For years, many obstetricians have been treating polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) as if its only important symptom is the difficulty in becoming pregnant. Endocrinologists, however, have pointed out that PCOS can have other side effects as well, including endometrial cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. While some obstetricians still rush straight into prescribing medications such as Clomid, various injectables, and even IVF to solve pregnancy problems involving PCOS, more and more research is showing the connection between insulin resistance and PCOS, and therefore between diet changes and improvements of PCOS symptoms. Many women with PCOS, therefore, are using a low GI Diet for PCOS to get pregnant or treat other symptoms of PCOS.
Insulin Resistance and PCOS
When a person digests food – especially refined carbohydrates – the pancreas secretes insulin to help digest the food effectively. Insulin is a hormone that helps transport sugar out of the blood and into parts of the body that convert the sugar to energy or store it as fat. People with insulin resistance, however, cannot use the insulin effectively, and therefore the pancreas continues to secrete more and more insulin until normal blood sugar levels are finally reached. This causes high levels of insulin to course through the bloodstream, which is one possible cause of PCOS.
Research now indicates that most, if not all, women with PCOS experience insulin resistance as well, and the two seem to be intertwined. Treating insulin resistance, either through diet or with medication (e.g., glucophage), can help to eliminate other symptoms of PCOS, including hirsutism, acne, irregular menstruation, and difficulty becoming pregnant.
What is the GI Diet?
The glycemic index (GI) is a list of foods that is each assigned a score, based on how large of a fluctuation in blood sugar they cause. Foods that list high on the GI (especially 70 and above) cause a strong increase in blood sugar levels during digestion. For people with PCOS, high GI foods can cause their insulin levels to skyrocket, as the pancreas will work overtime in order to produce enough insulin to adequately deal with the glucose in the bloodstream. Foods that list low on the GI (especially 55 and below) cause a gradual or low increase in blood sugar, and therefore keep the insulin levels in the bloodstream relatively low. Therefore, many people with PCOS will be encouraged to follow the GI diet, which essentially substitutes low glycemic foods for high glycemic foods. Foods that are high in GI include refined grains, refined sugars, and potatoes. Foods that are relatively low in GI include most fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and proteins.
Tips for GI Dieters with PCOS
If you have PCOS and would like to follow a low GI Diet for PCOS to get pregnant, try making the following changes to your diet:
- Avoid all refined grains as much as possible, substituting them with whole grains. This means eating whole wheat bread instead of white bread, brown rice instead of white rice, and whole grain cereals instead of those that use refined grains.
- Lower your sugar intake, substituting with honey, brown rice syrup, agave nectar, or sparingly with chemical substitutes.
- Minimize your intake of potatoes and very sweet fruits, substituting with other fruits and vegetables.
- When you do eat carbohydrates, even those that are whole grain, try to pair them with proteins to slow down insulin production.