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Can a Nutritionist Help with PCOS?

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Can a Nutritionist Help with PCOS?

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

  • PCOS is a hormonal condition that is primarily known for affecting the reproductive system when in fact, it impacts the whole body across the lifespan.
  • A registered dietitian nutritionist can help you individualize your diet and lifestyle to reduce the possible negative effects of PCOS. 
  • A lower GI diet and/or anti-inflammatory diet can help manage PCOS.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects up to 18% of women and is a hormonal disorder that causes menstrual irregularities, high levels of hormones like testosterone, and insulin resistance. 

Insulin resistance is when your body does not respond as expected to insulin, a hormone that helps clear glucose out of the bloodstream and delivers it to the cells for use as energy. With PCOS, the body may make too much insulin. This excess insulin can cause weight gain (specifically stomach weight gain), extreme difficulty losing weight, low blood sugar levels, and intense cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods. 

Additionally, these hormonal imbalances impact the ovaries (and the rest of the body). An ovary ultrasound often shows cysts surrounding the ovaries. PCOS can impact a woman’s ability to get pregnant. Although PCOS and insulin resistance puts a person at a greater life-long risk for type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke, fat accumulation in the liver, depression, anxiety, and possible pregnancy complications, you can take proactive steps to manage your health. 

In this article, you’ll learn how a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) can help with PCOS, the benefits and what to expect when working with one, and some ideas for eating well with PCOS. 

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Can a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Help with PCOS?

RDNs are healthcare professionals trained to convey complex nutrition science and human metabolism to all types of learners. They provide nutrition therapy or counseling for someone trying to understand and manage their PCOS. 

RDNs provide compassionate, evidence-based, and practical steps for a person with PCOS. Misconceptions about foods or strict eating plans for individuals with PCOS are prevalent on social media. An RDN can help educate how to fuel a body impacted by hormonal differences and prioritize holistic wellness over weight loss.

Benefits of Working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for PCOS

Registered dietitians have rigorous education standards.

A four-year degree with a specially designed nutrition curriculum is required. RDNs take courses on metabolism, biology, chemistry, health conditions, how they relate to food, counseling, interpreting clinical research, and nutrition. They also complete 1,200 hours of supervised practice before taking a rigorous exam to become a dietitian. 

Many RDNs choose to get training on blood glucose management and PCOS treatment.

To keep their credential, they must complete ongoing training and education of at least 75 continuing education credits every 5 years. Many of these continued education courses specialize in PCOS, insulin resistance, blood glucose control, and weight management. A Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) dietitian has extensive training related to blood glucose management. 

Ways a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Can Help With PCOS

An RDN is the perfect healthcare professional to help you reduce and possibly prevent the side effects of PCOS, including:

  • insulin resistance.
  • weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
  • blood sugar control using diet, lifestyle, and exercise. 
  • higher rates of type 2 diabetes, heart, stroke, and fatty liver conditions.

RDNs use evidence-based research to support their eating plans and education materials to help people make lifestyle changes and prevent complications. This can help a person managing PCOS understand their condition and feel empowered to manage and thrive despite the hormonal differences that impact their body.

They can educate on how to fuel the body with certain food and drink combinations to stabilize blood glucose levels and insulin levels throughout the day. Reducing higher insulin levels is an important first step to managing PCOS. Weight loss is often prioritized by care providers, but lower insulin levels are most important. High insulin levels essentially tell the body to hold on to weight.  Lower insulin levels help restore the hormonal balance that allows weight loss to occur and reduce the side effects of PCOS on the whole body. 

PCOS Diet Options

There is no one specific diet to manage or cure PCOS. Just as every individual is unique, their way of eating should be unique too. RDNs use evidence-based research to create a customized eating plan that meets your needs and lifestyle. 

Low GI Diet

Research has shown certain types of eating are beneficial for a person with PCOS. Ten randomized controlled trials with 403 women with PCOS found that low glycemic index (GI) diets have been found to lower insulin levels, lipid levels, and other health markers even without weight loss. 

Foods on a low GI diet are those that do not raise blood glucose levels quickly and contain fiber and/or protein. The glycemic index is not an exact science but can help to reduce glucose and insulin levels. These foods include fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, pasta, low-fat dairy foods, nuts, and lean protein sources. 

Anti-inflammatory Diet

Another beneficial diet that can be paired with the low GI diet is an anti-inflammatory diet. Women with PCOS have higher levels of inflammation compared to those without PCOS. Inflammation in the body can exhibit as high insulin levels and C-reactive protein (CRP) levels. 

A study involving 100 women with PCOS followed a reduced-calorie anti-inflammatory diet for 12 weeks. The diet was a Mediterranean-inspired low-GI diet prioritizing legumes, fish, and low-fat dairy. Participants ate five small meals with a composition of 25% protein, 25% fat, and 50% carbohydrates. 

This resulted in moderate weight loss (7% of body weight) and significant improvements in body composition, lipid levels, and hormones. CRP levels were reduced by 35%, and insulin markers improved by 27.5%.

Starting a low GI or anti-inflammatory diet can initially feel overwhelming. An RDN can help you make impactful changes to your eating and thrive with PCOS. 

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What to Expect at Your First Appointment

It is important to know what to expect when working with an RDN. A medical nutrition therapy visit can be virtual or face-to-face. Visits will include reviewing your health history, medications, lab results, typical lifestyle, diet, and clarifying questions regarding your specific symptoms of PCOS. 

Individuals can manage their PCOS through many routes. A top goal is to reduce insulin levels which can be accomplished by combining eating changes, physical activity, stress relief, and quality sleep. An RDN will partner with you to create an individualized PCOS plan. After each session, you put the plan into action and provide feedback on what went well and what was challenging.

An RDN  will use research-based recommendations and customized strategies to help you manage and thrive with PCOS. 

How Do I Find a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for PCOS?

Look for an RDN with experience managing PCOS and glucose and insulin levels. Ask questions about the RDNs' approach to eating and lifestyle changes to find someone that fits your needs.

Nourish can connect you with an RDN. Nourish provides a list of over 150 RDNs, their specialty areas, and their style to help you find the best fit for you. 

Takeaways

PCOS is a complex hormonal condition with a life-long impact. Diet and lifestyle are the primary management routes. RDNs are pivotal in helping women with PCOS manage their symptoms and prevent any further risks. 

How a Dietitian Can Help

Partner with a knowledgeable and compassionate RDN. Registered dietitians can help you develop a PCOS eating plan that makes sense and manages your symptoms.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best diet for PCOS to lose weight?

The best diet for PCOS is one that works for you. No specific diet cures PCOS. Research shows a low GI and/or anti-inflammatory diet helps to reduce insulin and glucose levels in women with PCOS.

What is a PCOS diet?

A PCOS diet can mean many things. Social media often recommends a very low carbohydrate diet which is not necessary. Working with an RDN will help you to determine what amount of carbohydrates to eat and what types of carbohydrates to pair with protein and fat to best control your PCOS.

What kind of doctor should someone with PCOS see?

A person with PCOS often sees a gynecologist or reproductive health care provider. They can help determine what symptoms might be related to PCOS and refer you to a specialist in PCOS. Choosing a compassionate care provider that does not dismiss your concerns and wants to help you solve the problem is important.

References

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