3 mins read

PCOS: Ways to manage symptoms

Author: Forth

May 30, 2023

Female health

Woman with red hair smiling

If you’re facing a PCOS diagnosis, you may be wondering whether you should be taking medication or turning to more natural solutions like diet and lifestyle changes? This blog provides a quick overview of PCOS and highlights the incredible power of nutrition for PCOS symptom management.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a complex hormonal condition that affects around 6-12% of women. PCOS symptoms can vary based on the person, with some experiencing a wide range of symptoms and others dealing with one or two.

Hormonal changes influence multiple body systems, so PCOS can impact many areas of life, including fertility and increasing the risk of prediabetes. Around 40% of women with PCOS could develop prediabetes due to insulin insensitivity, with up to 10% of patients with PCOS developing diabetes.  

Learn more about PCOS symptoms in our guide.

How can I treat PCOS?

Unfortunately, a lack of robust research and funding means that we still know relatively little about what causes PCOS and there’s currently no cure. However, the good news is that PCOS symptoms are manageable with simple diet and lifestyle changes.

Do I need to take medication for PCOS?

The contraceptive pill or intermittent progestogen tablets are sometimes used to induce periods for PCOS patients. This reduces the risk of endometrial cancer in people who are not shedding their uterus lining regularly. The hormonal intrauterine system, or IUS, is also sometimes used to keep the lining of the uterus thin and reduce the chance of cancerous growth.

A medication called Eflornithine can be prescribed to slow down excessive hair growth, while Metformin could be prescribed to treat type 2 diabetes.

It’s important to remember that these options do NOT address the root causes of PCOS – they are used to mitigate wider risk factors. That’s why taking charge of your diet is the most powerful way to directly manage your PCOS symptoms.

Why is diet so important for people with PCOS?

People with PCOS generally struggle to maintain the right insulin levels. Insulin is the hormone produced in the pancreas that helps your body turn sugar (glucose) into energy. Some people with PCOS struggle to produce insulin, whereas others have insulin resistance – which is when your body can’t utilise the insulin it produces properly.

Both of these conditions result in high blood sugar levels because glucose isn’t being turned into energy efficiently. Nutrition has a big impact on blood sugar, which is why taking charge of your diet is so crucial to managing PCOS symptoms.

How can I take control of my diet to manage my PCOS symptoms?

Weight loss has been shown to have a really positive effect on PCOS symptoms, with just a 5% weight reduction making a big difference. Combining regular exercise with a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet can boost hormone production and help regulate blood sugar levels.

Foods that will support your PCOS management:

  • High fibre foods
  • Lean proteins
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Anti-inflammatory foods: like turmeric and tomatoes
  • Water for hydration

Foods to avoid:

  • Hydrogenated or trans fats
  • Refined carbohydrates: like cakes and white bread
  • Sugary snacks and drinks
  • Inflammatory foods: like processed or red meat

What’s the key takeaway here?

PCOS can be a frustrating journey, especially when you feel your body isn’t behaving how it’s supposed to – but making simple diet and lifestyle changes are the important first steps towards regaining control over your health.

If you’re struggling with your PCOS diagnosis or symptoms, don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider for further support. 

Author: Eleanor Riches, Women’s+ Health Writer

This information has been medically reviewed by Dr Thom Phillips

Thom works in NHS general practice and has a decade of experience working in both male and female elite sport. He has a background in exercise physiology and has published research into fatigue biomarkers.

Dr Thom Phillips

Dr Thom Phillips

Head of clinical services