Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome

Written By: TYHN Dietician

Polycystic ovarian syndrome is an endocrine-metabolic disorder that can cause severe consequences to female health. It affects 5-10% of females of reproductive age and is the leading cause of female infertility worldwide.

Elevated androgen levels, irregular menstrual cycles and small cysts on one or both ovaries characterize PCOS. Some of the common symptoms of PCOS are:

  • obesity or excessive weight gain
  • acne
  • pelvic pain
  • alopecia
  • irregular menstrual cycles
  • excessive hair growth
  • infertility

If you suspect you might have PCOS, a completed medical history, physical exam and a pelvic ultrasound should be conducted. Obstetricians, gynecologists or fertility specialists diagnose this endocrine-metabolic disorder.

Women with PCOS also have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer.

PCOS is linked to insulin resistance and obesity. Insulin helps to regulate ovarian function and the ovaries respond to excess by producing androgens, which can lead to anovulation, which is what causes infertility.

Although the exact cause of PCOS has not been yet found, environmental factors play a role in its development. Poor dietary choices, physical inactivity, infectious agents and toxins often exacerbate the development of PCOS.


As the exact cause of this disorder is not certain, the treatment is directed towards managing the symptoms rather than the disorder itself. The goals for treatment should be promoting ovulation, reducing insulin resistance or weight loss (if necessary). Often PCOS is managed with pharmaceutical products that target anovulation, androgenic symptoms and insulin resistance.

Non-pharmaceutical methods such as healthy balanced diet and physical activity are effective. Dietary and behavioral change is vital for the management of PCOS for both overweight/ obese females and normal weight females. A greater than 5% weight loss helps decrease androgen formation, regulates ovulation and improves insulin sensitivity. This diet will be aimed at normalizing blood glucose and reducing insulin resistance and managing all other client specific requirements.

For a personalized plan to help reach your health and weight loss goals, visit your nearest Dietician for expert nutritional advice.

Reference: Uche Anadu Ndefo, M., 2013. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: A Review of Treatment Options With a Focus on Pharmacological Approaches. [online] PubMed Central (PMC). Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3737989/> [Accessed 3 May 2021].

About the author:

Tanya has been providing dietary guidance since 2009 as a registered dietician licensed in South Africa. Her goal is to help patients understand the connection between diet and diagnosis for improved nutritional well being.

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