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Dealing with PCOS

Kolasa, Kathy

Kathy Kolasa

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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Q: My daughter was recently diagnosed with PCOS. She is of normal weight, so we were surprised. Does what she eats make a difference? — MEM, Winterville

A: Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition caused by hormone imbalances in a woman’s body and although it is often associated with the conditions of overweight or obesity, many women of normal weight have the condition. Preventing excess or losing excess weight gain is key along with eating a health promoting diet. Radhi Kothadia a Brody fourth-year medical student wanted to explore the new evidence guidelines for the management of PCOS with you. Here is what she wants you to know.

Women with PCOS have higher levels of male hormones, which can cause irregular menstrual cycles, excess facial and body hair — referred to as hyperandrogenism — and difficulty getting pregnant. One of the causes of PCOS is insulin resistance (IR). IR is when the body does not respond to insulin, a hormone, resulting in high levels of sugar in the blood. For women who are overweight, modest weight loss will improve both IR and hyperandrogenism. Both those who are normal or overweight can manage PCOS symptoms by controlling the amount of simple sugars they consume like soft drink, sugar-sweetened tea and fruit juice.

One meal that is a large culprit for sugary foods is breakfast. Cereals, granola bars, donuts, breakfast pastries and some smoothies can be packed with sugar — almost all the sugar you should eat in an entire day. High-fiber and low-sugar cereals like Kashi and shredded wheat with some berries or bananas are more filling and still have a kick of sweetness. While it is thought that eating a healthy diet might help with menstrual cyclicity, ovulation or fertility, there is woefully little research on the topic.

Your daughter shouldn’t avoid all carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are important for providing your body with energy, but some carbs are better for you than others. Your daughter should try to opt for high-fiber grains, like whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta and brown rice rather than the white versions. I know many say whole wheat bread is not nearly as delicious as white bread, but it’s important to make the switch and learn to love the flavors and texture. If she isn’t a fan of whole wheat pasta, there are some other unique options. I recently tried zucchini noodles, pasta made from black beans, and another made from lentils. Although they did not taste like the pasta I am used to, I did find them tasty.

If you have a sweet tooth like me, decreasing your sugar intake will likely be the difficult part. There are a few simple switches you can make to still fulfill your craving while making healthy choices. For example, eating fresh fruits or canned fruits without added sugar is better than eating fruits canned in syrup. Rather than eating starchy vegetables like corn, potatoes and peas, try broccoli, spinach and carrots. If potatoes are a staple in the diet, try to include another less starchy vegetable along with the potato. If your daughter loves chocolate, try dark chocolate with fruit for added sweetness instead of milk or white chocolate

Along with healthy eating, exercise also is important. For specific guidelines on physical activity, check out the “ Highlighting Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans” article I wrote on March 27.

Until there is more research, the most important lifestyle behavior is to manage weight throughout life. Your daughter would benefit from a visit with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to map out a plan that helps her stay in the healthy weight range, while getting all the nutrients she needs in the foods and beverages she enjoys.

For those of you suffering from PCOS, I challenge you to make one small change every week, whether it is swapping cereals or exercising an extra time. If you would like to read the international guidelines and find some educational resources about PCOS, go to https://www.monash.edu/medicine/sphpm/mchri/pcos.

Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Ph.D., is an affiliate professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Contact her at kolasaka@ecu.edu.

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