Breakthrough research suggests the reproductive problems faced by women with the most common endocrine disorder could be treated with a simple diet switch.
Australian researchers, using preliminary mice tests, have discovered they are able to reverse the effects of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) has on ovulation and reproduction abilities, by switching the mice to a Mediterranean-style diet.
The researchers from UNSW Sydney, University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and ANZAC Research Institute fed the mice a diet of low protein, medium carbohydrate and medium fat intake.
The Mediterranean diet is consistently named one of the healthiest in the world.
PCOS the most common endocrine disorder for females, and is diagnosed by the presence of two out of the three major symptoms.
The symptoms include irregular or absent periods, ovarian cysts and high levels of androgen hormones, which are typically associated with male characteristics like excess hair growth.
Those suffering PCOS are also likely to experience weight gain, glucose intolerance, acne and fertility struggles, for which medication to induce ovulation is the primary treatment.
Dr Alex Polyakov, obstetrician, gynaecologist and senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne, said the findings looked promising, but only for those looking to reproduce.
“[The Mediterranean diet] allowed some of the mice to ovulate, and if you translate that into women, it would allow them to get pregnant without these drugs to induce ovulation,” Dr Polyakov told The New Daily.
“It induces ovulation in some of the mice, but it didn’t affect all the other issues – it didn’t affect glucose intolerance, it didn’t affect the weight, it only worked for someone who wants to ovulate and get pregnant.”
Stepping up to the plate…
One area of the research that Dr Polyakov said was a “very important finding” was that mice with PCOS gained more weight than mice without it, even though they had the same amount of food.
“This is very interesting because you often hear these women who say, ‘We find it very difficult to lose weight even though we eat less, we’re not losing weight effectively’,” Dr Polyakov said.
“The conclusion from that is that if you’re trying to address lifestyle and weight with an intervention, dietary intervention may not be enough – you may also need to include an activity that would expend energy.”
Dietician and fertility and pregnancy specialist, Melanie McGrice, said PCOS sufferers should consider adopting a Mediterranean diet whether they are wanting to conceive or not.
“It’s no surprise that the Mediterranean diet is a good choice for women with PCOS, because its naturally low GI, it is naturally really rich in low-kilojoule fruits and vegetables, naturally high in antioxidants and naturally rich in healthy, good fats,” Ms McGrice told The New Daily.
Ms McGrice also said the importance of exercise and diet can be overlooked in favour of medical intervention for PCOS sufferers, and that many weren’t aware their weight management can be subsidised by Medicare.
“It’s often diagnosed for women in their teens or twenties, and often what will happen is some doctors will just put you onto the contraceptive pill and you can deal with anything else down the track when you want to have a baby or when a real problem arises,” she said.
“It’s often pushed aside as opposed to managed well early on.
“Helping them to prevent that weight gain in the first place makes a massive difference down the track because it is more difficult for women PCOS to get that weight off once they’ve put it on.
“The Australian government actually provides Medicare rebates for seeing allied health, so dieticians and exercise physiologists for women with PCOS can actually be quite a cost effective treatment solution – most women don’t even know that.”
People who suspect they may have PCOS should contact their GP for individual medical advice.