If you have PCOS, weight gain may be a major concern. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common hormone/metabolic disorder in women, often leads to unending struggles with weight, along with other serious health problems.
Many experts believe that, for many women, a PCOS weight loss plan may help reverse obesity and even increase fertility.
PCOS and Obesity
Half of women with PCOS experience weight gain that leads to clinical obesity (being 20 percent or more over a normal weight). You may have noticed that with PCOS, weight gain usually occurs in the center of your body, as opposed to the thighs and hips. This body type is described as an “apple” shape (as opposed to a “pear”).
If you have this “apple” shape type of fat distribution, you may be at a greater risk for hypertension, diabetes, and lipid abnormalities.
With PCOS, weight gain is linked to insulin and glucose metabolism abnormalities. Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas that promotes the storage of calories, increases fat stores, and regulates glucose levels in the blood.
Many women with PCOS have other problems that may be considered unsightly and affect self-esteem, including excessive hair growth (or loss) and acne. Yet it’s the PCOS weight gain that leads to obesity, insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, cardiovascular risk factors, menstrual dysfunction and infertility.
Insulin Resistance and PCOS
Insulin resistance (IR) happens when your body steadily becomes less responsive to the actions of insulin. In insulin resistance, blood sugar levels rise despite high levels of insulin, and eventually type 2 diabetes may occur. (This is different from type 1 diabetes, where the pancreas does not make enough insulin.)
Along with insulin resistance and the chance of type 2 diabetes, obese women with PCOS are more likely to have hyperinsulinemia (excessively high blood insulin levels) when compared to thinner women with PCOS.
Studies show that obese women with PCOS who have insulin resistance and hyperinsulinemia have an increased risk of hypertension, stroke and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
When you have impaired insulin resistance, it makes it harder to lose weight—even if you are on a very low calorie diet. Before starting a PCOS weight loss plan, talk with your doctor. Your doctor may want to check your glucose tolerance.
A Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT) may be recommended, especially if you are more than 120 percent over a healthy weight, have first-degree relatives with diabetes, have elevated sebum lipid levels, or have delivered a baby weighing more than 9 pounds. This test can show whether you are diabetic or have impaired insulin resistance that has resulted in elevated glucose levels.
Diets for PCOS Weight Gain
Studies show that a PCOS weight loss plan may help correct hyperinsulinemia, regulate the menstrual cycle, and even restore fertility for women with PCOS. A registered dietitian can help formulate a PCOS weight loss plan for you.
Diets approved by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) are excellent for PCOS weight loss. The diabetes diet is balanced and offers many food choices to allow you variety in your diet. As you start a PCOS weight loss plan, it’s important to also get regular physical activity and exercise.
A PCOS Weight Loss Plan That Works
After running tests, your doctor may prescribe a drug called metformin (Glucophage) to help with your PCOS weight loss plan. For those with PCOS, weight loss may become easier with metformin. This medication may also improve lipid profiles, lower blood pressure, lower androgen levels, increase sensitivity to fertility drugs like clomiphene citrate (Clomid), and improve menstruation.
While there is no cure for PCOS weight gain, many women are losing weight with a multifaceted PCOS weight loss program. The good news is when you do lose weight, many associated health concerns like hypertension and high cholesterol may improve, as well as your chances of getting pregnant and starting a family.