndrome? BMC Endocrine Disorders, 2019. 19(1): p. 93.
  5. González, F., Inflammation in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: underpinning of insulin resistance and ovarian dysfunction. Steroids, 2012. 77(4): p. 300-5.
  6. Salama, A.A., et al., Anti-Inflammatory Dietary Combo in Overweight and Obese Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. N Am J Med Sci, 2015. 7(7): p. 310-6.
  7. González, F., et al., Inflammation Triggered by Saturated Fat Ingestion Is Linked to Insulin Resistance and Hyperandrogenism in Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 2020. 105(6): p. e2152-67.
  8. Yang, K., et al., Effectiveness of Omega-3 fatty acid for polycystic ovary syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Reprod Biol Endocrinol, 2018. 16(1): p. 27.

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